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Reimagining Safety Through Communities of Care: An Interview with Mathew Solomon

Edited by Emma Rodriguez

This is a blogized summary of an interview with Mathew Solomon on our podcast 52 Weeks of Health Equity where we discussed the concept of reimagining safety through communities of care

Mathew is a renowned author, director, and conflict resolution facilitator who has dedicated his life to promoting health equity and fostering community well-being. In that interview, he called on communities to come together, listen to one another, and collectively work towards a more just and inclusive society.

Headshot image of a White male with dark hair wearing a black shirt smiling
Image of guest Mathew Solomon

Matthew Solomon (he/him)


I was a professional musician. Then I found myself writing and directing films and feature films, short films, and web content. Along the way, I've always been passionate about personal development, relationships, and professional development. I've always had an awareness of social justice and social issues and, have been fascinated with the things that make communities work and societies work. I thought I was done with film, thinking I was going into politics and government and something where I could use my privilege and access as a white male to help further positive social change. Through that course, I was applying the course topics on sustainability and communities and transformative leadership to the issues that were happening post-George Floyd with the issues of policing and incarceration. It became really clear to me, that those systems are related to mental health issues. They're detrimental in a lot of ways, especially with black and brown communities and impoverished communities, where it has a very negative impact on mental health, on wellbeing, we talk about equity, like all of that. I was like, okay, I know this system isn't working, so what do we replace it with? And so that became the area of my focus. I ended up, instead of writing a paper for my final thesis, doing a documentary called Reimagining Safety. where I interviewed 10 experts from a variety of different angles. And so through that film, which, you know, I know we'll get into a little more, you know, it became clear that if we cared about one another, like for real, we would do things differently


Tahitia (she/her)


I love your introduction because it speaks to when we lean into our strengths and then share our ability to help others, we can think about, well, what's the problem we're trying to fix what can I bring to that space and how can I help? It is so important for the public to start thinking about, what does it look like if we care about each other. Why is this important though? Why are communities and building up communities in your mind important to getting us to a different place when it comes to our health and our wellness, especially mental health?


Matthew Solomon (he/him)


I care about people. I see the harm that's being caused to the communities that are most affected. I grew up with the belief our nation is founded on everybody's created equal. Then I realized in my earlier years, no, they don't mean everybody. For me, it goes back to the elementary school I went to, which was predominantly black, so I was one of the only white students. Also, I'm Jewish and I was going to Hebrew school three days a week at a temple in Beverly Hills, which was a wealthy neighborhood. I'm not from Beverly Hills. I'm middle class, but in this wealthy environment, I was an outsider. I knew what it felt like to be excluded. Those experiences made me compassionate and empathetic towards everybody else who had experiences of that nature. It's set up with all of my experiences and my friends and my family and all of that. And so, you know, it's because I care. Because I know on some level, what some of that feels like. This is something I teach in conflict resolution, how to listen empathetically, to understand another person's lived experience, and to put myself in somebody else's shoes. It tells me that some things need to be fixed.


Tahitia (she/her)


You can feel empathetic, but empathetic without action. I can feel empathy for many different groups, but if I'm not sitting there and thinking, what can I do what do I see are some ways that I can assist and actively try to do something, that empathy is just sitting inside. How do you see that as helping individuals when you learn to be just a more empathetic listener and learn how to discover actions that you can do? Have you seen them?


Matthew Solomon (he/him)


I've done this with couples in relationship coaching, and I've done this on large scales in rooms of over a hundred people. There's a way that I teach people how to listen, and it's listening to get the other person's experience, put me in their shoes so I can get why they think the way they do, why they feel the way they do with what they're sharing with me. When we do that exercise, that training, like you can see the walls come down and people connect and everybody's laughing. When those barriers come down and we connect, that's a community, that's an investment in each other. Then we can work together to do the things that will benefit all of us. It's all very individualistic, but it breeds collectivism when we're willing to sit with another person, be present, and listen.


Tahitia (she/her)


It's so important. Even just that skill of listening, that communication skill of actually listening. and taking in and sitting, so many of us have, you know, we're just so intent to quickly get out what I need to do. I wish it was a skill more of our leaders had, the ability to pause and listen to what the people are asking. We've already covered how communities can care more, but I'd like to talk about your film. Your film is about changing how we think about policing and incarceration, how is it received by people? How do you work towards abolition and what does that look like? Or even words like, and you did not use these words, I'm using these words, what does it mean to defund police work?


Matthew Solomon (he/him)


The reality is it doesn't matter what those terms are. There's going to be pushback and a big part of that goes back to politics and economics. We've all been socialized for hundreds of years to believe that we need a lot of police. They're the only ones that are gonna keep us safe from the "bad people". Abolition is not to get rid of all police in prisons tomorrow. It's about creating the condition where police and prisons are obsolete, where we don't need them.


Tahitia (she/her)


I am sure when you talk about defunding the police or abolishing prisons, people will look at you in the audience and go, "This guy's nuts. We can't do that because we don't have systems in place". How do you kind of address that?


Matthew Solomon (he/him)


The beauty of the film is, that I interviewed 10 people who spoke to this, so I didn't have to. They're experts who have worked in this for decades. For instance, Dr. El Jones, who's a professor from Halifax, Nova Scotia, has worked in prisons with incarcerated people since she was 14. Her father was an activist. She talks about those very things. She talks about how most cities invest somewhere around 50% of their budget into police. Gina Viola, who ran for mayor of Los Angeles on an abolitionist platform, is in the film. She talks about how in Los Angeles, the budget for LAPD has increased 50% over the last 10 years. The film talks about the correlation of communities with the most services and resources having lower crime. Crime is most closely related to poverty, desperation, and mental health. Hawk Newsome and his organization last summer did a summer of hope. An event where the whole summer, they provide entertainment, activities for kids, and food. Summer gun violence decreased by 38% in their section of the Bronx.

Black man seated, looking into the camera. He wears a black baseball hat, black shirt and black pants, while looking earnestly into the camera. The image is outside in a city setting.
Image of Hawk Newsome co-founder Black Lives Matter of Greater New York

Tahitia (she/her)


Around the community, people care for each other and care for teenagers and children. They were doing this now. So we are not necessarily changing how society does things. We're almost sort of bringing back some of these ideas. I love the concept of caring for the community, I think we can all kind of get behind and embrace that. Are there barriers that you think we could be working on to make this a more widespread world?


Matthew Solomon (he/him)


El Jones talks about this in the documentary. She says we're not ready for a world without police and prisons yet, because we don't know how to talk to our neighbors. We don't have strategies to take care of people and reduce harm because we've been isolated. We've been taught to be very individualized and to be taught like, I'm good, you're bad, there's always the othering. The barriers are how we've been socialized. The barriers are how the media has been used for 100 years in film and TV. Then before that, with stage shows and performances, where we've been taught punishment is the way, punishment is the deterrent. If somebody does something bad, they have to suffer the consequences. If you look at statistics, punishment is not a deterrent. It just breeds more violence.


Tahitia (she/her)


We've all come to realize as a world that stress is dangerous. It impacts our physical health, our mental health, and our lifespan. If we don't learn how to be more empathetic and listeners and pause, it'll be difficult to break down the aforementioned barriers. What can listeners do to help? Where can they see the film, or where can they access your work?


Matthew Solomon (he/him)


We've shown the film to almost 1000 people across the country with over 40 different organizations that have sponsored screenings. It's amazing being in a room full of a hundred people talking about positive social change taking care of people and caring about people. Thank you.


Police in riot gear stand with batons with an image overlaid of a protestor with a sign that says"I can't breathe"
Image from film Reimaging Safety


Tahitia (she/her)


Thank you so much, Matthew. This has been just a wonderful episode with you. I hope that people go out and take a look at the film, bring the film where it needs to be, and reach out to you. I am one for recognizing our allies and using that power of privilege to help us have better communities and care.

Please listen/subscribe to the episode for the complete story on 52 Weeks of Health Equity, available wherever you currently listen to podcasts and our Podcast website tab.

 

Matthew Solomon Consulting

You can connect with Matthew through his consulting and conflict resolution services. Whether you are an individual seeking personal growth or an organization interested in conflict resolution training Mathew may be able to assist.


Reimagining Safety Movie

You can find information about upcoming screenings of the documentary and how to host a screening in your community.


Understanding Prison Reform

(Read more about prison reform)


Understanding the Police Budget

(Read more about the police budget)


Gina Viola's Stance on Police Reform

You can find more information about Viola's stance on police reform.

Her ideas are similar to many police reformists.


Summer of Hope

(Read more about the Summer of Hope event)

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