Board of Directors
BOARD PRESIDENT | SOMERVILLE, MA
Affiliation: Law Professor,
Northeastern University School of Law
Susan Maze-Rothstein is a founding member of Our Restorative Justice and a professor at Northeastern University School of Law where she directs the Legal Skills in Social Context Program, its signature social justice course. During her two decades of work in that program, she has led nearly 100 students to complete over 12,000 hours of research on restorative justice, school discipline and juvenile court diversionary alternatives. She also co-chairs the Boston Public Schools, Code of Conduct Advisory Council subcommittee, which in September 2013, 2014 and in 2015 persuaded the district’s school committee (the largest in the Commonwealth) to revise its Code of Conduct, responsive to a 2012 school discipline legislation and to include restorative justice practices and other alternatives as a requirement before suspension or expulsion. Professor Maze-Rothstein also co-chairs the Massachusetts Restorative Justice Coalition policy committee where she has been instrumental in crafting legislative language to expand restorative justice work throughout the Commonwealth.
JEFFREY COOTS, ESQ., AND MPH
TREASURER | JERSEY CITY, NJ
Affiliation: Project Manager,
John Jay College for Criminal Justice
Jeffrey D. Coots, J.D., M.P.H. Jeff serves as the Director of the From Punishment to Public Health (P2PH) initiative based at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. P2PH is a consortium of academic, policy and direct service organizations joined together to design and expand systemic preventive interventions that reduce incarceration and enhance public health and public safety in New York City. Prior to joining P2PH, Jeff completed a joint Juris Doctor/Masters of Public Health degree program at Northeastern University School of Law and Tufts University School of Medicine, where he focused his studies on the social justice and health impacts of mass incarceration. While in Boston, he served as an Albert Schweitzer Fellow and delivered dialogue-based “Healthy Reentry” workshops to introduce strategies for working in collaboration with a primary care provider to prevent new infections and mitigate the effects of chronic disease. Jeff started his professional career as a Development Officer at Goodwill of Greater Washington, steadily increasing funding to support workforce development programs and wrap-around services available to those returning from jail and prison. He earned his B.A. in Government International Relations from Dartmouth College in 2004.
Leslie E. Harris (ret.)
BOARD DIRECTOR | BOSTON, MA
Affiliation: Associate Justice: Suffolk County Juvenile Court
The Honorable Leslie Harris has been Associate Justice at the Dorchester Juvenile Court, Suffolk County, since 1994. He was one of the co-founders of OurRJ and recently joined the Board as an Advisory Member. Prior to assuming the bench, Judge Harris worked as a youth worker with Chicago street gangs, a public defender in Boston and Chief of the Juvenile Division at the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, a probation officer and as a teacher.
Liza Hirsch, Esq.
BOARD DIRECTOR | ROSINDALE, MA
Affiliation: Staff Attorney, Massachusetts Advocates for Children
Liza Hirsch is a staff attorney with Massachusetts Advocates for Children where she provides direct representation to low-income families in education matters. She previously worked as a manager in the Holyoke Public Schools, and as a Staff Attorney at Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and at Medical-Legal Partnership | Boston where she represented homeless and low-income families in housing and shelter matters. Liza is the recipient of a 2011 Skadden Fellowship. Liza is one of the founding members of Our Restorative Justice and worked as a legal intern for Judge Blitzman in 2009 and then a liaison to Lowell Juvenile Court during the 2010-2011 research and development year.
Charles M. Smith, Esq., MBA:
BOARD DIRECTOR | Chelmsford, MA
Affiliation: Senior Vice President & SBA Specialist: Eastern Bank
Charles M. Smith is the Senior Vice President – Small Business Administration Specialist at Eastern Bank. In this capacity since January of 2011, Charles manages the SBA program for the largest SBA lender in New England. His duties include providing seminars for entrepreneurs, providing information about access to capital to small businesses and overseeing a portfolio of SBA backed small business loans.
Prior joining Eastern Bank, Charles worked with the Boston District Office of the Small Business Administration as a Lender Relations Specialist. In that role, Mr. Smith helped the over 200 Small Business lenders within Massachusetts use the SBA loan program at their institution to provide entrepreneurs with access to capital options. Charles graduated from Texas Tech with a JD/MBA in 2005. He also holds a B.S. in Agricultural Economics from Prairie View A & M University in 2001.
Mr. Smith works with a number of non-profit enterprises aimed at supporting small business in Massachusetts including SCORE, Small Business Development Centers and CWE. He is a UMASS Boston Emerging Leader Program Graduate and Board Member, a member of the Interise Professional Network, an advisory board member for the Bertolon School of Business at Salem State University and is a volunteer with the Citizen School Mentor Teacher Program.
BOARD DIRECTOR | Boston, MA
Affiliation: Director of Development, South End Community Health Center
Debra Farrar-Parkman Debra Farrar-Parkman is currently the Director of Development for the South End Community Health Center. A native Bostonian, Debra began her professional career in the television production industry. She worked as an Emmy Award-winning producer for Boston’s ABC, CBS and PBS television affiliates and later working for WGBH TV (PBS) as a documentary and public affairs producer.
In addition to her work in television and development, Debra also is co-executive producer of and a performer in You’ve Crossed The Line, a cutting-edge platform designed for college campuses that uses humor to generate student engagement, critical thinking and cultural change with a focus on race, diversity and freedom of speech. She is also the co-founder and producer of ColorStruck: Women of Color in Comedy, a showcase highlighting multi-ethnic comediennes and has been featured on National Public Radio’s Commonwealth Journal, WCVB TV's Chronicle and Cityline programs, as well as WBZ TV’s (CBS) Women’s View.
Debra is a founding member of and Board Officer for New England Blacks in Philanthropy. Her previous Board affiliations include the Boston/New England Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, the Dorchester Arts Collaborative, and the Fundraising Advisory Committee of the Massachusetts Coalition of School-Based Health Centers.
BOARD DIRECTOR | CAMBRIDGE, MA
Affiliation: Center for Restorative Justice at Suffolk University
Carolyn Boyes-Watson is Professor of Sociology at Suffolk University and founding director of the Center for Restorative Justice at Suffolk. She holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University and has published numerous articles and books on restorative justice, juvenile justice and the criminal justice system. Her most relevant publications include Peacemaking Circles and Urban Youth, Living Justice Press (2008) and Heart of Hope: A Guide for Using Peacemaking Circles to Develop Emotional Literacy, Promote Healing and Build Healthy Relationships with Kay Pranis (2010); Crime and Justice: Learning Through Cases, Rowman and Littlefield (2013); and Circle Forward: Building a Restorative School, Living Justice Press (2014) with Kay Pranis.
Affiliation: Museum of African American History
Cheis Garrus is currently the Director of Finance and Administration for the Museum of African American History, which is entering its 50th year of preserving and interpreting African American’s contribution to American culture, with particular focus on 19th century New England.
Garrus has been dedicated to promoting human justice through social entrepreneurship for many years. He is a founding investor in Green Jobworks, and has founded and operated several companies in the food supply and distribution chain with the aim of creating wealth for individuals and families in economically distressed environments. A “finance guy” by trade with a personal mission to use real estate to improve the human condition, Garrus has also served as an advisor and consultant on a number of international development and energy projects in Latin America, Africa, and Europe.
Garrus also takes civic duty seriously, and has been actively involved as a member of many nonprofit boards for more than 20 years. He most recently served as Board Chairman at Green JobWorks (2011–2015); a Board Member at Green Street Academy (2010–2014); and Executive Board Member at Center for Urban Families (2006–2011).
Affiliation: Massachusetts Department of Public Health
Leonard Lee is currently the Division Director of Violence and Injury Prevention at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, where he oversees the sexual and domestic violence unit, child and youth violence prevention unit, suicide prevention unit, and injury prevention and control unit.
Lee previously served as the Deputy Commissioner of Public Health for the State of Connecticut. In this capacity he oversaw injury and violence prevention and various other departments. He has also served as the Executive Director at a number of nonprofits throughout the Boston area, such as the Roxbury YMCA, ABCD Dorchester Neighborhood Service Center, Odwin Learning Center and the Wang Theater. He is an Avid Ski instructor, Musician and an Urban Beekeeper.
In addition to Lee’s work in the community through a number of boards and committees, he has also been a consultant in the entertainment industry for over 25 years, producing such event as Stepping out, Boston Beantown Jazz Festival and other major jazz concerts in and around Boston.
Affiliation: Lynch School of Education, Boston College
Catherine Wong is the Director of Urban Outreach Initiatives, Lynch School of Education, Boston College. Wong oversees the Donovan Urban Teaching Scholars’ Program, an intensive one year M.Ed. cohort-based program in teacher preparation, the College Bound-STEM Program, as well as facilitates a series of cross university, school and community collaborations.
Catherine is also a cross-cultural consultant who brings together interdisciplinary teams to enhance their capacity to lead and learn from a culturally competent, social justice and equity stance. Highlighted consultancies have included: the Domestic Violence Unit-Massachusetts Department of Social Services, WGBH-PBS Television, the Human and Civil Rights Division-National Education Association, the Iverson Bell Regional Diversity Summit for Veterinary Medicine, the U.S-Middle East Partnership Initiative, and the School of Education-Queen’s University, Belfast, Northern Ireland. Catherine earned her graduate degree in Counseling Psychology with a specialization in Cross Cultural Counseling from Boston University.
Catherine was raised on the island of Oah’u, Hawai'i and grew up with the dramatic storytelling of her great grandmothers and extended family. Their stories of bringing disparate groups together despite prejudice and stereotypes instilled in her the desire to become a cultural bridge builder. Catherine honors her ancestors’ legacy, as she continues to grow and refine her craft as a consultant and educator.
Affiliation: Office of the General Counsel, Harvard University
Ara Gershengorn is a University Attorney within the Office of General Counsel at Harvard University. At Harvard, Ms. Gershengorn advises on investigations, litigation, and law enforcement related matters.
The Honorable Jay D. Blitzman
Affiliation: First Justice Middlesex County Juvenile Court
The Honorable Jay Blitzman is the First Justice for the Lowell Juvenile Court, Middlesex County. A driving force behind OurRJ, he now serves as an Advisory Board Member. Prior to becoming a judge he was the first director of the Roxbury Youth Advocacy Project which led to the creation of the statewide Youth Advocacy Department of the Committee for Public Counsel Services and he was a co-founder of Citizens for Juvenile Justice. He has authored numerous works on juvenile justice and holds multiple teaching positions.
Eli Plenk is a teacher, community organizer, and writer whose career has focused on working with marginalized young people. He currently serves as program manager at Our RJ. Before joining Our RJ’s staff, Eli worked at John Jay College’s Prisoner Reentry Institute in New York. There he designed and taught a series of reentry focused college prep courses for incarcerated people, while simultaneously working with a broad coalition of city agencies and nonprofit organizations to create support networks for the justice-involved. Prior to that, Eli taught English at CUNY Start, a casework intensive program that prepares struggling urban students for college by addressing both academic skills and social-emotional health. Eli began his organizing career as a middle schooler when he helped lead a statewide student boycott of high stakes testing in Massachusetts. Since then he has contributed to movements for immigration reform, prisoners rights, workers rights, and housing equity while teaching organizing skills to young people and adults alike. A graduate of Hampshire College and a senior fellow at Humanity in Action, Eli recently contributed a chapter to a book on youth civic engagement and authored a piece on race and religion for the Harvard Journal of African American Public Policy.
Program Planner and Circle Keeper
Mariam Levy is a social worker with over 13 years of experience using restorative justice practices with at-risk youth. She is currently working with Our RJ of Lowell where she is a circle keeper facilitator and planner. She learned the power and efficacy of restorative justice circles while working as a street outreach worker and eventually a program director at Roca, Inc. in the immigrant community of Chelsea, MA. During her years at Roca she honed her circle keeping skills through extensive 4 day trainings and lots of practice with youth in crisis. Mariam earned her Masters in Social Work from the University of Kentucky in 2013 and invested her internship hours at Juvenile Restorative Justice, where she assumed the position of Associate Director upon graduating. At JRJ she actively managed cases of juveniles involved in the court system. This involved building relationships with the youth and their families, guiding them through the court process, coordinating care and resources with community partners, leading restorative mediations and circles, attending court and communicating with judges and attorneys about each case. Mariam saw the potential to use restorative justice circles in a broader context within the school system. In order to implement this plan she presented to numerous school administrations and the school board, trained volunteers and students in circle keeping and wrote a successful grant to get the program funded. After the first year the program was embedded in eight middle schools and three high schools, serving over 200 young people with restorative justice circles and mediations.
Mariam is passionate about social justice and about empowering young people. She is committed to restorative justice as a tool for cultivating respect, paving the way for accountability and building strong communities.
Prior to joining Our Restorative Justice, Meghan Higgins was a graduate student at Tufts University, obtaining a joint M.A. degree in Urban and Environmental Policy & Planning, and Child Studies & Human Development. Following completion of her undergraduate degree, Meghan served with City Year, a national education focused non-profit, as an AmeriCorps team leader. In this position, she led teams working to address the dropout crisis in both elementary and high schools in Little Rock, Arkansas. Additionally, Meghan has done policy and advocacy work with YouthBuild USA, focusing on local, state, and federal strategy around youth unemployment, education, and criminal justice. She has also worked as a Grant Writing Associate at BUILD Boston, a national youth development organization using business and entrepreneurship to propel students through high school and into college. Meghan also has nearly four years of experience in early childhood development and education. Her masters thesis work focused on adolescent pregnancy in young women who have had contact with the juvenile justice system. A native of Pittsburgh, PA, Meghan is a passionate researcher and advocate for reform around urban education, juvenile justice, and other child, youth, and family-centered social policy issues.