Annette Lantz-Simmons has been named 2018 Peacebuilder of the Year by the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University.
The annual award recognizes “alumni who have demonstrated exceptional commitment to its mission of supporting conflict transformation, restorative justice, trauma healing, development, organizational leadership and peacebuilding efforts at all levels of society,” said Daryl Byler, executive director of the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP).
Lantz-Simmons is the executive director of the Center for Conflict Resolution (CCR) in Kansas City, Missouri, and first attended the CJP’s Summer Peacebuilding Institute in 2005. She earned a master’s degree in conflict transformation in 2009.
All of the 615 alumni who have earned master’s degrees or graduate certificates in conflict transformation or restorative justice from CJP are eligible for the award. The first was conferred on Ali Gohar MA ’02 in 2015, founder and executive director of Just Peace Initiatives in Pakistan. The 2016 recipient was Tammy Krause, MA ’99, an expert in restorative justice, and in 2017 it went to Jean Claude Nkundwa MA ’14, who works for peace in his native country of Burundi from exile in Rwanda.
Lantz-Simmons, Byler said, “has led CCR’s commitment to a workplace environment that is reflective of its mission in the community and expanded the traditional work of a mediation center by promoting a holistic mission that focuses on prevention, education and restoration.”
She has also mentored multiple students and graduates from the CJP and its programs, some of whom are now members of her staff.
A growing array of settings
Lantz-Simmons is overseeing the expansion of her organization’s presence into a growing array of settings, working with other staff members who are also CJP trained.
Debbie Bayless, set to earn her master’s degree in restorative justice in May, leads Neighborhood Accountability Boards. The program gives youth arrested for fighting in schools “a chance to be accountable for their choices and take responsibility for themselves,” said Lantz-Simmons – and creates opportunities for their families to “see a different aspect of law enforcement and community members who are there to support them.”
With support from peacebuilding institute participant Jackie Buycks, CCR is providing training and facilitation for the ongoing transition of the Kansas City Public School system toward using discipline techniques rooted in restorative justice. It’s an arm of the nonprofit that is “growing fast,” said Lantz-Simmons, who was featured in a recent KCPT report about the school system’s move to restorative discipline.
And through the efforts of Greg Winship, the first graduate of the MA in restorative justice program, restorative justice and conflict resolution training work is extending into prisons. The trainings are not only for prison residents: a minimum security prison is planning to train its staff, too. Eventually, Lantz-Simmons said, the prison will offer the CCR training to both residents and staff – together.
Trainings and programs such as these are “planting seeds,” she said. “People often do what they know, even if it doesn’t work or is very uncomfortable for them. We offer a different mindset and practical skills to do conflict in a new way.”
An ongoing journey
It was at a Missouri peace colloquy featuring CJP’s Howard Zehr as keynote speaker that Lantz-Simmons first met CCR founder Diane Kyser, a 2006 CJP graduate. Their “instant and strong connection” was affirmation of Lantz-Simmons’ trajectory toward her current work.
That journey had begun earlier, after Lantz-Simmons talked with a friend about being the go-to listener for “everyone” around her with a problem. Her friend replied, “Maybe that’s what you are supposed to do with your life.”
Now, nearly 16 years after coming to the conflict resolution field, the work continues to be “gratifying,” she said. “I’m encouraged and gain strength when I see participants in a training or a mediation have a ‘lightbulb’ moment, see something in a different way or soften their judgment toward another person. I love the phrase, ‘OK, I see what you’re saying’ coming from someone who seemed unwilling to budge a minute before.”
The Peacebuilder of the Year Award comes with a free Summer Peacebuilding Institute course along with travel expenses and lodging. Lantz-Simmons said she has chosen to attend “Truth Telling, Racial Healing and Restorative Justice.”