Quinquennial Gala Marks BRIDGE’s Journey of Catalyst, Love & Impact
GREAT BARRINGTON, MA – October 4, 2022 – BRIDGE (Berkshire Resources for Integration of Diverse Groups and Education), a grassroots non-profit organization dedicated to advancing equity and justice by promoting accountability and working toward positive social change, celebrates its 15th anniversary.
On October 8th, BRIDGE will mark this milestone with a celebratory gala from 2pm to 6pm ET, to be held at the historic Jacob’s Pillow in Becket, Massachusetts—site of the Underground Railroad. The gala will host a blend of local artists, activists and world-renowned presenters and performers to celebrate the essence of the organization’s vision and its reach in our local and broader communities.
The afternoon will include MacArthur Fellows Dr. Saidiya Hartman and Okwui Okpokwasili with vocalist performer Imani Uzuri for a unique presentation of Hartman’s powerful, timely and timeless “Litany for Grieving Sisters.”
“For grieving sisters, what other choice is there? For them, love is not yet exhausted... It is a story that blossoms in the black morning,” writes Dr. Hartman in “Litany for Grieving Sisters.”
Local filmmakers from OnPoint Design, TJ and Otis West, will share a short film showcasing a snapshot of BRIDGE’s many voices and personal reflections; local dancers United Latinos of the Berkshires and Women to Women presenters will present folkloric dances in the spirit of the traditional ritual of 15 year “quince anos” milestone; and Operation Unite NY will present a dance performance and offer interactive drumming and dance to close out the celebration. Ghanaian musician Star Nii will also perform.
As BRIDGE honors the legacy of our civil rights leaders, BRIDGE will be joined by descendants of Harriet Tubman and Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois. “Gwendolyn and BRIDGE have been instrumental in celebrating my great grandfather Dr. Du Bois’ legacy over the last 7 years (and before) so much so that my mother, Dr. Du Bois Williams, requested her burial plans shift to returning to the Great Barrington gravesite with our Du Bois family. In her last months, she was moved and finally convinced of the earnest effort of Great Barrington to honor her grandfathers’ legacy and repair the relationship. I could think of no one in the world but Gwendolyn and BRIDGE to welcome my mother home,” shares Jeff Peck, great grandson of Dr. W.E.B. DuBois.
The guests will be invited to celebrate in dance and to testify to the impact of the organization throughout the afternoon.
“BRIDGE serves as the culturally appropriate hub for accessing support, education, and equity for all. The needs of Berkshire County have been identified through lectures, training, and authentic conversations,” said Luci Leonard, Community Health Worker and Licensed Practical Nurse. “The takeaway each time demonstrates how much is needed to help the local community and how BRIDGE serves as a model for a community-based effort for others nationally.”
Finally, BRIDGE CEO and Founding Director Gwendolyn VanSant will share remarks on the theme, “Catalyst. Love. Impact: “What’s Your BRIDGE Story?” to inspire and engage support for BRIDGE’s unique Berkshire-based solidarity economy and culturally-specific wellness programs, envisioned by BRIDGE’s founder and team for the organization’s next 15 year chapter.
“BRIDGE is gathering for our third gala ever to inspire and express gratitude to our ever-expanding community of supporters, activists, and participants. Committed to safety, trust and equity, BRIDGE has focused on how building relationships and connections and disrupting systemic inequities can improve overall community health and transform lived experiences for vulnerable populations in communities and workplaces,” says VanSant. “Knowing a community can only be as strong and resilient as its weakest parts, our work has been deeply rooted in gender and racial justice focusing on anti-poverty and community health. Proceeds from this gala will support our wellness center, the Solidarity Meeting House and community farm and garden and transitional housing for diverse communities. BRIDGE’s vision is a culture and economy that values collective humanity as our primary currency. ”
Over the last 15 years, BRIDGE has been recognized as a best practice by law enforcement, public health, education and most recently in culturally specific victim services. The organization has consistently been acknowledged with awards and recognitions in business, anti-poverty, race equity, non-profit impact, women's leadership, public health, and peace work on local, national, and international levels.
Rooted in historical legacy as a primary source for its movement building, BRIDGE is, at its core, a grassroots organization, dedicated to advancing equity and justice by promoting activism, cultural awareness, positive psychology, and mutual understanding and acceptance. The quinquennial event on the theme of “Catalyst, Love and Impact” will highlight milestones in BRIDGE’s history, including the launch of its critical Berkshire-based such as Towards Racial Justice and Equity campaign, which was est. 2010 with Dept of Justice Community Relations Service Division; Race Task Force; Women to Women and finally Happiness Toolbox and Youth Corps program supporting the next generation of local leaders in resilience and social and climate justice efforts.
“When Greylock first started our IDEA journey a few years ago, BRIDGE was right there to guide us through this ongoing voyage of discovery and growth. Through Gwendolyn’s impeccable leadership, we charted a course that often took us out of our comfort zones so that we could better hear and learn from one another. Today, I’m proud to share that our credit union reflects this invaluable investment and remains deeply committed to continuing this work. On behalf of Greylock, and personally, I want to express my deepest thanks and appreciation to Gwendolyn and the entire team at BRIDGE for their unwavering dedication to making our communities better for us all,” said JamieEllen Moncecchi, SVP/CAO at Greylock Federal Credit Union.
Today, BRIDGE stands strong as a nationally recognized nonprofit that has transformed the Berkshires—working with area businesses on cultural competence and inclusive leadership guidance and training; catalyzing and spearheading initiatives and campaigns like the Pay Equity work of the Inclusive Leadership Cohort; and stewarding and buoying the W.E.B. Du Bois legacy work in the community alongside the Town of Great Barrington. BRIDGE has produced the 2014 Civil Rights Conference with former US Attorney Carmen Diaz; the educational forums at the MCLA conference with guest Nikki Giovanni and the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond; and the Central Berkshire School District with Dr. Beverly Tatum. As a part of the groundbreaking “New Pathways'' talks in 2021, BRIDGE brought together hundreds of national and local leaders and participants, facilitating community conversation to chart new possibilities for health, justice and equity in a “post-COVID” world. The conference culminated with renowned keynote speaker and activist Dr. Angela Davis. Most recently in summer of 2022, BRIDGE held dialogues following author Isabel Wilkerson's presentation and with scholar Saidiya Hartman at Tanglewood.
The quinquennial gala will bring together BRIDGE donors, staff, volunteers, constituents, and partners in celebrating 15 years of expanding equity and justice in the Berkshires and beyond. The event will feature local food vendors Once Upon A Table, Roses, Firehouse Bar and Grill, Momma Los, Beloved Kitchen, traditional dishes from Women to Women food vendors from 5 Central and Latin American countries, Burmese Bowl, House of Seasoning and more for a tasting of the cultures and culinary arts represented throughout our Berkshire county.
Special thanks to sponsors Berkshire Bank Foundation and Greylock Federal Credit Union for their early bird sponsorship along with several co-sponsoring businesses and families, as well as Jacob's Pillow for hosting the event on these historic grounds of the Underground Railroad. Other sponsors include BRIDGE donors, Feigenbaum Foundation, Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, and many more. Honorary Board Members include Deval and Dianne Patrick, Mayor James Roberto and Michael Bobbitt.
Tickets are available at multiculturalbridge.org or call 413-394-4305.
Founded in 2007, BRIDGE is an award winning, nationally recognized grassroots organization dedicated to community health and advancing equity and justice by promoting cultural competence, positive psychology, and mutual understanding and acceptance. The organization acts as a catalyst for change through collaboration, education, training, dialogue, fellowship and advocacy with a race and gender equity and justice focus. Since 2011, BRIDGE has been a minority- and women-run non-profit certified by the Office of Supplier Diversity of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (SDP) and since 2021 a Culturally Specific Program (CSP) engaged for building capacity to repair harm from victimizations and support thriving in historically minoritized and marginalized groups. Services include training, education, language access services, mutual aid, and multicultural celebrations for awareness building. For more information about BRIDGE, please visit https://www.multiculturalbridge.org/
CEO and Founding Director, BRIDGE
PR and Media Contact
Saidiya Hartman is the author of Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America (1997; Norton, 2022); Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007) and Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments (Norton, 2019), which received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism, and the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction, the Mary Nickliss Prize from the Organization of American Historians, the Judy Grahn Prize for Lesbian Nonfiction, and the John Hope Franklin Prize from the American Studies Association. She received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2019 and was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2022. She is a member of the Royal Society of Literature and University Professor at Columbia University.
Hi, my name is Jaziyah Forte and I am a student at the Du Bois Middle School and my mom, Joallen Forte, is a preacher at Macedonia Baptist Church in Great Barrington — the Town where Elizabeth Freeman made history in the Berkshire County courthouse. I have attended Macedonia since I was a little baby. I have known Ms. Gwendolyn for about 4 years now, but people in my family have known and worked with her for much more. This year was my fourth year participating and being a part of BRIDGE. This summer I went to our summer Happiness Toolbox/Real Talk program as an LIT which if you didn't know stands for a youth leader in training or leader in training, and I am working my way up and learning how to be a leader. While being a part of BRIDGE I've been able to learn about many leaders and groups of color in our Berkshire history through our Berkshire Legends program run by Stephanie Wright whose family is from right here in Sheffield. One of the leaders I had the opportunity to learn about over the years was Elizabeth Freeman which alot of you might also known as Mumbet.
I hope you know who Elizabeth Freeman is by now but, if you don't I'll tell you who she is and why it is important to see this statue today. She was the first enslaved African American to file and win a freedom suit in Massachusetts. It's important for me personally to see this statue built because it shows how long my culture has been leading and claiming our freedom and how far my culture has come. To be able to see such an important woman standing in the center of Sheffield is truly inspiring. It has inspired my bravery and perseverance as a young Black woman. To me it's so important for middle schoolers and young people in general to be able to have this statue represent such a big impact she had on our history from right here in the Berkshires where I live. I hope that everyone and every student especially appreciates this monument as much as I do.
BRIDGE Presents the Screening of Mosaic, a Short Featuring Local Berkshire Leaders of Color Working Toward Justice and Public Health Equity
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
BRIDGE Presents the Screening of Mosaic, a Short Featuring Local Berkshire Leaders of Color Working Toward Justice and Public Health Equity
Great Barrington, MA - April 28, 2022 - BRIDGE (Berkshire Resources for Integration of Diverse Groups and Education), a grassroots non-profit organization dedicated to advancing equity and justice by promoting accountability and positive social change work, announces the premier of the film Mosaic on Thursday, May 5th at 6pm at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington. This film will be in English with Spanish subtitles.
Commissioned by the Western Massachusetts Health Equity Network and created by local filmmaker Michelle Falcón Fontánez, Mosaic highlights the transformational work of local leaders of color and other voices from the Connecticut River Valley to the Berkshires–including the stories of local Berkshire community members and BRIDGE leader Florence Afanukoe and long-time Berkshire resident Arthur Wright. Florence Afanukoe moved with her family to the United States from Togo in 2008 and graduated from Pittsfield High School, and Arthur Wright migrated to the Berkshires from North Carolina more than 50 years ago. Together, they hold an intergenerational and cross-cultural conversation, contrasting their experiences moving to the primarily white community of the Berkshires. As an immigrant student from Africa, Florence describes encountering systemic and cultural racism in school alongside the immersion of her family into the region, while Arthur recounts leaving the segregated South and finding a space and home here in the Berkshires to have agency over his and his family’s livelihood. Both share their experience during the pandemic.
The screening will be followed by a panel discussion and community conversation facilitated by BRIDGE CEO and Founding Director Gwendolyn VanSant, who was nationally recognized for her anti-poverty and race equity practices as the National Drum Major for Justice awardee for BRIDGE’s mutual aid work on behalf of the most vulnerable during the pandemic. This recognition clearly highlights the impact and significance of the work that BRIDGE has been catalyzing for the past 15 years within its community and the need for programs like these to continue. VanSant will be joined by Jessica Collins, Public Health Institute, Sasha Jimenez, Planned Parenthood and Mosaic Film Committee, Colin Adams, Associate Professor of Sociology at Berkshire Community College and Dr. Lara Setti of Community Health Programs with featured film participants, Florence Afanukoe and Arthur Wright.
“The story of immigrant families in Berkshire County is a seemingly unique and nuanced experience that I, being an immigrant, have explored firsthand and can narrate the reality,” says Florence Afanukoe. “During that time, I met BRIDGE when the organization supported me as an immigrant youth in high school where they led the Greylock Teach Fellows program (a collaboration among Greylock Federal Credit Union, MCLA, and BRIDGE), for Berkshire youth entering education. It was during this MCLA course, Education in Society, led by BRIDGE educators, JV VanSant and Gwendolyn VanSant, where I presented my “Inspiring Change” project at the end of the program, focused on tangible solutions within our education system and among faculty, administrators, and parents that were identified for students like myself by our Cohort of Fellows. As a follow-up, BRIDGE provided an amazing internship and service learning opportunity, where I worked with youth and followed through with my project. Since then, I have been working with BRIDGE, now as an employee and a youth leader. I am entering my final semester at the University of Bridgeport focused on Public Health where I will graduate in December 2022. It was BRIDGE that inspired me to start on this path to make a difference. Many students need a resource like BRIDGE and its Happiness Toolbox, and I am so fortunate to have had my BRIDGE experiences.”
Through lifting up these experiences, knowledge and expertise of local community leaders of color, Mosaic explores the connections between racism and health. Since BRIDGE’s inception in 2007, the organization has worked at this intersection, connecting people of color and other systematically excluded community members with key resources and networks while also providing education to both local institutions and the community at large–improving health outcomes by directly supporting vulnerable communities and youth, and working across sectors to build a Berkshire culture of health, equity, safety and justice. BRIDGE’s racial justice organizing and equity and inclusion training addresses the social determinants of health through dialogue, action and education. In order to identify viable solutions, BRIDGE strives to highlight and provide pathways of understanding in how the social conditions lead to the health outcomes and disparities experienced locally (Berkshire), regionally (Western Massachusetts), statewide, and nationally.
The pandemic shed light on the glaring health disparities and impact within the most vulnerable in Berkshire communities. By partnering with UMASS Public Health Equity network, BRIDGE aimed to amplify these stories and center the voices of marginalized and vulnerable communities to develop the best path forward towards building healthy, thriving communities. In response to COVID, BRIDGE also built upon its existing networks, expertise and community trust to launch an ongoing Food Sovereignty and Sustainability mutual aid program, which continues to provide healthy food, prepared meals, resources, connection and care to 125 vulnerable and marginalized families (450+ residents) across the county, every week since the start of the pandemic. Originally in 2020, the focus was to stop the spread and to get healthy locally-sourced food to families already marginalized due to the intersection of physical and mental health disparities due to race, immigration, ability and socioeconomic status. Today, BRIDGE continues this work recognizing the exponential harm the pandemic has caused on its Berkshire-based families with an almost 6% cost of living increase in Berkshire County in 2022.
The events preceding the screening, which start at 4pm in Giggle Park in Great Barrington, is made possible in part by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Race Equity Grant, a two-year grant to support BRIDGE’s racial justice education, campaigns and organizing. Additional partners include Berkshire Community College, Community Health Programs (CHP), Greylock Federal Credit Union, World Farmers Market and the Town of Great Barrington. This is also a part of Great Barrington and BRIDGE’s collective efforts to focus on broadening climate action outreach and engagement with minority and lower-income area residents through the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Program (MVP), a state grant with 89% of Massachusetts cities and towns, or 312 municipalities are now enrolled.
In addition to BRIDGE, the film also features stories from three other local, grassroots organizations leading the way toward healthier communities and advocating for equity, justice, representation and transformation: Women of Color Health Equity Collective (formerly MotherWoman, Inc.); Estoy Aqui; and the Ohketeau Cultural Center. This event is part of a regional screening tour organized by the Western Massachusetts Health Equity Network and local partners, with cultural exploration, performances and wide-ranging discussion centered on the screening of the new film. For information on MOSAIC, visit https://wmhenfilm.org/
For complete details of the showing at Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, or https://mahaiwe.org/event/the-western-massachusetts-health-equity-network-presents-mosaic-a-free-multifaceted-evening-of-transformation-inspiration-and-conversations-on-racism-and-community-health/
Founded in 2007, BRIDGE is an award winning, nationally recognized grassroots organization dedicated to advancing equity and justice by promoting cultural competence, positive psychology, and mutual understanding and acceptance. The organization acts as a catalyst for change through collaboration, education, training, dialogue, fellowship and advocacy with race and gender equity and justice focus. BRIDGE is a minority- and women-run non-profit certified by the Office of Supplier Diversity of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (SDP). Certified competencies include training, education, language access, and multicultural awareness. For more information about BRIDGE, please visit https://www.multiculturalbridge.org/
CEO and Founding Director, BRIDGE
PR and Media Contact
BRIDGE Hosts National and Local Leaders and Activists in Celebrating Legacy of W.E.B. Du Bois with Memorial Service for Civil Rights Icon’s Granddaughter
EVENTS ARE IN COLLABORATION WITH THE 5TH ANNUAL LEGACY FESTIVAL OF DR. W.E.B. DU BOIS IN HIS HOMETOWN OF GREAT BARRINGTON, MASSACHUSETTS
Great Barrington, MA - February 15, 2022 - BRIDGE (Berkshire Resources for Integration of Diverse Groups through Education), a grassroots non-profit organization dedicated to advancing equity and justice by promoting accountability and positive social change work, announces upcoming events to celebrate the life and legacy of Berkshires native son, civil rights pioneer, NAACP founder and scholar W.E.B. Du Bois during Black History Month. This year, the occasion is even more notable, as Dr. Du Bois’ only grandchild, Dr. Yolande “Du Bois” Williams Irvin, is laid to rest in her family’s gravesite at the Mahaiwe Cemetery in Great Barrington. Commemorative events will be held throughout the Berkshires, including a memorial service–hosted by BRIDGE–officiated and attended by dignitaries and social justice leaders from across the nation. Additionally, events presented by the Town of Great Barrington’s 5th Annual W.E.B. Du Bois Legacy Festival is with BRIDGE as collaborating partner for the fifth consecutive year.
Before she passed away last November, Dr. Williams Irvin (known as “Du Bois”) asked to be buried in the family plot, where she would join her grandmother, Nina Yolande Du Bois, and her mother, Yolande, along with W.E.B. Du Bois’ son, Burghardt. The family asked Gwendolyn VanSant, CEO and Founding Director of BRIDGE to direct and curate her return to the Du Bois family’s spiritual home. In 2018, BRIDGE was instrumental in efforts to honor the civil rights leader on the 150th anniversary of his birth and subsequently led the two-year community campaign to rename the local middle school after the iconic intellectual.
On Friday, February 18, W.E.B. Du Bois’ great grandson, Jeff Peck Sr. visits W.E.B. Du Bois Regional Middle School and speak with students. That evening, Shakespeare & Company in Lenox and BRIDGE present a staged reading of Charles Smith’s play, “Knock Me a Kiss,” about the 1928 marriage of W.E.B. Du Bois’ daughter Yolande to renowned Harlem Renaissance poet Countee Cullen. (Williams Irvin served as adviser for this fictionalized account of an episode drawn from her mother’s life.) Playwright Smith will attend and participate in a post-performance panel discussion along with director Regge Life, UMASS Amherst professor Dr. Whitney Battle Baptiste (Director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Center), Clark Atlanta University assistant professor Mary Ashong, and artist Delano Burrows (“The Great Barrington Project: Unbleaching the Souls of Black Folk”), moderated by VanSant.
On Saturday, February 19, Bishop Dr. James Dixon II, of Houston’s Community of Faith Church and president-elect of NAACP Houston, where Peck resides, leads the Williams Irvin memorial at Great Barrington’s First Congregational Church. Beginning at 11am, the service includes prayers, scripture, song, with virtual and in-person reflections on her life by dignitaries and educators, including Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Massachusetts State Senator Adam Hinds, NAACP National Board Member Michael Curry, state, and town officials. Following the memorial service, the ceremony moves to the Mahaiwe Cemetery for the honoring and unveiling ceremony.
Says VanSant, “I’m humbled and honored to have been asked by Jeff Peck, Sr. to help fulfill Dr. Williams Irvin’s request to return to her family’s spiritual home and to organize this celebration of her life and achievements, which go far beyond her academic career on the faculty of the psychology department at Xavier University and her advocacy for women’s health. While it’s fitting that we commemorate her and her grandfather, W.E.B. Du Bois in his hometown of Great Barrington during Black History Month, their lives and legacy demonstrate that Black History is our shared American history, and should be recognized, taught, and celebrated throughout the year.”
On Sunday, February 20, as part of the Town of Great Barrington W.E.B. Du Bois Legacy Festival, world-renowned Jacob’s Pillow presents a West African dance workshop, open to the public with dancer, storyteller, and drummer Iddrisu Saaka in a participatory exploration of traditional dance and modern culture in Ghana, W.E.B. Du Bois’ final resting place. The workshop runs from 2–3:30pm at Zion Lutheran Church in Pittsfield and is part of Love Pittsfield’s 10×10 Upstreet Arts Festival in partnership with the NAACP Berkshire County Branch.
Commemorative activities continue with the 5th Annual W.E.B. Du Bois Legacy Festival, an array of town-sponsored events and others hosted by community partners to be broadcast each evening online. From February 21–23, the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center hosts musical performances, talks, and panel discussions themed, “The Sacred Journeying of Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois: Native Son and Global Intellectual.”
This year’s virtual Festival remarks include a keynote delivered by Dr. George T. French, Jr., President of Clark Atlanta University, where Du Bois taught and developed his groundbreaking work in sociology. Distinguished community leaders will also speak, including Dr. Kendra Fields of the Clinton Church Restoration, and Dennis Powell of NAACP Berkshires among others.
It culminates with the observance of W.E.B. Du Bois Day, on February 23—Du Bois’s birthday—an official town holiday, which includes the presentation of the annual Du Bois Legacy Award and a panel discussion featuring HBCU scholars such as Dr. Barbara H. Combs (Clark Atlanta University), Dr. Melvin Rahming (Morehouse College), and Dr. Alix Pierre (Spelman College), moderated by Dr. Emily Williams (BRIDGE and Du Bois Legacy Committee). Du Bois descendants will participate throughout the Festival, along with artists, musicians, local youth, and other scholars, paying tribute to Du Bois and exploring local history and his far-reaching impact on society.
Memorial partners and sponsors to date include BRIDGE supporters, such as Greylock Federal Credit Union, Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, Berkshire Roots, Josie and Glen Greene, Elizabeth Adams, Joan Hunt, Janet Elsbach, Dr. Lara Setti, NAACP-Berkshire County Branch, Lily Swartz and Tim Likarish, Dr. John Horan, Carey McIntosh, Austen Riggs Center, Dr. Mary Nell Morgan, Tommie Hutto Blake, the Nguyen Family, Clinton Church Restoration, Shakespeare & Company, Your Color Connection, Town of Great Barrington, Smoky Divas, Finnerty & Stevens, The Lazu Group, Outpost Productions, local BerkShares vendors, BerkShares, the BRIDGE Board and several donors along with co-hosts First Congregational Church of Great Barrington and Community of Faith Church Ministry Team-Houston.
For complete details of these events,
For more information on Knock Me a Kiss, www.shakespeare.org
For more information on the West African Dance Workshop, www.jacobspillow.org
For details of the Town of Great Barrington’s W.E.B. Du Bois Day, www.mahaiwe.org
Note to Editors: Archival photographs of members of Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois, Dr. Yolande “Du Bois” Williams Irvin, and other members of the Du Bois family are available upon request.
Founded in 2007, BRIDGE is a grassroots organization dedicated to advancing equity and justice by promoting cultural competence, positive psychology, and mutual understanding and acceptance. The organization acts as a catalyst for change through collaboration, education, training, dialogue, fellowship and advocacy with race and gender equity and justice focus. BRIDGE is a minority- and women-run non-profit certified by the Office of Supplier Diversity of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (SDP). Certified competencies include training, education, language access, and multicultural awareness. For more information about BRIDGE, please visit https://www.multiculturalbridge.org/
BRIDGE Contact: Gwendolyn VanSant
CEO and Founding Director, BRIDGE
Media Contact: Truc Nguyen
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
January 15, 2020
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Sandra Rodriguez, Everyday Democracy Communications Dept., firstname.lastname@example.org; (860) 712-4047
Dr. Emily Williams, BRIDGE Senior Education & Engagement Director,email@example.com; (413) 394-4305
NATIONWIDE– BRIDGE, Multicultural BRIDGE was one of four finalists (of 64 total nominations nationwide) for the 2019 Paul and Joyce Aicher Leadership in Democracy Award given by Everyday Democracy to individuals and organizations that work toward creating spaces for people of all backgrounds to talk and work together for strong, equitable communities.
BRIDGE (Berkshire Resources for the Integration of Diverse Groups and Education) is a grassroots organization dedicated to advancing equity and justice by promoting cultural competence, positive psychology, and mutual understanding and acceptance. A Commonwealth certified minority and women-run organization based in the rural Berkshires, BRIDGE acts as a catalyst for change through education, training, dialogue, fellowship, and advocacy. For over 10 years, BRIDGE has used a collaborative approach to actively lift up marginalized voices in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, and across the country.
Martha McCoy, Executive Director of Everyday Democracy shared, “BRIDGE is making a huge difference in a small community by bridging gaps and bringing people together across sectors, backgrounds, and all forms of difference. By supporting meaningful connection and collaboration, BRIDGE is demonstrating the kind of leadership that creates spaces where everyone can have a voice and play a role in creating a thriving community. Gwendolyn VanSant and her team live the values that Paul and Joyce Aicher stood for – inclusion, racial equity, relationships across difference, and voice for all. We are proud to recognize BRIDGE’s work.”
In addition to this honor, BRIDGE has received numerous industry and leadership awards including the 2015 Berkshire Trendsetter award for Non-Profit Impact. Co-Founding Director and CEO Gwendolyn VanSant was unanimously chosen as the 2019 “Woman of Achievement” by Berkshire Business and Professional Women. VanSant has been invited to provide best practices in Cultural Competency training to the U.S. Department of Justice. BRIDGE’s Cultural Competency work is also cited as a best practice in the textbook Understanding Hate Crimes: Acts, Motives, Offenders, Victims, and Justice by Carolyn Turpin-Petrosino.
With its holistic approach to promoting racial justice and equity as well as civic participation, BRIDGE’s work has led to systemic shifts and changes in policy toward a more just, safe, and equitable society. The organization's innovative approach to grassroots activism continues to create new partnerships and win community hearts and minds. BRIDGE’s current and recent initiatives include:
· BRIDGE’s Women to Womenprogram helps Berkshire women leaders from immigrant communities navigate transitions and connect to resources for mutual support and professional development.
· BRIDGE’s “Happiness Toolbox” camp promotes cultural and multilingual literacy for children of all backgrounds.
· BRIDGE’s Towards Racial Justice and Equity in the Berkshires campaign convenes area groups including the BRIDGE Race Task Force to act as a hub for critical community responses to bias and hate crimes, education, and outreach. The has reactivated the powerful Berkshire County chapter of the NAACP.
· BRIDGE spearheaded the Great Barrington Trust Policy campaign, a citizen-initiated effort which ensures that all residents in Great Barrington are fully protected by the local police and town government. The town passed the policy in 2017.
· BRIDGE leads the Not in Our County - Berkshires campaign in collaboration with the DOJ USAO (Department of Justice U.S. Attorney’s Office) to unify the county to stop hate, address bullying, and build safe, inclusive communities for all.
BRIDGE hosts monthly racial justice meetings in collaboration with faith leaders; offers Cultural Competency training to businesses, nonprofits, organizations, and schools; and assists businesses in making institutional changes for racial justice to better support clients, employees, and communities as a whole.
“It is an honor to be recognized by Everyday Democracy and The Paul J. Aicher Foundation for our work,” VanSant says. “At BRIDGE, we are committed to embodying new practices of recognizing, disrupting, and undoing oppression through education, advocacy, and leveraging our many resources for positive social change. We work alongside others and work across differences in identity, perspective, and politics to prioritize safety and belonging. These are things we can all practice doing in our neighborhoods, workplace communities, and across sectors. In the time that we are living in now, we must strive towards equity and justice however we can. We are stronger together.”
To reach BRIDGE, visit multiculturalbridge.org
BRIDGE Photos Attached.
The winners of the award was Happy Johnson and Arthur Johnson of the Lower Ninth Ward Campaign for Sustainable Engagement and Development, in New Orleans, La.
About Everyday Democracy
Everyday Democracy supports organizing across the country by bringing diverse groups of people together, helping them structure and facilitate community dialogue on pressing issues, and training them to use a racial equity lens to understand longstanding problems and possible solutions. We help people create the spaces where they can build skills to bring difficult topics to light and address them effectively over the long term. Our work helps communities move conversation into action, and action into lasting positive change.
Everyday Democracy is the primary project of The Paul J. Aicher Foundation. The Paul and Joyce Aicher Leadership in Democracy Award was first awarded in 2017 to Generation Justice in Albuquerque, N.M., and last year was awarded to Beth Broadway of InterFaith Works of Central New York.
Press Photos of 2018 WAM Pipeline reading can be found at:
LENOX, MA (October 7, 2019) - WAM Theatre and BRIDGE are delighted to announce a series of innovative community engagement programs surrounding their collaboration on PIPELINE by Dominique Morisseau and directed by Dawn M. Simmons. The production will play from October 24 - November 9 at Shakespeare and Company’s Bernstein Theatre in Lenox. PIPELINE was recently announced by American Theatre Magazine as one of the ten most produced plays this season.
PIPELINE is the third partnership between WAM and BRIDGE. WAM and BRIDGE first collaborated in 2013 on WAM’s production of EMILIE, connecting as two women-run organizations focused on activism and engaging BRIDGE’s Youth Leaders and Women To Women Group in pre- and post- play discussions as well as trips to the show. They then produced FACING OUR TRUTH, along with Berkshire based artist and educator Jamuna Yvette Sirker, in 2016 in commemoration of the 5th anniversary of the murder of Trayvon Martin, to address violence and the negative impact of racism on us all. And now, this year, they are partnering on PIPELINE, unpacking the bias in education that leads to the data-proven, systematically-designed engagement of Black families in the justice system—especially when a young Black male is involved.
“BRIDGE is thrilled to collaborate with WAM Theatre again, this time on Dominique Morisseau’s brilliant play which is advancing a much-needed national conversation on the crisis of the Black family in the U.S.” said BRIDGE Founding Director and CEO Gwendolyn VanSant.
The WAM/BRIDGE programming, funded in part by the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation and the Brabson Foundation, includes:
“Through the arts, we look forward to creating more local opportunities and access for authentic discussion around the stark ethnic disparities that exist for Black families as we identify solutions through activism for all educators, parents and students,” Gwendolyn VanSant explained. “PIPELINE helps us enter these conversations with courage.”
In the play, Nya, an inner-city public high school teacher is committed to her students, and desperate to give her only son opportunities her students will never have. When a controversial incident in his upstate private school threatens to get him expelled, Nya must confront his rage and her own choices as a parent. PIPELINE is Dominique Morisseau’s beautiful and deeply moving story of a mother’s fight to give her son a future without turning her back on the community that made him who he is.
Through the story of one young Black student’s success and challenges, we share the experience of a Black family facing long-standing cultural and systemic barriers.” explains VanSant, “The school to prison ‘pipeline’ affects not only the poor; the constant pressure and trauma of racism can touch any family at any moment.”
The in-school workshop series will provide the 8th grade students of Nessacus Regional Middle School with two classes prior to coming to the performance and one afterwards. These classes will introduce the students to concepts of racial bias, micro and macro aggressions, and stereotyping. Discussion and creative drama techniques will provide them with strategies to embrace individual responsibility and to facilitate community change.
COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT WORKSHOPS
PIPELINE Community Development workshops will be presented in multiple professional development and public events across Berkshire County. This project had its debut at BRIDGE’s Race Amity Day on the Green in Lee this past June and will be presented at up-coming district-wide teacher professional development days to extend the themes and power of PIPELINE out of the theatre.
The pre-show workshop at the theatre, co-led by Lia Russell-Self and JV Hampton-VanSant will engage students personally with the themes of the play, as well as the technical side of theatre. “Often, in the theatre, we are eager to take on shows that are asking smart questions, but then we leave our audiences alone with their personal responses to the questions raised,” Russell-Self explained. “In this outreach model, we are asking our audience to immediately engage with the themes of the show through devised theatre and social justice practices. It’s important to have these stories live communally beyond the theatre in order to engender civic dialogue around the tough questions PIPELINE raises.”
POST-SHOW CONVERSATION SERIES
Every performance will be followed by a post show discussion. Curated by Gwendolyn VanSant and facilitated by members of BRIDGE, the post show conversations will range from speaking with the artists involved in the production to speakers such as Brian House and Andrea Harrington from the Berkshire District Attorney’s office to Dr. Tracey Benson, author of Unconscious Bias in Schools who will speak after the November 7th performance. Local subject matter experts, production team, beneficiaries and other speakers will participate.
BENEFICIARY SELECTION PROCESS
In keeping with its double philanthropic mission, WAM Theatre will be donating a portion of the box office proceeds from PIPELINE to its 18th and 19th beneficiaries - the Harmony Homestead & Wholeness Center and the Women of Color Giving Circle. As part of the partnership with BRIDGE, a member of the BRIDGE team, Stephanie Wright, joined the WAM Beneficiary Committee in the process for selecting these two beneficiaries. To date the company has donated more than $65,700 to 17 local and global organizations taking action for women and girls in areas such as girls education, teen pregnancy prevention, sexual trafficking awareness, midwife training and more.
Additionally, PIPELINE is a co-production with The Nora Theatre Company at Central Square Theatre in Cambridge, MA, where the play will be performed from March 5-29, 2020.
For more information on WAM Theatre and PIPELINE, visit: wamtheatre.com/pipeline/
For more information on BRIDGE, visit: www.multiculturalbridge.org
AT A GLANCE
October 24-November 9, 2019
by Dominique Morisseau
Directed by Dawn M. Simmons
at the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre at Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA
Mature language. Recommended for ages 13+.
A portion of box office proceeds will be donated to the Harmony Homestead & Wholeness Center and the Women of Color Giving Circle.
Preview tickets to the October 24 & 25 performances are $10-$30. Tickets to all other performances start at $30. In celebration of WAM’s 10th Anniversary Season WAM will offer ten $10 tickets at every single Mainstage performance during the 2019 season on a first-come, first-served basis.
No Berkshire, Senior, Teacher or Military Discount
Student tickets are available for $15 each and may be purchased over the phone at 413-637-3353 or in person at the Shakespeare & Company Box Office. Student tickets are not available for purchase online.
Please note all sales are final. No refunds available. Patrons may exchange tickets up to 48 hours before curtain – not including special event one-night performances. No refunds or exchanges for already discounted tickets. Discounts are not available on the 10th anniversary $10 discounted tickets in Section D.
Thursday, October 24 at 7:30pm (Preview)
Friday, October 25 at 12:30pm (Student Matinee, limited seats available to the public)
Friday, October 25 7:30p (Preview)
Saturday, October 26 at 7:30pm (Opening)
Sunday, October 27 at 2pm
Wednesday, October 30 at 12:30pm (Student Matinee, limited seats available to the public)
Thursday, October 31 at 7:30pm
Friday, November 1 at 7:30pm
Saturday, November 2 at 7:30pm
Sunday, November 3 at 2pm
Monday, November 4 at 12:30pm (Student Matinee, limited seats available to the public)
Thursday, November 7 at 7:30pm
Friday, November 8 at 7:30pm
Saturday, November 9 at 2pm
Saturday, November 9 at 7:30pm
BRIDGE is a grassroots organization dedicated to catalyzing change and integration through promoting mutual respect and understanding.
Since 2007, BRIDGE’s mission has been “promoting mutual understanding and respect among diverse groups serving as a resource to both local institutions and the community at large. We serve as catalysts for change and integration through collaboration, education, training, dialogue, fellowship and advocacy." Our core values are accountability, celebration, learning, collaboration, and equity.
Through a 360 degree perspective on community and civic participation, BRIDGE has designed a holistic approach to community and public health. BRIDGE's goal is to impact hearts, minds and behaviors that result in positive cultural shifts and systemic changes in policy, law and practice towards a more just, safe and equitable society.
Services include access to cultural literacy and cultural competence training; diversity equity and inclusion consulting, facilitation; youth leadership; multicultural education; parent engagement and education; civil rights and social justice forums and advocacy with diverse groups. We facilitate cultural competence programming in schools and institutions to promote equity and to educate on systemic racism and cultural barriers, and are designated by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as a vendor in the Supplier Diversity Program in the spirit of the Affirmative Market Campaign.
For more information, www.multiculturalbridge.org
ABOUT WAM THEATRE
WAM Theatre is a professional theatre company based in Berkshire County, MA, that operates at the intersection of arts and activism. WAM creates theatre for gender equity and has a vision of theatre as philanthropy.
In fulfillment of its philanthropic mission, WAM donates a portion of the proceeds from their Mainstage productions to carefully selected beneficiaries. Since WAM’s founding in 2010, they have donated more than $65,700 to 17 local and global organizations taking action for gender equity in areas such as girls education, teen pregnancy prevention, sexual trafficking awareness, midwife training, and more.
In addition to Mainstage productions and special events, WAM’s activities include innovative community engagement programs and the Fresh Takes Play Reading Series. To date, WAM has provided paid work to more than 400 theatre artists, the majority of whom are female-identifying.
As a civic organization that embraces intersectional feminism (feminism that acknowledges how multiple forms of discrimination overlap), WAM understands that to address one piece of systemic discrimination means we have to address them all. This is on-going personal and professional work at WAM for the staff and board.
WAM Theatre has been widely recognized for having a positive impact on cultural and community development in the region. WAM is the recipient of the Creative Economy Standout Berkshire Trendsetter Award and previously, was named Outstanding Philanthropy Corporation of the Year by the Western MA Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Kristen van Ginhoven, WAM’s Producing Artistic Director, was honored by the Berkshire Theatre Critics Association (BTCA) with the prestigious Larry Murray Award, presented at the discretion of the BTCA Board to a person or theatre project that advances social, political, or community issues in Berkshire County.
For more information, visit www.WAMTheatre.com