Natalie Shiras is a recently retired pastor at Church on the Hill in Lenox, MA as well as a vital part of the Multicultural BRIDGE team. She wears many hats at BRIDGE, her most prominent being her position as Development Coordinator. Natalie whole-heartedly believes in BRIDGE’s vision, and channels her passion for social justice into all of the work she does.
Both of her parents were strongly involved in the Civil Rights movement, when she was growing up in the 1960’s in Washington, D.C. Her mother worked for National Urban League in the main office, and was involved in groups such as The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Due to her mother’s involvement in these groups, Natalie became aware of racial injustice and white privilege at a very young age.
Her father was headmaster of a prestigious school, where The Board of Trustees was extremely resistant to integration. Due to his persistence and willingness to make a change, segregation within his school eventually became a thing of the past. Natalie’s father was pivotal in their desegregation process, and because Natalie attended that school herself, she became a part of the desegregation movement as well. Both Natalie and her parents were involved in the work of Martin Luther King, Jr., and lived in Turkey from 1964-1967, where they had the chance to meet and learn from African American artist and novelist James Baldwin.
Natalie moved to the Berkshires in 2003, and became the pastor at Church on The Hill in Lenox, MA. She was originally invited to be a part of a Race Task Force meeting as the pastor of the Church on The Hill by Founder Gwendolyn Hampton VanSant as Gwendolyn was initiating the collaboration with the Department of Justice Community Relations Service Division with Amy Albert. Natalie has been working on social justice issues for her entire life, and she came to BRIDGE with a focus and passion for empowering people of all cultures. “There is a need for social justice and equity in our society,” she said. “Being on the race task force is an honor, and to be able to work on it in my retirement with more time and effort is great.”
Natalie told youth and elderly people from the Church on the Hill about the First Dialogue on Race in 2009, so that they could get involved with it, and for this, she is very proud. She also participated in youth-corps training on diversity, as well as “bridge-building” in various schools. Lenox Memorial Middle and High School (LMMHS) has been faced with social issues centered around race and bullying, and Multicultural BRIDGE decided to do a day-long forum in March of 2014 to try and diminish those issues. She is very proud that church members had the chance to be involved in the training. “It expanded all of our horizons,” she said.
For BRIDGE, Natalie has been a facilitator in schools forums on race, gender & community, an advisory council member, and an active Race Task Force member. Now in 2015, she has dedicated her retirement to supporting the Development of BRIDGE. She brings a love of fundraising, encouraging others, giving, and building relationships to our organization. She helps to put everyone’s vision in action, and has a serene ability to see beyond what is in front of her and make connections. She also bring her power of ministry to the organization to support the integrity of the work and mission in support of its Executive Director.
One can find Natalie at every type of event BRIDGE holds, from movie showings and book signings to school mentor and race task force meetings, showing her support and sharing her knowledge with others.
In all that she does for BRIDGE, she is seen as a “sacred activist.” She brings together her faith, and justice for each person based on God’s destiny with a need for social justice and equity in our society. Multicultural BRIDGE allows her to do the work she believes is sacred work, and that she feels passionate about, which she has experienced since for her entire life.
“I am passionate about this fabulous endeavor that is Multicultural BRIDGE, it enhances my life in every way, and I am honored to be a part of it,” she said.
Every event that Natalie has engaged in with Multicultural BRIDGE would not be possible without the support of our generous donors like you! Thank you! (GN)