The words incarceration and restorative justice flow easily in conversation from Cheyenne Brashear, a Rainier Scholar and senior at The Bush School. As a young person, Cheyenne has a deeper understanding of the juvenile justice system than most people her age. Her energy for this topic is palpable. It seems this change-maker and activist has found her purpose.
“I first learned about the justice system and ways to productively resolve social conflict in a youth training and then through a summer internship. It had a big impact on me,” said Cheyenne. “I loved learning skills that helped to cut directly through a problem to identify better solutions.”
Knowing what a critical step an internship can be, Rainier Scholars offers both high school and college students the chance to explore future career opportunities, build their resumes, network with professionals and discover their strengths in a workplace setting. Over the past eight years, Rainier Scholars has facilitated more than 400 internships in a wide range of job sectors and has created partnerships with some of the leading employers across the region. For students like Cheyenne, these internships often solidify a passion. “I love the practice of restorative justice and the work that is being done at the local government level. I believe this is my true calling.”
During her internship with The Office of Alternative Dispute Resolution, under the guidance of Polly Davis, Cheyenne took on the role of a teen facilitator in a program providing alternatives to youth incarceration or punitive sentencing. The objective? Getting youth and adult mediators talking with youth offenders to create connection and community and find ways to move forward without jail time.
“I learned what the right questions are when dealing with people who are emotionally vulnerable. Then, through a place of understanding, we can begin conversations and encourage that person to be in a position of problem solving.”
Viché Thomas, her RS academic counselor of two years, confirms that Cheyenne is a natural leader and activist. “Cheyenne carries her passion about race and equity with her in everything she does. She is focused on addressing inequalities – at school, on the sports field and throughout Seattle. Anyone who meets Cheyenne knows—if there is any sign of injustice, she will speak to it without hesitation.”
As Cheyenne explains, “The system we have serves to oppress and separate — but social justice conversations have a way of bringing people together for better outcomes.”
What’s next for Cheyenne? She will facilitate a workshop on restorative justice at one of the next Leadership Retreats for high school seniors at Rainier Scholars. And she is applying to highly selective colleges around the country and in Washington state. Stepping up into roles where she is truly making a difference as a youth leader, Cheyenne offers a clear example of how transformative it can be to match a scholar’s passion with the real-world, hands-on experience of an internship.