Tomas Ramirez

Tomas Ramirez

Executive Director, Semillas y Raices


Winter 2021

Tomás Ramírez (he/him) is the Executive director of Semillas y Raices (seeds and roots), a non for profit organization focused on cultural preservation, community healing, youth development, gang outreach and intervention.  He is a Youth Counselor, Conflict Transformation facilitator, as well as a Cultural awareness trainer, Restorative Practices, and healing processes facilitator.  In undertaking his work, Mr. Ramírez regularly develops programs to address youths contemporary issues.   He also conducts facilitated train-the-trainer workshops for: capacity-building NGOs;  crisis intervention specialists; youth-oriented emotional development programmers; cross-cultural communication facilitators; and outreach programmers and development staff. Tomas regularly lectures on conflict transformation, cultural preservation,  critical pedagogy and popular education, gang culture and gang mediation.  He is a member of the Chichimeca nation, and is a member of various indigenous organizations in the Chicago area.  He serves as a minister for the Native American Church of the four directions lodge. Mr. Ramírez previously served as the Crime Prevention and Street Outreach Coordinator for the Evanston, Illinois, Police Department, and as a Popular Education Facilitator for the Universidad Popular. He's currently working at the North Lawndale Restorative Justice Court (the first of its kind in the nation) and DePaul University's Peace Justice and Conflict Studies Program

Tell us: what excites you about your work?

We have created a meeting forum to address what leads young men of color to carry and use illegal guns in the city of Chicago. It is addressing a huge need in the city due to the escalating gun violence, but no one wants to touch because of respectability politics. What is powerful about this work is that it is mainly young men who could have conflict with each other, but when they hear each other’s issues, they build community and are less likely to harm others.

Our cross-generational facilitator team has been able to facilitate workshops on Restorative Justice in various settings. This meets the needs of various collectives that have the desire to develop their own teams, but that lack the funds for training.

What feels rich and abundant in your work right now?

Our leadership team has been able to be flexible and meet the needs that have arisen in the community during the pandemic. This while at the same time developing a very strong bond with each other which has supported our collective mental health during very uncertain times. We are abundant in our care and support for each other.

Who do you dedicate your work to?

We dedicate our work to our ancestors at the cultural and historical levels. Our neighborhood hosted the Black Panther chapter of Chicago, and their example guides our work all the time. We dedicate our work to all the young people that we support with restorative processes due to conflict or to legal issues. We do this because most of us are just an older version of them. Lastly, we dedicate our work to the little ones, not only the ones that we interact with through our program, but to the ones being born within our collective. Last month one of our youth leaders gave birth to a little girl, and that not only fills us with joy, but it also reminds us of our commitments, and responsibilities.

“What is powerful about this work is that it is mainly young men who could have conflict with each other, but when they hear each other’s issues, they build community and are less likely to harm others.”

Who inspires you, who are you learning from, what books are you reading? We are really excited to learn this about you!

I am a real nerd! Currently I am re-reading stick-talk by Steve Beyer, I am starting to read Healing the Soul Wound by Eduardo Duran, Breaking Hate by Christian Picciolini, and starting to read Pluriversal Politics by Arturo Escobar. People who inspire me are bell hooks, the Zapatista movement, and all the tuff grandmas that I interact with who have raised strong and beautiful families regardless of the circumstances.

How can people reading this support the work you are doing?

1. Check your adultism.

2. You have something to contribute, just be courageous and show up to accompany, volunteer, cook, work as a safety line, or to listen to people’s stories.

3. Do your own introspection work around identity and positionality.

4. Speak up against the historical gaslighting of communities in the margins.

5. If you don’t know about something or someone’s lifestyle, aim to understand rather than criticizing or ostracizing.

6. If you are in Chicago, you can always come to the garden or our community gatherings.

What something you didn’t know, that now you understand differently with wellness?

Wellness is fluid and doesn’t have a specific way to look. For the longest time I was measuring myself to the way that I operated before my heart attacks. I have learned to not be harsh with myself, and to practice compassion towards my overall state on a given day. It has improved my mental health greatly.

What is your own wellness practice? How do you find balance?

I center myself for a few minutes as I wake up and before I go to bed. I do it through either a tobacco offering, singing a song, meditating or just taking a few deep breaths. I also participate in circles where I am just a member, not a facilitator, this helps me to relieve stress immensely. Lastly, I ride my stationary bike five times a week as a form of exercise.

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