Santos Flores, who once worked with students on food justice issues, still talks as if he’s in the garden when he describes his current work with Rebound students. “I am planting seeds,” he says. “My goal is to get students to think about conflict. Why are they fighting? What could they be fighting for? I want to try to help them see themselves as a point of change. If you do, you think of yourself as a solution, rather than a problem.”
Mr. Flores has a Masters degree in Peace and Conflict Studies from UNC Greensboro, and is the coordinator for the Juvenile Justice Project at the Elna B. Spaulding Conflict Resolution Center. He first visited Rebound for a mediation between two students and “was surprised that Rebound existed. I think Rebound is doing an excellent thing, and I wanted to do more work with them.” Now he regularly leads afternoon sessions at Rebound, exploring conflict through group discussion.
Santos sees great opportunities for Rebound students, many of whom are suspended from school because of conflicts with their peers, teachers, or school administrators.
“Conflict is a great opportunity for dialogue and, ultimately, for personal and social change. Conflicts are an opportunity to transform yourself and your community. It is a time for engagement, challenge, and testing.
My goal is to help them learn to see and interrupt conflicts before they turn violent. There are points along the way [during conflict] where you can become constructive, rather than destructive.”
To introduce the students to a new way of thinking about conflict, Mr. Flores (who describes his pedagogy as “pretty experimental”) talks to students about martial arts, especially capoeira, the Brazilian martial art that he traveled to Brazil to study during his last semester of graduate school. “Capoeira is not just a martial art,” he explains. “Most masters [of capoeira] have a deep social theory about structural violence and systemic resistance. Many of the masters studied martial arts in order not to kill or harm anyone.” He shows Rebound students archival video of conflict simulation from Brazil, and discusses techniques of resolving conflicts used by other cultures: “The Maori in Australia used restorative justice for hundreds of years. The Quakers have a circle process.”
Mr. Flores encourages students to think not only about the complexities of conflict in American and other cultures, but also to recognize the complexities of their personal conflicts: “Our conflicts have roots we cannot see. Is there a sadness or other reality that we cannot express? If we are suffering, we have to get engaged.” His approach with the students is working: “They are listening. Something connects.” And he is always surprised at what Rebound students pick up from sessions with him: “Students have great feedback. One student said: ‘I didn’t realize how much rapping, rhyming and break dancing might have strategies for peace.’ Another student’s feedback: ‘I didn’t know you could be looking at fighting in an intelligent way.’ “
Santos Flores helps Rebound students look at conflict in an intelligent, thoughtful, and innovative way, and we are so grateful for the work he does. Thank you, Santos Flores, Rebound Group Leader Extraordinaire!