This month’s spotlight shines on Jereme Brooks, Child Protection Mediation Program Manager, Mediate BC.
How did you first get involved with CLEBC?
I’d been around CLEBC, attending training and such, going back to 2012 when I got onto the Child Protection Roster with Mediate BC. However, I first became involved with CLEBC back in 2015 when I participated in the Dispute Resolution Conference 2015: Share the Land. I shot a video that contained a practice tip. I was nervous as anything and just very happy to be involved; It was great.
What are you currently working on (or have most recently worked on) with CLEBC?
I just finished presenting at the Northwest Collaborative Futures Conference that CLEBC did with Mediate BC, CoRe Clinic, WSBA ADR, and Mediate.com. It was great; I loved seeing all the cross-border collaborations. So much talent at the table, it was really quite wonderful to be a part of.
You have an incredible life story. Can you share with us a bit about your background?
(Laughs) Well, thanks, but I’m not sure how incredible it is. To me, I’m more of a cautionary tale.
The very short version is that I’m an old street kid, turned youth worker, turned mediator, and today I run the Child Protection Mediation Program for Mediate BC. I’m a husband, father, son, and I live a pretty sedate life in the suburbs that I worked hard for, but don’t always understand or feel comfortable in.
The truth is that I grew up in that very stereotypical, almost caricature-type, life that a lot of urban Indigenous and other people in cultures of poverty just call normal. My Mom left my Dad for very good reasons when I was three. She raised us off-reserve in Kamloops, and did shift work as a Health Care Worker at Tranquille in Kamloops and then at Woodlands in New West, where we relocated to in 1984, to provide for her boys.
I say that I come from a messed-up family because we were and we know it – we talk about it. I’m not going to go into detail, but I think it’s fair to say that we had, and still deal with, all the same difficulties and dysfunction that you’d expect from a family where the primary parent was raised by parents dealing with the aftereffects of Residential Schools, Day Schools, and disenfranchisement. We love each other, it’s just always been messy and that’s just where I come from.
When I was 14, I discovered Granville Street, which would have been around 1986, and from then until I was 21 I was a street kid in Vancouver and other places around Canada. My experience on the street was about what you’d expect it was, and that is what it is. I made it out okay, and I was really lucky to do so when I look back – a lot of people I know didn’t.
When I was 22, I started working with street kids in New West and the rest is history. I try not to glamourize where I’ve been or what I’ve done (or been alleged to have done…). I also try not to pretend that I’m all normal and saintly now. I did stuff, I’ve been impacted by stuff, and I’m still kind of messed up. In fact, I think I’ll always be a bit messed but that’s okay. The difference is that these days I try to use that mess to help people who are in similar situations get what they need to move forward instead of just being angry, indifferent, and self-destructive.
The bottom line is: I’m lucky and I’m grateful. I have a pretty good life and a wonderful family around me.
What inspired you to become a child protection mediator?
There was no inspiration. My ex-wife wanted me out of the house more! (laughs)
Seriously though, back in 2007/8, I was fostering kids after retiring from non-profits and my ex saw an ad on Craigslist looking for aboriginal mediators. She said that I should apply, and I did. I had no idea what I was signing up for, or what mediation even was, and neither did she. She just wanted me to have something to do outside the house.
Once I knew what I was actually signing up for, I was really taken by the idea that this was something I could do to really help kids and families break some cycles and move forward in a good way. We all enter the helping professions to make a difference, I worked frontline and ran programs for years trying to make a difference for the people I served. This opportunity, to help people have the conversation that helps get people out of that adversarial relationship and allows parents (and social workers) to really be heard, for kids to go get to go home because real change was happening, and for families to move forward without having to look over their shoulder; this was the work I wanted to do. This was that opportunity to make some change. It’s awesome.
What is the most rewarding part of the work you do? And what is the most challenging?
I run the program that governs what I did as a Child Protection Mediator now so that is in and of itself very rewarding. It’s actually very cool and I’m exceptionally grateful to be in this chair. Beyond that, I enjoy the work we’re doing to advance the program and expand what our program does and how we do it. Overall, it’s a great gig, and Mediate BC is a nice place to be. I honestly wouldn’t have come back to non-profits for any other gig – with any other place.
In terms of challenging parts? There are really not that many. Obviously working in a corporate structure, or with the government, takes more time and has more steps than when you’re in private practice. But really if that’s it, if the biggest challenge is that it takes a bit longer, and more people get to add their comments and opinions to what I do to make sure it’s right… then I’ve won the lottery. That’s a good challenge to have and the juice is definitely worth the squeeze.
Other than the important work that you do, what are you passionate about?
I’m guessing you mean passions outside of food and football? (NFL – Go Packers!)
Mainly I’m just enjoying that stage of parenting when kids grow up and leave the nest. I’m also pretty interested in race/diversity issues and discussions around how we can all get better at living together. I was an angry person for a long time, these days I’m really drawn to those conversations geared towards helping people come closer together without having to disregard the truth of our past to do so.
That, and I’ve got an adopted grandkid that means the world to me and lets me hang out in my softer self, so that’s cool.
What are your hopes for the coming year ahead?
My hope for myself and everyone else in the year ahead is that we don’t go back to what we believed was normal. We’ve learned that we can be productive and work remotely, we’ve made some good steps towards a new way of being that helps with work/life balance and self-care, and we’ve spent time figuring out who and what was important to and for us. I hope we keep our eyes trained on that and don’t slip back into the old patterns that didn’t work.
I also look forward to being able to socialize with strangers when I want to. That’ll be nice.