Sonja was born and raised in Puerto Rico. She has an undergraduate degree in political science as well as a law degree. After graduating from law school, she and her husband came to the Twin Cities for a couple months before moving here permanently in April 2017. She has worked on a variety of projects, including legal writing, research, and content creation. She is also involved in a digital magazine in Spanish for which she is the editor. As of November 2020, Sonja has been the Systems Change Advocate at the Sexual Violence Center. She coordinates with the Hennepin County Sexual Assault Multidisciplinary Action Response Team. This team, which is made up of law enforcement, prosecutors, nurses, and victims’ services providers, comes together to figure out how to make a victim’s experience as smooth and painless as possible as they move through the system. She also works 1-1 with clients as an advocate, making referrals, providing counseling, and assisting survivors in navigating the system.
It was a long journey to STAR for Sonja. After meeting an individual at a protest in 2019, she reconnected with him after the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 and was invited into conversations around restorative justice and grassroots organizing. Several people in these conversations had attended STAR and spoke highly of the training. When Sonja started working at the Sexual Violence Center, she began having conversations with her coworkers and supervisors about the implementation of restorative justice. The Executive Director and program manager agreed to sponsor her to take STAR. They saw how many survivors don’t want to go through the regular retributive justice system and needed ways of healing beyond prosecution.
For Sonja, the most transformative part of STAR was embracing the process and allowing it to change her. Tapping into trauma, learning about the cycles of violence, and applying the strategies to break free were all relevant not only to her work with sexual assault survivors but also to her personal life. She learned her reactions are normal and that there is a “possibility of a life past trauma”. STAR gave her hope for herself and for other people—for communal and transgenerational healing.
She believes we are currently at a turning point. The systems are showing cracks and falling apart. In her view, the teachings of STAR are pivotal for this moment. What are we going to build after the system crumbles? How do we move forward? How do we find different ways of healing and coping that don’t rely on demonizing and punishing others? STAR offers a foundation for imagining a new way of being in relationship with each other that generates and creates healthy power for personal and structural transformation.
Sonja is excited to be on Peacebuilding’s board. She looks forward to helping promote STAR and spread the word about Peacebuilding through creating new relationships and building bridges.
Christopher O. Mendez is young professional in the field of conflict resolution and restorative practices. His academic and professional backgrounds are as diverse as they come. His professional experiences range from naval military security, retail management, higher educational editing, writing instruction and training, international manufacturing management, middle/high school instruction (private-school setting), higher education academic affairs, refugee case management for trauma-informed minors, and program development and implementation in mediation and restorative practices. He received his bachelor’s degree from Florida Atlantic University in Social Psychology. He completed his Master's and Doctoral degrees, in Conflict Analysis and Resolution, at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Nova Southeastern University. Though trained in a variety of methods of conflict resolution at most levels, Dr. Mendez’s area of interest and expertise are three: (a) group based conflicts dealing with religion, culture, nationalism; (b) in treatment of vulnerable populations during and after conflict; and (c) the use of restorative practices to in schools, courts, and communities at large. Chris is 2018 STAR graduate and a passionate supporter of Peacebuilding.