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Mia Mingus, an anti-violence and disability justice advocate, received the Phillips Brooks House Association’s Robert Coles “Call of Service” Award on Friday for her involvement in creating the Atlanta Transformative Justice Collaborative and her work as a core member of the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective.
Mingus’ work has focused on combatting child sexual abuse and other violence, particularly against disabled individuals.
Mass. State Representative Elizabeth “Liz” Miranda and Harvard Dean for Inclusion and Belonging Alta Mauro introduced Mingus and presented the award.
Mingus was adopted from South Korea and raised in the Caribbean, and said witnessing the work of a local organization to end domestic violence sparked her interest in service. She recalled having her neighbors hide in her home from their abusers before fleeing the island.
“I remember, even being at that young age, thinking, I want to be part of making the violence stop,” Mingus said.
The award is named for Robert Coles ’50, an author, psychiatrist, and former Harvard professor, as well as a PBHA board member. Coles has received both a Pulitzer Prize and Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of his work.
Mingus lauded the efforts of activists working to resist oppressive and violent systems, but said she prefers to take a systemic approach to combat violence by altering the conditions that allow for it.
“We all have a stake in how violence is responded to and we all collectively create the conditions that allow for violence to happen,” Mingus said. “Somehow in our society, people are learning how to abuse, torture, rape, et cetera, and so that means that it’s not just a couple of bad apples.”
Mingus rejected the idea that current systems of imprisonment and violence are too deeply rooted to redesign.
“Things do not have to be done the way that they have always been done, just stop,” she said. “Get that out of your head and get creative. Think outside the box.”
Mingus asked students to be mindful of the “charity model” that she argued is predicated on “pity” when working in spaces with people with disabilities. She advised students to create an inclusive environment conducive to meaningful relationships in groups such as Best Buddies, a PBHA program that fosters one-on-one relationships between students and people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Cambridge.
Farah M. Afify ’22, the president of PBHA who gave introductory remarks at the event, said Mingus’s award has been “a long time coming.” According to Afify, the PBHA has incorporated transformative and disability justice practices and skills from Mingus’ blog, Leaving Evidence, into its workshops and trainings.
She said she hopes students involved in PBHA programs will internalize the lessons from Mingus’s lecture.
“Youth, kids, schools can really benefit from an approach like transformative justice,” Afify said. “How great would it be if kids didn’t feel like they were being punished or internalizing this idea of punishment as a path to address harm?”
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