Meet Elena Quintana

Elena is a lover of community healing in the form of learning, seeing each other truly, naming and reclaiming what’s been maimed by historical trauma, appreciating art, cracking bad jokes, practicing nonviolence and restorative justice and singing loudly. On her better days she does all of these things simultaneously, mostly from her Boss Lady post at the Institute on Public Safety and Social Justice at Adler University.



What do you think about when you are alone?

Earlier this week, I was with my friend who offered to show me a picture of a young man whose face had been blown off by an assault rifle.  He remarked that the shooting occurred not far from my home.  I declined to look at it, as I know what a tender heart I am, and I couldn’t think of any possible reason that I would want that image burned in my brain.  Today my son mentioned that his old schoolmate was killed; a younger boy he played soccer with in an after-school program.  My son was speaking of the same young man felled by the assault rifle in the picture.   
In my moments alone I grieve for how fucking stupid we are as a society to allow this to continue.  As adults, it is completely within our means to stop it, and we refuse.  I know we can do better.  I scheme day and night about how.  On a big, grand scale: HOW!? We in Chicago hear stories of horrific violence all too often.  They get invalidated by saying “he was in a gang” or “it was domestic”.  These summaries are ways of giving up and sweeping aside the tougher work of addressing gun laws and healing trauma.  

If we want to actually take back our city we would be asking THE questions about violence: 

  1. What happened to these people long before this incident took place?
  2. What help does he or she need? (in policy, support, education, and aid)
  3. What will it take to get them and their families the help that they need?
  4. How can we make this happen for all people in the same position?

These are the wicked questions we leave unanswered.  I’m completely over how people conflate fostering public safety with the draconian mistreatment of human beings.  Most people who hurt people are deeply wounded themselves.  It’s time to face up to the fact that we spend billions of dollars in systems, such as the prison system, that only serve to add layers of injury on top of already broken lives.  We need to invest in human functionality and in building mutually accountable human relationships that prize genuine connection and dignity.  Building a beloved community, as described by MLK, requires us to understand the fact that we belong to each other.  I work to do both of those things.


What makes you laugh?

I’m a big fan of surprising irreverence in truth telling.  People that play well with words to describe an event make me laugh really hard.  A really good joke, tale, or prank is only funny if I don’t see it coming.  I love clever silliness.  I love random oddity.  I live to keep myself entertained, so generating laughable moments is key.  Also I shamefully admit that, for reasons I cannot fathom, I love dogs that talk in movies.  

What expression or saying do you love? 

“There’s always time for more than you think.”  If life is like an enormous vegetarian buffet (if only!!!), I want to try it all.  I want to learn and do and grow and be places and meet people, I want to taste, touch, smell, hear, and see new, different, more, yes!  I want to make it happen.  I try to squeeze in every chore, whim, trifle, adventure, obligation, or transformation I possibly can.   I want to love this life so hard and do right by the honor of living.

Who helped get you here?

When I was 25 I was finishing my Master’s degree and I was making $10,000 a year in scholarship money for room and board and I got pregnant.  I graduated and six weeks later had a baby and no money.  A wonderful woman named Gloria Estrada with 5 children of her own took care of my son for $1 per hour.  That is all she charged and all she would accept.  She was like an angel to me and I owe her a huge debt.  Because of her, I could be confident in finishing the requirements for my Ph.D. knowing my son was receiving good, loving care.  I think of her more than she could ever know.  Thank you, Gloria!

Where do you go for inspiration?

Once a month I help facilitate a class at Danville Correctional Center.  My students are men convicted of violent crimes, mostly murder.  They are also non-violent scholars who zealously find ways to better themselves and the Chicago communities they physically have not visited for decades.  They do this by training inmates with short sentences to identify their trauma, to understand what triggers them, and to assist them in responding non-violently to difficulty or challenge.  Together they have created an inspired space for growth and healing.  It is sacred.  All participants are disciplined and thoughtful, open-minded and astute.  They are the best students I’ve ever had.  They are among the best teachers I’ve ever had.


Want more? Read This and Connect with Elena on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn

Photo Credit: Jamie Kelter Davis Photography