Community Partner Conversations: Tomas Ramos

Bronx River Community Center Program Director Tomas Ramos accepts recognition award from Jennifer Petersen
Tomas Ramos, Program Director for the Bronx River Community Center, has been one of the original three partners of Bronx Community Justice. Tomas has been a hands on collaborator since the first moment of hearing the idea of using restorative practices to solve the problems within the community.  He has offered space within the center to conduct restorative circles, encouraged staff members to participate in training sessions provided by Bronx Community Justice and has served as a volunteer for the program as well. Nearly one dozen participants have had their cases solved by sitting in circle and 15 residents of the community have been trained in restorative practices within this community center. Bronx Community Justice has now become a stable in the Bronx River community and it owed, in large part, to Tomas' leadership and passion for this effort. 

I had a chance to sit down with Tomas for a quick discussion about this partnership and where he would like to see it progress towards: 

I want you to be able to give me a brief description of the programs and activities that are offered here at Bronx River. 

We offer after school programs for middle school and high school students from 2:00PM to 6:00PM Monday through Friday. And within that afterschool programming, we provide help with homework. We offer classes focusing on STEM, financial literacy, and civics as well. During the evening hours we provide programming for the community at large, specifically for high school students and adults. We have a volleyball program, a basketball program, we offer Zumba and self defense classes. We have a recording studio that is open to the public. Finally we host advisory board meetings and parent committee meetings for the residents of Bronx River Houses. 

Can you tell me what your initial reaction was after you were approached with the idea of bringing restorative circles into this space as another resource for the community? 

When I was first approached about Bronx Community Justice itself, I was extremely excited about it because I didn't know there were any organizations doing this kind of work in The Bronx. This borough needs it the most out of all the five boroughs. We definitely have the largest incarceration rate for people of color and most of the people who get arrested, in my opinion, should not be arrested. There should be some sort of alternative. So when I was approached about this and told that it was a pilot program for young people to avoid going into the criminal court system I was just extremely in awe and very excited about it. 

What exactly compelled you to agree to bring this program into Bronx River Community Center? Did you see a particular need for it in the community or was it more of a positive addition to the programs that were already here? 

I would say both. There is definitely a need for restorative circles in this community  and we also want to expand services and to have more resources for the community. Young people in this neighborhood are arrested every day for minor violations, misdemeanors offences that they shouldn't be going through the court system to for. I was told by someone who is engaged in this sort of work that if someone is arrested once it is very likely that they will be arrested again. So if you can bypass going through the court system and have a clean slate, then maybe a young person can avoid being held in the court system. That's why I love this program and why I agree to bring it to the center. 

You've had the opportunity to be trained in restorative justice by Bronx Community Justice staff and have been able to sit in a circle with our participants. Can you describe what those experiences were like for you? 

To me it was a very positive experience. It opened a dialogue for the participants in the circle. I feel like opening up and telling your story can sometimes catch those participants and engage them in a positive way. I remember of the participants I sat in circle with was explaining how he arrested and that he really liked basketball. I was really able to make a connection with him because I remembered how much I liked basketball and that I used to get in trouble all the time at his age. By me telling my story I know that we were able to make an even stronger connection. We were able to speak afterwards and I could see that he looked at me as a positive role model for him. 

Do you have a long term vision about where you see restorative justice going in Bronx River Houses and in this community center? 

So I know that Bronx Community Justice is only using restorative justice to deal with minor offences as of right now. Hopefully we can get to the point where we are using circles to deal with more serious misdemeanor offences. Instead of going to traditional court we can have restorative circles here at this community center and have more structured-long term programming. When you're talking about more serious crimes then I would argue that they would need more than a one time intervention. I would like to see a program that is based on a three month or six month time frame with multiple sessions so we could really see the change in the participants and their situations over time. So I do see this growing and building and I want to be a part of it every state of the way.