Johonna McCants-Turner

Dr. Johonna McCants-Turner is Associate Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at Conrad Grebel University College, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Her areas of scholarship, practice, and teaching include restorative and transformative justice, youth leadership development and organizing, formation for peacebuilders, faith-rooted peacebuilding, and critical race feminism.

For more than fifteen years, Dr. Turner has worked with arts collectives, community organizing groups, and other social movement organizations to develop youth leadership, empower disenfranchised people, and advance transformational approaches to safety and justice. In 2007, she was awarded a Soros Justice Fellowship from the Open Society Institute to research and promote community-based strategies for challenging violence and to engage youth in these efforts using the arts. In the process, she founded a youth leadership development project and launched several programs that integrated movement-building, peace education, arts and media, and trauma healing.

Turner is an innovative educator with experience teaching a wide range of learners in a variety of settings. She formerly served as a special education, English, and reading teacher with the district of Columbia Public Schools and as an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland, where she earned her PhD. She also holds a graduate certificate in Women’s Studies from the University of Maryland and a graduate certificate in urban youth ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary.

"Creating Safety for Ourselves"

Johonna Turner raises the question: What does safety really mean in the lives of People of Color and Indigenous Peoples? She explores the factors that constitute safety and how restorative justice must do a better job at creating safe spaces, especially for marginalized peoples. Turner’s journey brings the restorative justice and restorative practices worlds into contact with the worlds of transformative justice and community accountability. While these worlds share some common ideals, such as repairing harm, their approaches differ. Transformative justice embraces a commitment to community at the grassroots level, while restorative justice mostly mediates between communities and state or other institutions.

Turner draws our attention to the reality that, whenever a state’s apparatus— be it law enforcement, social services, immigration, or schools—intervenes in our daily lives, we experience this intrusion as a source of danger, even though in theory those intervening are trying to help, serve, or protect us. How many of us can relate a story about the danger we sense when we see a White police officer, or the hopelessness we feel when we learn that a White judge or a co-opted judge of color will preside over matters better left to a community to resolve? Turner’s story personalizes these dangers in ways familiar to our communities. Because we exercise little to no control over state power and because states have a history of targeting our communities with countless forms of violence, the safety that we deserve will not come from external, state sources; rather, it must come from within our own communities.