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Jamie Williams

Jamie Williams

Born in Minneapolis and went to Minneapolis Public Schools. She now is a Justice Practice / Measure Consultant, Trainer, Teacher and Circle Keeper. She works for Amicus Radius Program and as an independent consultant to schools and community organizations.

Born: Minneapolis, MN, United States
Heritage: European American

Bliss is that which makes you happy, that which brings you pleasure, that which makes you lose track of time ‘cause you love doing it so much. Think about doing something like that when you’re figuring out what you want to do with your life: follow your bliss, your happiness. And when you wake up every day, I hope you’re going to a place for your work that you want to be going to. And love it. I think that’s really important.

Somewhere along the line of my life, my life just became my life. Like I don’t have my work-life and my regular-life, like some people do, I just have my life and I love that.

Jamie Williams

Born in Minneapolis and went to Minneapolis Public Schools. She now is a Justice Practice / Measure Consultant, Trainer, Teacher and Circle Keeper. She works for Amicus Radius Program and as an independent consultant to schools and community organizations.

[T]he work that I do is called Peace Making Circles. I teach circles for schools and communities. And the first thing you always do when you’re sitting in a circle is introduce yourself. And so it’s real important for me to always know who I’m with.

I want to tell you, too, that right now I’m imagining that we’re in a circle together because that’s the way I feel most comfortable. I feel really uncomfortable up in front of people and not sitting with you.
So, I just want to tell you that right now I’m imagining that all of us are just sitting in a circle together as we do that because that’s the way I live most of my life and so that’ how I think about our time together.

So, I was actually born in Minneapolis. I was born on October 30, 1954. What was kind of exciting in 1954 was Halloween, which some of you might know is on the 31st of October, was on Sunday the year I was born.

And because I’m so old, like if the 31st was a Sunday, now they were celebrate on Sunday, but back then they didn’t do that. So I was actually born on Halloween that year. So, that’s kind of an exciting birthday for me my whole life because you get together with your cousins or my friends around Halloween and so I’ve always loved having my birthday at that time of year.

I don’t know if that’s why it is my favorite time of year. Sometimes I wonder if our birthdays always are our favorite time of year, I don’t know, but it is one of my favorite times.

I was born actually not too far from here! Abbott Northwestern Hospital, I think it’s on like 26th and Chicago Avenue. And um, I kinda grew up in this neighborhood. I feel really comfortable around here.

Actually, my dad grew up just a couple blocks from here. And he went to Keewadin school and then I think they moved and so went to this—my dad went to this very school, I think, for a couple years before he went to Sanford.

My mom grew up in the neighborhood kinda, too, and she went to Morris Park and then to Nokomis, and then her, my mom and dad met when they were in high school at Roosevelt together. So it’s kinda cool. My parents knew each other in school.

And I also went to all of Minneapolis public schools. I went to Windom and Ramsey and Washburn. And um, I…I enjoyed my schools. I had a really good time. I still hang out with people that I know since kindergarten. I have a lot of new friends in my life and I gotta tell you that one of the—one of my favorite things in life is meeting new people.

So even though I was nervous about coming here today and you know, I was kinda nervous about talking to you. I was just excited…going, “I’m gonna meet some new people today!” which I love to do so…that’s pretty cool.

I’ve traveled a lot recently and I was somewhere and someone said why you like it here so much, why don’t you think about moving here? I said I can’t. there’s nobody that I went to kindergarten with who lives here. They kind of laughed at me, but um, I really appreciate that I still live where I grew up and a lot of my friends have been my friends since…I’m 57 years old, in case you didn’t do the math when I gave you my birthday.

So, some of my friends I’ve had for way over fifty years and I just love that. It’s pretty cool. I went to college for a couple years after high school. Went to a very small college. It doesn’t exist anymore. Um, there’s a-a I don’t know if any of you have ever heard of the Perpich Arts High School. Some of you might think about going there when you’re in high school. It’s for juniors and seniors who really, really, really are interested in art. But the school is where I went to college. I went to college there for two years and then I got a scholarship to go to Augsburg College my last two years of school. But um, my family was having some troubles and I decided not to take the scholarship. I got a job working at a bank on Bloomington and Lake Street. Some of you might know where that is. There’s still a bank in the building, I believe.

I worked there and I met so many awesome, wonderful people where I worked there and was trying to go to school part-time. So, sometimes in your life you make decisions, I think, um, I made a decision to help my family out instead of continuing to go to college and it ended up to be a very good decision that I made.

And that…I was gonna show you this picture. This is one of the people that Larry (Long) and I both knew. His name is Chuck Robertson, Sr. He actually—when I told you I started working at that bank on Bloomington and Lake Street and I was a teller. The American Indian Movement started a few years before I started working there and he used to come into the bank every day with a deposit for the American Indian Movement.

So I met him and we would just chit-chat. I didn’t know him very well. And then I didn’t see him again for years and years and years. One of my best friends to this day, Kathy, married him. And Kathy and I worked at the bank together. She doesn’t even remember him. So it’s kinda fun that ah, they got married.

I think you’ll find in your life when you grow up that sometimes you work places and you make really good friends where you work and they stay your friend for a long time. Then, every once in a while in life, you get something special happen. And that’s what I feel like happened with Chuck and Oscar and I, that I knew Chuck and he was my good friend and then he married my good friend and it was so awesome. But then we ended up working together.

So he was my friend first and then we worked together so it was really very cool friendship and work partnership. I was thinking about that a lot today before I came here because of Larry and I actually met Larry in Chuck’s living room. It was so long ago, I’m not sure Larry even remembers.

My mom had had cancer in 1995. It was getting pretty close to her dying and she was in hospice and she was very peaceful and doing alright. I was with her every day and I decided to take a night off to come back to Minneapolis and just spend some time with my friends. So Chuck invited me over ‘cause he know I was having a hard time with my mom being so sick.

He invited me over to his house and Larry was over at his house that night. I’d never met Larry. And Larry and two other good friends of theirs were playing music. And I just think I’ll never forget that night even though I think I’ve seen Larry once since then. That’s a very long—you know, it’s been a long time.

You know, the music was so beautiful and it was just what I needed to hear that night. Which kinda makes me think about the work I do in this Circle. I believe in it so strongly and I believe in it—like you can always trust it.

I trust the Circle so much that I always think whatever needs to happen happens and whosever there is there.

So I really believe we’re all supposed to be together today sharing some things about our lives. I wish I could hear a little more about your lives, too. That’s what I’m really interested in.

I wanna tell you, I’m a little uncomfortable…actually, maybe a lot uncomfortable talking about myself. I more appreciate hearing about other people. And that is kind of a funny thing. Someone pointed that out to me about nine months ago.

I was in a little cabin, a beautiful cabin on a hillside near Winona, Minnesota. I don’t know if any of you know where Winona is. I was doing a circle training with some teachers and some people that work with kids that are in trouble with the police.

Someone said to me, I think you have a lot of trouble with recognition, don’t you? She said that to me and I went, well, no I don’t! And ever since they said that, I’ve gotten to really think about it and I think they’re right that, for whatever reason, I’ve…I’ve trouble with recognition.

Like if say when I was your age—what grade are you guys in anyway? You’re third graders! Alright, I had Mrs. Pattis, room 205 in third grade, alright. That seems like a long time ago right now.
But I remember some times like if I did really really well in school and you got recognition from something that made me like super nervous. Like maybe not even want to go to school that day if we were going to get recognized for doing something good. And I don’t know what that is about me, isn’t that kind of crazy? But I’m still that way.

Like, if you get all As in something and they wanna do something…recognize that? Oh, I really have a hard time with it. I don’t know why.

And I don’t even know why I’m telling you this, but I went to Metro State University finally, when I finished getting my bachelor’s degree in college. And I went there off and on for a very long time. Like some people just go to college right away and they kind of get it…get done with college and get a job and maybe go back later.

But college was a struggle for me because I kept having to quit to work. And I got an email one day from Metropolitan University that said they were having a celebration because it said they existed for 40 years.

I thought, well, that’s pretty cool that Metro State University’s existed for forty years. Maybe some of you will go there someday. I really thought it was awesome University. The people that taught there were really cool.

And um, they were having this celebration forty years, I thought, maybe I’ll go to that celebration and just check it out, you know? A lot of my old teachers will be there. Maybe I can see what’s going on and, you know, I don’t know.

The very next day, I got another email and I was…I was being…I don’t know…I was one of the forty people…they were honoring forty alumni. Forty people that had graduated from Metro State were being honored for making a difference in the world. For some reason, I got picked as one of those people.

And I wanted to crawl under the bed and not even talk about it; it was so weird. I thought, oh my gosh, you can still learn a lot even when you’re old. You can learn a lot about yourself even when you’re old, you know.

That’s one thing I think is very cool, you know, that I’d like you to think about in life is that you can always learn. You can learn when you’re eighty-five years old. I love that about my grandma who lived to be ninety-three, because she’s say, darn, I can’t believe how much I can still learn. You know, there’s always something left to learn. So anyway…

I’m still learning about why I have problems with that recognition thing. I have no idea, but I do. I think it’s part…I think part of it is…like I told you I love being in Circle with people because I feel like we’re all equal, we’re all on the same level.

Sometimes I feel like when I’m in front of a group, maybe it seems like I know more than you or something? Which I don’t think I do necessarily. I may know different things than you do. I don’t know, that’s that thing…just because I have more knowledge or I’ve lived longer, there’s still so much that I could learn from you.

Which is one of the reasons why the work that I do of peace-making circles…I don’t know if any of you…have any of you ever been in a circle where you use a talking piece and you pass something around? Have you done that?

I was gonna show you this—a talking-piece I often use when we’re in circle to pass around. And the only reason I brought it today is because Chuck carved it. Chuck is the friend that Larry and I had mutually and carved this, which I think, is just amazing.

His wife gifted it to us so that we could use it in our work. But um, Chuck was a member of the Bear Clan. In Ojibwe, Bear is Mukwa. And so he put his clan on here and he put his real name. I told you his name was Chuck Robertson, Sr. but he had an Indian name, named Ignigwan, means Leading Feather. And then he was married to an Irish woman so he put a little shamrock over here. And there’s a few things on here so ah…

I feel more comfortable when I have a…a talking piece in my hand, I think. But I was thinking this morning as I was getting ready to come over here, I’ve got a card that’s up on a shelf right next to my door when I was leaving. It was …a card that Chuck gave to me when I received my Master’s degree. It said something about um, how much he appreciates our friendship and how he hopes that it would continue forever. And he put forever in capital letters.

Then he said, we’re gonna work together forever in capital letters with exclamation points afterwards. And then he says, let’s dazzle the universe, it can happen.

And I read that card every once in a while and I thought about it today, I thought, Gosh, in some ways, I knew Larry through Chuck so I wanted to bring Chuck’s picture in and Chuck’s stick it’s like dang, maybe we are still kinda working together, you know, even though he’s not physically here anymore. He still influences the work that I do and kind of even how I do it.

I really believe this—you might think I’m a little nutty for believing this, but I really do—the 2009-2010 school year, so you guys would have only been in first grade that year I think, so when you were in first grade, I lived at Red Cliff Reservation on the southern shore of Lake Superior and I worked with their Early Childhood Center helping with kids that were leaving the Early Childhood Center going to kindergarten.

And then I worked with kids going to high school in Bayfield that were having troubles getting there every day. Sometimes kids have trouble waking up and getting to school in the morning. Can you believe that? [chuckles]

So anyway, I was up there helping out and one of the elders from Red Cliff one day he came into my office and he saw…he saw that picture of Chuck and he said, Oh—and he just very nonchalantly said—that was the guy standing behind you on the last day of training at the early childhood center. And I said, [with skepticism] “Okay.” But that was his belief; he really believed he saw Chuck standing behind me the last day that I was going to be working there. But then two days later, they offered me a job and I spent a year there. and it was an amazing year!

I have a daughter, Jessie; she’s going to be 23 in December. Just talked to my girl this morning at 7:15 when the phone rang and my daughter who lives in Madison, Wisconsin said, “Mom, they’re just about to tow my car away. I gotta pay a hundred and ninety dollars in parking tickets.” And I went, well you have a little problem on your hands there, girl.

And she said, “I need a $190, now.” And I’m like, where’s my glasses, where’s the light, you know. Had to pay ah, pay parking tickets for ah, Jess. She’s a little forgetful. But, the bright side of it, “Mom, I came to the library at one o’clock in the morning and I studied all night long to make sure I did really good on a test tomorrow and that’s why I was late leaving my parking spot this morning.”

So, I cut her a little slack, you know. That’s a little bit about my daughter. But anyway, when she was born, like almost twenty-three years ago, I said to my husband, when Jessie goes to college, I’m gonna go away for a year on an adventure, I just know it. I’m gonna go and teach, maybe at Pine Ridge. I’m gonna teach in New York City. I’m just gonna go somewhere for a year-long adventure and I guess I kinda planted a seed that I didn’t think much more about, right? But then, when my daughter was in college, I ended up going away for a year, a long adventure up north.

And the best part of that, which I think is kinda funny; the place where I lived is called Living Adventure. They do ah, kayaking trips for people. You guys know what kayaking is? Those long, skinny boats? Oh, wait, the oar’s like—I’ve never done it—the oar’s like that, right?

So, I lived at this place that did kayaking expeditions out on the Apostle Islands on Lake Superior. And so every single morning, when I woke up, I would see this sign that said, Living Adventure. I felt like, I guess that’s what I’m doing…I’m living an adventure that I thought about over twenty-some years ago and it came true.

So be careful what you wish for cause you never know. I guess if there’s any advice I could give you it’s some of the dreams that you dream—they’ll come true. And it’s amazing when it happens.
And I think we’re all…we all…every single one of us has a purpose.

Some of us will maybe discover it earlier; some of us won’t discover it until we’re fifty-some years old perhaps. Doesn’t matter when you discover it, just important that someday we do.

So I feel like I’ve…around in a circular way…found my purpose and I know … I know this for sure, that I’ll be doing the work for the circle for the rest of my life. I don’t know how long that’ll be.

We’re almost at the holidays now, just last year, my appendix ruptured on probably December 25th, but I didn’t go to the emergency room until the 27th. I had to have kind of emergency surgery. I wasn’t in very good shape.

And then I felt so fantastic after that. A couple weeks later they called me and said they had found a very rare cancer in my appendix. Like so rare, there’s only been six-hundred people in the world so far that have had this kind of cancer. And I’ve got to be honest with you, I was really scared, I was nervous, I was “Oh, wow!” you know? My dad was 42 when he died, my mom was 61 and I was thinking about that.

Anyway, it’s a very happy ending to my story. I researched on the Internet actually everything I could about what was wrong with me and what did I want my choice to be. Did I want to have chemo? Did I want to do surgery? Did I want to do nothing and see what I could do?

I ended up having surgery so it was the end of last January and I’m the only one of the people that have had this kind of cancer where my cancer did not spread anywhere. So! I didn’t need chemo; I didn’t need any further treatment.

So, it’s been a crazy year for me. It’s kinda like…it’s kinda like the best year of my life and the worst year of my life all at the same time. ‘Cause I had sickness and I had surgeries that …that…that it turned out alright.

And I also took nine trips this past year to New York City and did training for their public schools. So, I think I’m feeling pretty satisfied and happy with the way things are for me and my life right now. I’ve had a lot of struggles, but um, when you get older and you start realizing some of your dreams—like, I’d love to hear about some of the things you’re dreaming about doing with your life. Some of them will come true and...and I wish, you know, I could hear about them.
You be thinking about what you want to do when you get older because ah…I really believe it can happen. You can make any one of your dreams come true, just ah, be open to it and constantly seeking and ah…

Third grade is a pretty darn good place to be. One of my very best friends, her name was Ells, she’s actually from Holland, but she moved here when she was ten. But she’s a third grade teacher here in San Diego.

She called me the other day and she said, “I think it’s the best year of my life!” I said, “Well, that’s very cool.” “Well,” she said, “it’s my third graders, I’m just lovin’ ‘em, I’m loving ‘em.” And I think she had fourth grade last year. She said, “Not that I don’t like fourth graders, but there’s something about these third graders that I have this year that I just love.”

And then she was jealous when I told her, “Hey, I think I get to be with some third graders in a couple days, so ah…”

Maybe I’ll use one example of a time when I was doing story circle up North. You can do a story circle just for fun. You can do it to, you know, talk about what you did over break or what you’re going to do as it happens, but sometimes there maybe was a conflict and the people in the story circle telling about how that felt to them, whatever it is that happened.

So what I was going to tell you, I’ll tell you a quick little story. When I was up north working, a couple boys had taken a very inexpensive backpack out of my office. It was for sale by the Booster Club. Only costs like 3.99, but nonetheless, they took it and they should not have done that.

I mentioned to somebody that a backpack had been taken out of my office. Eventually somebody looked on the camera to find out who took it. These two boys were kicked off the basketball team and I felt awful about it.

I realized that they should maybe have a consequence for doing something that was not right, but getting kicked off the basketball team sounded way too severe to me. The only reason these boys came to school was to play basketball.

So, there was a series of circles, story circles around that. And when I finally came that I was sitting with the boys’ basketball team to talk about what had happened and their feelings about this, they always talk about our core values before we begin a circle, like what’s important to us. And these boys remembered a song they sang at the Early Childhood Center when they were little boys called…actually, I don’t remember the name of it, but it was called the Four Values We Live By are honesty, respect, kindness and sharing. Those are the four values they came up with at the Early Childhood Center.

So when I was telling these boys about values and we were just going to talk about them, they sang that song. They were like 17, 18 years old now and they knew that song when they were three years old. They started singing it.

I said do you guys understand what I’m talking here about values? And they said, yeah, we think it’s kinda like that song we use to sing at the Early Childhood Center and then they sang it. And when I told Julie, the person who wrote that song, what those boys had done, she started to cry, “I can’t believe they still remember that song!”
So, one thing about story circles is first we share a little something about that’s really important to us, which might be…examples are like honesty is really important to me, sharing is important, kindness is important. And there’s all these things that are important to us.

We’re always looking to um…if we’re having a conflict, like, repair harm. Like if something happened, I’ll share a story around how did that make you feel? And what can we do to help you feel better about it and repair the harm?

Or, we can just share our stories because there’s always something to learn. Everyone has a story, everyone, and there’s something to learn from everybody’s story.

[What does core values mean?] I think in some ways it means like what do you stand for? I don’t know if any of you have seen that poster, there’s a poster at Free Spirit Press called, What do you stand for? Think about it. Maybe you think about if you’re looking to make a new friend, what qualities do you want your friend to have? I mean, you probably want your new friend to be someone you can trust. You want your new friend to be someone who’s kind.

So I think values, they’re like characteristics or traits that we just think are really important. So you could say, Hey, I stand for sharing and inclusion and forgiveness. There’s a lot, a lot of values, they’re probably hundreds of words that describe values, which I think are pretty much how we want to be together.

I think circles and story circles are a lot about how we be together and not what we do. Like it’s a chance for us to be human beings instead of human doings. So we be in a certain way when we’re in a circle. And that’s kinda like…I always feel like whenever we’re in circle, we’re the best person we can possibly be at that time.


The Circle Goes Round and Round

Honoring Jamie Williams

The Circle Goes Round and Round
(Honoring Jamie Williams)

And the circle goes round and round
And together we are found
Through the stories that we tell
To wish each other well
Through the values we live by
To be honest and to be kind
To respect and to share
And the circle goes round and round

I want to tell you
That right now
I imagine that we’re in
A circle together
What could be better
Than for you and I to be friends
With a talking-piece
in our hands
That we pass around
To listen to
each other’s stories
and with what we found
To join hands - repeat
Across this land

To tell the truth
I was nervous
About talking with you

But then I thought
About the circle
And I knew what I would do
Think about
All the people
Who I do know
Who brought me in
Who now are friends
Who shared with me their home
Singing songs
With Larry Long

I trust the circle
so much that I
always think whatever one needs
Happens happens
and whoever
is there is meant to be
To be a peace-maker
And to discover
The purpose of why we’re here
In a story-circle
Where nobody
Has a need to fear
I share with you - repeat
You share with me

Words & music by Larry Long with Becky Schultz’s 3rd Grade Class of Hiawatha Elementary School, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

© Larry Long Publishing 2012