Mar 1, 2023

Women and Empowering Women: An Interview with Reiko Gibson-Hill

by: Jenny Donnelly Johnson

At Mural Arts, we believe that art ignites social change. And, as we honor Women’s History Month and acknowledge National Social Workers Month, it is fitting that we shine a light on a woman within Mural Arts who is helping to support and empower other women.  Reiko Gibson-Hill has provided social work support to Mural Arts Philadelphia’s Restorative Justice department since 2022. Reiko shared her work and her passion in this months staff spotlight.

“The Restorative Justice department is small but does powerful work on a large scale that directly affects the city,” says Reiko.” We believe in second chances and that your past doesn't define you or your future.”

- Reiko Gibson-Hill

Since beginning in the Restorative Justice department, “I have been able to change the scope of how I work with residents of the city,” explains Reiko Gibson-Hill. “My major role is providing support to the participants and even staff in the department. I am the listening ear, the person to bounce ideas off, the provider of options, and the person that can give you direction on services that are available.” “The Restorative Justice department is small but does powerful work on a large scale that directly affects the city,” says Reiko.” We believe in second chances and that your past doesn’t define you or your future. Being new to the department, aspects that I have added to the department are wellness workshops and more exposure to art and culture. My wellness workshop worked on how to add to the betterment of oneself. I explored therapy, self-care, nutrition, financial literacy, and accountability to name a few. I hoped to help participants look within themselves to make small but meaningful changes that could help them and their loved ones and overall change the quality of life.” She explains, “I hope to not only make them want to explore things within themselves but how art and culture can inspire. Restorative Justice went to the Basquiat exhibit as well as to the Michelle Obama book event. I, along with the rest of the department, were able to infuse culture and history into the classroom, which ignited discussion that helped increase interest in art and connection to individuals that might have never created a connection before. I hope to inspire people to explore what is available to them if they can see beyond their circumstances.”

How do the supportive services offered by Restorative Justice make an impact and empower the women you serve?

“In life, people believe that they should be able to do everything on their own, basically be superwomen. Even song lyrics tell us this. The reality is that everyone needs help, and half the battle is asking for the help. As I am new to working with adults, in particular women, I have learned that helping people is empowering. Being able to help with a burden, offers assistance and eases one’s mind. Life is hard enough, participants have enough issues dealing with life, I am able to meaningfully impact people so that they can receive assistance and plan for the future. I am helping to recreate or reshape thinking. I hope to take the stigma away from asking for and receiving help and work on planning for succeeding in the next phase.”

What is your specific role at Restorative Justice? How long have you been doing this work?

Prior to coming to MAP, I worked in child welfare for over ten years. I worked in roles in case management, special education teaching, residential staff, and interim residential manager. The transition into Restorative Justice in 2022 was a drastic change, but it has proven to be quite enjoyable. I was initially nervous about the switch of population but helping is helping. In my department, I am the support person. I support not just participants but staff as well. I present different options that may not have been available or thought of. I specially look at ways of making things work and devising ways to work on or fix a situation.

How does your work impact the community that you work with? What kind of change do you see?

I believe that one of my major roles is the well-being of the participants. I may not always affect the community directly, but I definitely affect the individuals in the community. I try to help lighten the load, become a sounding board, or in some cases, just a friendly face. I support my participants in both small and large ways as they navigate change for themselves and the communities that they live in. I have seen people explore jobs that they have never thought of and seek therapy that was much needed. I love that I have been able to open people’s eyes to new experiences, it only makes the job that much more rewarding.

Can you recall a favorite experience? How did that empower the community?

My favorite experience since working at MAP is attending the Basquiat Exhibit in NY. For some of our participants, it was the first time that they had left the city. Prior to going to the exhibit, we were able to look at Basquiat’s vast collection of work and his life. Participants were exposed to an artist that looked like them and had similar cultural experiences to them. The fact that we were able to combine both modern art and culture in one exhibit was powerful. The fact that participants stated that they enjoyed the exhibit and posted aspects on social media has inspired me to choose meaningful art experiences for our participants so that the leap into appreciating art of all genres is not a far fetch but something that is in everyone’s grasp.

Photo credits for collage:

Top left: Lead artist Jess X Snow and assistants, including participants from the Women’s Guild, work on The Future Is Worth The Fight, Just Hold On & You Will See in Harrowgate, May 28, 2021. Photo by Steve Weinik. Top right: Reiko Gibson-Hill. Photo by Steve Weinik. Bottom left: The Future is Worth the Fight dedication, November 5, 2021. Photo by Akeil Robertson. Bottom right: Women’s Guild graduation at City Hall, May 26, 2022/ Photo by Steve Weinik.

Last updated: Mar 1, 2023

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