- In Remembrance
Gordon Bazemore, Ph. D.
A Restorative Justice Pioneer
August 14, 1952 – June 6, 2021
By Mara Schiff, Ph. D., NACRJ VP in collaboration with Cynthia Wright-Bazemore
Many of you know the name Dr. Gordon Bazemore, and some of you had the honor and privilege of knowing him. Many others won’t know his name or have ever met him, but whether you know it or not, your work exists in part because of him. His vision and legacy have touched all of us who are committed to expanding restorative justice in the world.
Gordon was one of the early pioneers of restorative justice, beginning this work in the early 1990s, before most of us had ever even heard of it and long before it was a household word. For him, it started way back with the RESTTA (Restitution Education, Specialized Training, and Technical Assistance) grant funded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). In 1997, he was part of the team that founded the Balanced and Restorative Justice (BARJ) Project with Dr. Mark Umbreit and Dennis Maloney. BARJ was a training and technical assistance grant funded by the OJJDP which continued for 10 years until 2007. It was one of the first initiatives to begin implementing and crafting the narrative of restorative justice as a viable direction for juvenile diversion, victim awareness and community involvement in juvenile justice systems across the country. BARJ worked with juvenile justice systems in Florida, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, Washington DC, South Carolina, New York, Arizona, California, Colorado, Vermont, Hawaii and Wisconsin and engaged with juvenile courts, police, corrections and probation departments, as well as victim services agencies across the country. It was instrumental in identifying how to engage victims and communities in the juvenile justice process to support all those affected by an incident of harm. It is indeed because of the early BARJ work that many of these states continue to incorporate restorative values, principles and practices into their current work. That we now have prosecutors in places like Colorado, California, Philadelphia and elsewhere who know of and promote restorative justice can be tracked back to early BARJ work.
Gordon was a prolific writer, publishing 3 co-authored or co-edited books (the first with Dr. Lode Walgrave, the second two with Dr. Mara Schiff), and over 100 academic journal articles and book chapters focused on juvenile and restorative justice. He received innumerable research, training and technical assistance grants from the Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice and Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, American Prosecutors Research Institute, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, the Open Society Institute, the State of Vermont’s Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services Agency of Human Services, and many, many more. His written work focused on how to engage victims and communities in the justice process, identify and ensure fidelity in restorative work, build civic engagement and social capital and so much more than could ever be adequately covered here. Most importantly, Gordon’s work informed so much of early restorative theory and practice, and when RJ was just a small emerging group of international scholars and practitioners in the mid to late 1990s and early 2000s, almost no one hadn’t heard of Gordon Bazemore’s work. In the early days, it felt like we all knew each other and were a small community of like-minded souls trying to change the justice system. In fact, it still surprises me to this day that there are thousands of people doing this work all over the world that I don’t know or that don’t know of Gordon Bazemore.
Gordon was a faculty member at FAU’s School of Public Administration and later the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, where he served as Director for 6 years. In 2013, he was the first recipient of the National Association for Community and Restorative Justice’s (NACRJ) Lifetime Achievement Award, as we wanted to acknowledge and honor the vision of restorative justice inspired by Gordon’s work.
Gordon was the profoundly beloved husband of Cynthia, with whom he shared a life over more than 30 years. He was the very proud father of his two beautiful girls, Sophia and Helena May. Family meant everything to Gordon, and he was deeply devoted to the three women that surrounded him and gave him life.
On a personal note, I too knew Gordon for just about 30 years, and he literally changed the course of my life. I work where I do, am deeply involved in restorative justice, and am who I am professionally because I had the good fortune to meet Gordon and Cynthia at a conference in Onati, Spain in 1991. Never could I have imagined that chance meeting would become the lifelong friendship, mentorship and partnership it became. No one in this field has meant more to me than Gordon Bazemore – I literally owe him my life as it is. I practice RJ because of him, I moved to Florida and got my job at FAU because of him, and I am who I am in this field because of his generosity, mentorship, grace and inclusion.
But in the end, what you really need to know about Gordon are not just the facts of his professional legacy or that he loved his family. What is far more important is how truly loved, and loving, he was. If you knew him, you knew that there was not a mean or critical bone in his body – he was one of the kindest and most generous men I have ever known. There was no one in whom Gordon could not see the best, with whom he would not want to collaborate and who he did not try to support in any way he could. Gordon gave of himself, his resources…he’d literally give you the shirt off his back if he thought it would help you in some way (except that he was always cold, so maybe not that, exactly, but you get the point).
So…hold him in your hearts for a little while, whether you knew him in person or not. Because whether you know it or not, the work you do is deeply tied to his legacy.
May it be said that Gordon walked well upon this earth, and has left a large, indelible footprint for us all to walk behind.