Remarks from BRIDGE Co-Founder and CEO Gwendolyn VanSant at the 2023 Quinquennial Celebration Gala
Hello and Good afternoon!
I hope you have enjoyed this afternoon of celebration. Each and every moment was constructed with care and a zeal for you all to experience and know BRIDGE. We are a community- rooted organization. Thank you to all of the sponsors, donors, volunteers, partners, committee members and all of our amazing vendors. And thank you to all of our BRIDGE guests and presenters! And Jacob's Pillow and your team, thank you! What a lovely place to be hosted for such a special milestone. With our partnership, having our gala here felt like having it at home--here on the site of the Underground Railroad.
Thank you to our early bird sponsors at the platinum impact level both Greylock Federal Credit Union and Berkshire Bank Foundation. Many have supported us in such meaningful ways and I am naming these two not in the traditional sense but rather because for 15 years, they have funded us each year. I made my first line item budget sitting with Peter Lafayette of Berkshire Bank and another staffer there at the time--Lori inherited us a bit later after his retirement (although we had already worked with Lori at Legacy Banks on Cultural Competence previously) and later she served as our BRIDGE board chair for some time. Greylock gave us our first grant of $250 (unsolicited) and Marthe and I remember that acknowledgement--we were so excited and hopeful that without even having to ask, our value and work was being acknowledged. That was so profound in those founding days and continues to be--to be seen, valued and supported without any extra hoops or barriers.
Over several years, Greylock trusted BRIDGE to take a deep dive in to their role as a community development financial institution and the results have been astounding. We have been in partnership with these institutions bringing our best skills to them and throughout everything these financial institutions have stood by BRIDGE and our work. Thank you!
My heart is full with the testimonials and tributes of today. I know the time and energy individuals took to craft a story of impact and love, prepare a dance, prepare their food, etc. Thank you!
At this stage in the afternoon, I hope something has touched each of you so deeply that you can walk away saying “Yes, I know BRIDGE” and this is my community, a community I want to be a part of and help grow.
There were so many gems planted and many more for you to find on our timeline looking back over 15 years including our Catalyst.Love.Impact video capturing the essence of BRIDGE by Board Member, Wes Gadson and family business OnPoint Grafix Design. All of this and more will be available on our website and I hope that this afternoon you have left some more gems for us on video and/or post-its to continue to add to the BRIDGE story.
I asked to be joined by four special voices to share what is BRIDGE to them. Luci Leonard, Elizabeth Adams, Silvia Soria and Karen Murray. Each of them will share briefly and invite you to continue the conversations with each of them later on.
Shela will then close us out this afternoon as we head to espresso and dessert. Please understand these desserts are made with love and so much intention: we have altar cakes to our core programs and a tres leches cake for our quince anyos. Thank you to all food vendors for the love and caring expressed through our fellowship and celebration with food.
My task now is to envision our future together with you here this afternoon. It all starts with the voices and experiences and people present today. A core principle at BRIDGE is to trust people to know what they need and listen and work alongside. BRIDGE is a manifestation of that. Marthe and I were two survivors of gender-based violence, having experienced the Berkshires as a single Mom as a shared experience and seeing new folks in our community dealing with similar issues the two of us had faced. We were not to be defined by what happened to us or what someone did to us but rather on how can we heal and make this place safer for families, women and children that have similar experiences. We realized we had solutions and skill sets to make a difference and so BRIDGE was born. Our goal was to make it so the isolation and struggle could be less with a helping hand at BRIDGE.
We set out to be an advocacy organization supporting individuals and organizations to connect to the resources that they need. We realized real cultural deficits in meeting community needs and an unfavorable response to an “out of the box solution” by organizational leaders, Marthe and me, that did not look like the rest of the leaders here. It was rough y’all! And still can be… rough. Even still our programs began to evolve in to this 360 degree solution you have heard about today--a solution that folks trusted when they needed to call on us as an emergency responder to harmful and hateful incidents. And for over a dozen years, we worked at sustaining this solution we envisioned.
Today we have robust programming, carrying forth some of the original programs now with a physical site (instead of Berkshire hopping that we did) while also innovating and creating new programs with a new generation of BRIDGE staff and team members. All of our staff are BIPOC and either share the experience of being survivors of some form of victimization and/or have participated in our programs and have come back to run them. Nothing gives me more satisfaction and joy as this organizational leader than to see this evolution at BRIDGE.
Envisioning Our Future
Many of you know we just opened up our culturally specific transitional housing meaning we are the only active family shelter in our southern Berkshire area and only culturally specific shelter in our region. Already we have a waiting list, and we need more resources to stabilize our families for longer periods of time. This is our future.
This along with our Solidarity Kitchen and Farm where families farm for themselves, their communities, BRIDGE mutual aid or to sell on their own. BRIDGE is working hard to develop land access for our communities of color including survivors of violence with race-informed land use agreements. BRIDGE also has opened a meeting house where community education and wellness programs will be happening weekly for CoC and victims of violence while also hosting Happiness Toolbox and Women to Women. Inside you will find a Solidarity Library infused with over 500 donated books from the DuBois center library of Black History in a time when our country is banning these types of books. we also have a budding LGBTQIIA+ library donated by Yellow House Books. Watching our youth leaders catalog these books in our new space this summer was priceless. The curiosity and interest were profound.
We have been designated since Gov. Patrick's time in office as "Minority and Women Run" since 2010 and now we are designated as a culturally specific program by the government meaning run by and serving communities of color. What BRIDGE has done is not only pave a path for more equitable services for our CoC incl. survivors but was invited to speak in Chicago this past summer just after our first year of funding directly to our organization. Instead of being secondary and tertiary on a grant--making it impossible to stabilize and sustain our programs and staff--we were poised to access funding directly and to advocate for the policy changes for victims of violence ranging from gender-based violence to race discrimination.
We were able to influence policy and application through our own advocacy for our constituents with the Victims of Crime Act Culturally specific funding. We spoke to grant administrators and their federal funders across the country about our BRIDGE model. Policies had been changed on the State level which takes a lot of work alongside our State administrators. Our task was to share with the entire federal network the how, the why and the barriers and opportunities. One example of a policy with unintentional barriers was if a victim is experiencing violence, we could not give emergency assistance for car repair. We all know transportation is an issue in our region and having a vehicle as a way out of a dangerous situation is imperative. After a few rounds, they listened.
As Dr. Brickler, a professor in Florida and descendant of Harriet Tubman when asked to speak about that legacy, as he shared, we are extending the work of people like Dr. Du Bois and Harriet Tubman because we know they had to have held a vision for a liberated future as do all of us at BRIDGE. Our hope is like the Nina Simone song shared by Gina Coleman in her testimony, this is what it looks like to be free. It is not without struggle, but we are unabashedly centering the needs and leadership of our communities of color and those directly impacted by multiple oppressions. And with that we are impacting in small and large ways communities across the country we haven't met yet.
BRIDGE is well-poised to model alongside our dedicated partners what justice and equity looks like and how reparations can take place in big and small ways. I am so proud of our clients and the positive social impact they have been able to activate, especially for an example a financial institution reversing their historical hand in redlining in our historical Black neighborhoods in Pittsfield. Our ILC (“inclusive leadership cohort for social change”) and the outcomes of their collective work, especially the pay equity initiative which received national attention in the philanthropy and arts fields. It takes courage and it is not without struggle, tension and loss but the gain is so much more. And as we partner and train institutions and still advocate for our communities, BRIDGE and our entire team will also uphold what healthy, thriving communities of color can look like on their culturally specific terms rejecting the terms of white supremacy culture. Discomfort and unease with disrupting the status quo is not wrong or avoidable, it is necessary and will be uncomfortable and painful at times. We, as communities of color, will need to continue to work on our own internalized oppressions and again champion the wisdom and grace and humanity in our communities. And non -CoC will learn to expunge extractive behaviors that reinforce the disparities we are trying to disrupt.
Our partnership with the arts persists. We are grateful for the performances today. Hartman’s “Litany for Grieving Sisters” evokes an array of emotions and just this last week these words resonated with me over and over again….
“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.”
I highly recommend reading this riveting piece in its entirety that inspired the performances today on stage. The wisdom and brilliance of Dr. Saidiya Hartman.
We have exciting news that we have been planning in partnership with a family foundation to continue our support of the cultural arts institutions with their justice and equity commitments through contextualizing the past, engaging the present and preparing for the future through our Inclusive leadership cohort, equity conversations, etc. Another remarkable story is that by invitation of one of our ILC “inclusive leadership cohort” members, I was asked to speak on a panel where she had a seat at the table of the Foundation. When they had an opportunity to hear me directly, they said they wanted to talk. A year later, they called to visit, having diversified their team to a trio that added on a Latino gay male and African American women to the white woman lead. She attributed those pivots to the impact of my panel presentation. So instead of my trying to get to their table and get that one shot to make the elevator speech shiny enough to spark interest, they came to our office, met our team, asked meaningful questions about our work and what our barriers and needs were and offered us a funded partnership where BRIDGE would provide support while they provide capacity-building to continue our ILC work & more.
Music and dance are and always has been a part of our collective healing. I hope you enjoyed that this evening and felt the profound inspiration I experienced with these two artists in Loophole Retreat in Venice last October. Thank you to Imani and Okwui for joining our BRIDGE community, and Saidiya for your ever-present sisterhood, advice, squad care and support on my journey as the non-profit leader of this organization. Having these women here is my greatest expression of love that I have for my home community here. What I experienced was healing and transformative in Venice exactly one year ago and it is exactly what I wanted to share with my community. We have one more special performance with our community partners, Operation Unite NY, as we end our program. Please plan to stay an enjoy coffee, libations and dessert. So take your time leaving, move your body to the rhythms, sing and enjoy these sacred grounds.
Our new pathway is a collective one. I still hold that our currency cannot just be dollars, but it has to be a currency of humanity. Money is a tool but it is not the measure of happiness or success. It can be leveraged with care for healing and transformation. Capitalism will teach us work, work, work, more money, more status, more possessions, more more more and repeat. Again let's shift the narrative to love, listen, learn, more rest, more reflection, more discernment, then work, work alongside and repeat. The money will come and will serve a greater, sustainable good.
When you look at the papers we prepared for you in the bag, imagine a teenager with a gift at Christmas time, imagine a family being greeted with a home with familiar spices, baskets, blankets, books,..... Imagine the warm embrace we have imbued in our Hamsa Home. Imagine some of the delicious food you ate today offered through our Solidarity Kitchen. In our Solidarity Community Gardens & Farms, imagine lush acres of tomatillos, okra, epazote and collards….feeding our families, reversing race-based health disparities that saves lives. Imagine Black rest, imagine every child and parent knowing where they will sleep tonight and eat tomorrow. Imagine doctors reflecting our communities of color giving culturally specific medical support in our wellness rooms repairing the history of medical violence. Imagine knowing if you are sick, you can get care. Imagine knowing if you have experienced violence or harm, you can have someone to provide support and counsel. Imagine scholars and activists reflecting our communities of color teaching and mentoring in our Solidarity Meeting House. Imagine BRIDGE at the White House. I paused on this one but why not? Since laws govern our lives, we need to demand a better way for our communities. BRIDGE is building this future. Please join us on our journey!
Thank you for celebrating with us this afternoon--honoring our culturally specific gala, our origin story, our collective story and creating our story of the future! Celebrating our 15 years of collective trust and hope. Let's keep on building together.
“Justice is what love looks like in public.” says Cornel West.
Thank you, Shela for an awesome afternoon as my co-MC! My birthday buddy! Thank you gala committee–we did it! Now for our final performance as we travel out!
Thank you to our BRIDGE team and to everyone who helped this evening be a success! Thank you Oskar of Only In My Dreams! Thank you to Jacobs Pillow for the afternoon and thank you all for being here for this joyous celebration!
My husband Tim and I first moved to the Berkshires in the summer of 2016, and were so fortunate to get connected with BRIDGE through the Towards Racial Justice community meetings and Real Talk on Race classes. We remain supporters because BRIDGE’s impact on our lives—and the lives of so many people we know and who live in our community—is truly immeasurable.
This Giving Tuesday, we are putting up a $5000 match to support BRIDGE’s mutual aid network, which provides food, resources, connection and care to hundreds of people throughout the county. We hope you’ll donate today!
BRIDGE has always been a trusted resource and partner to people in our community who often go unheard, undervalued and ignored. As volunteers and activists in many BRIDGE spaces, the last few years have made this even clearer to me and Tim. When COVID hit, BRIDGE developed a new program in response to its community voices, and got it up and running in just days—providing groceries, hot meals, fresh farm meat, veggies, seedlings, masks, cleaning and hygiene related supplies, gas, pharmacy items, gift cards and more to vulnerable families throughout the Berkshires. Supplies are sourced from local farms and farm stores that are owned and run by people of color, queer folks and women. This program is still running uninterrupted in our third year of the pandemic. And this summer, BRIDGE also launched the Solidarity Garden and Farm with donated land access to provide farming space for historically marginalized or vulnerable groups with limited or no access to land, with TA and guaranteed buyers for building community and starting a business to sell crops, locally grown and sourced natural products, and/or feed their communities.
Today, BRIDGE is reaching 120-130 BIPOC families twice a month through the winter with fresh groceries, minimally Universal Basic Income of $25 a month, and weekly prepared meals for those families intersecting with elders and families with disabilities. Tim and I have come to learn and respect that BRIDGE centers the voices, wisdom and experiences of those underrepresented and meets them in culturally appropriate ways. As community members and volunteers, we aim to support and amplify this holistic approach with our time, professional expertise and financial resources.
BRIDGE is supporting people in our community in direct, common-sense, culturally relevant ways—meeting basic needs to build a vibrant future for everyone, rooted in dignity, care, trust and mutuality. Please join our family in supporting BRIDGE’s vital, revolutionary, and life-changing work with a donation today!
-Lily Swartz Ellis
Volunteer BRIDGE Development Co-Coordinator
Some folks have decided to donate their Stimulus Checks to BRIDGE, which is greatly appreciated. Read their testimonies below and if you are able to, make a donation here.
When I got my first stimulus check, I decided to donate most of it to local nonprofits, including BRIDGE. As an anti-poverty worker, I've seen firsthand how badly many folks in our community are struggling and how much help is needed, and I wanted to use that money to give some extra help to someone who needed it more than I did. COVID has highlighted how deeply interwoven we are with everyone else in our communities - if we want to succeed we have to look out for one another, not just ourselves. That goes for how we use our resources just as much as how well we follow precautions to prevent the virus. COVID has also highlighted the systemic racism in our society, and who gets left behind and suffers the most when times get tough. BRIDGE is deeply connected with the communities of color and immigrants who are among our most vulnerable folks, and I was happy to support BRIDGE's efforts to reach, engage, and support these communities. BRIDGE's work has made an enormous difference in helping keep these families safe and stable through the pandemic. When I receive my next stimulus check, I plan to donate again to support this critical work, and I hope you will as well! If we can stand together as a county and those of us who have a little to spare can help those who need it the most, we'll come out of COVID as a stronger, more connected, and more just community!
Lily (& Tim) Ellis:
My family decided to donate our stimulus check because there's no better way for us to 'spend' that money and support our community. COVID is stretching an already fractured social service network even thinner. Plus, not everyone is eligible to receive a stimulus check due to immigration status or other factors--and often the people who are left out are the same folks who are excluded from other social services, and are at greater risk. But BRIDGE remains true to its mission, no matter what--during the pandemic, BRIDGE pivoted to providing food, resources and care for hundreds of people throughout the county. As someone who works in public health, I'm confident that by listening and responding to the needs of vulnerable families with care and humility, BRIDGE has helped to keep people healthier--keep our entire Berkshire community healthier--and save lives.
Looking back over the past few years, I, Dr. Lara Setti, have been honored to serve as the chair of the BRIDGE board, working alongside our visionary CEO and Founder, Gwendolyn VanSant, and other dedicated board members to help cultivate a governing body with a clear sense of purpose, mission alignment, and steadfast commitment to the organization.
One glorious summer evening in 2018, we celebrated the 10th Anniversary of BRIDGE at our “Resilient Connections” Gala surrounded by our community of new and long-time supporters, friends, clients, educators, and activists. We continue to be supported by an incredible array of new, ongoing, and reinvigorated donors who have enabled us at BRIDGE to expand our work across professional domains throughout Berkshire County and beyond.
As a board, we had the great fortune in 2017 of working with Janet Block to develop a strategy for the next 3 years aimed to ensure adequate resources to allow Gwendolyn and her team to lead BRIDGE to the next level of expansion and growth while continuing to do BRIDGE’s justice-oriented work of collaboration, training, and activism. As a result of this effort, we were proud to introduce a new BRIDGE membership model to sustain and bolster BRIDGE’s mission and increase cross-sector connections, working with corporations, small business, and community leaders to make justice and safety for all a reality. This has created ways for businesses, organizations, groups, and individuals to support BRIDGE annually, through different circles of impact and receive a suite of services tailored for their needs (i.e. training, consultation, workshops, lunch n’ learns, cross-promotions, and discounts) to create and strengthen thriving, equitable workplaces and communities. Earlier this year, the board also spent a day with Ruby Maddox of Direct Your Purpose whose insightful facilitation helped us clarify BRIDGE’s organizational capacity needs, individual and collective board accountability needs, and mission as we move forward. Through all of these efforts, our goal has continually been to strengthen the board's foundation and in so doing, take BRIDGE's work to the next level while maintaining the integrity of its mission.
As BRIDGE’s outgoing board chair, I look back at the past few years of BRIDGE’s work with awe and inspiration. Gwendolyn has led BRIDGE’s team with tireless dedication--educating and inspiring so many and bringing individuals, communities, and institutions together to work toward a shared vision of a community based on justice, equity, and active participation. As a physician and community member of Berkshire County, I have personally found the work of BRIDGE to be critical, informing my everyday actions and weaving its way into the fabric of my life. I have learned to examine my own privilege, opportunities to create change, and obligation to take action. In January, as I step down and pass the baton to A. J. and Ari, I have absolute confidence in the resources of this board and its new leadership to carry out their work in support of BRIDGE as it continues to grow and deepen this work.
It has been an honor to serve in this role and my plan is to work with BRIDGE in other capacities in the future.
Dr. Lara Setti
Vanessa, I know that you have been working with BRIDGE for the last few months of 2019. In what capacity did your relationship and work with BRIDGE begin (e.g., as a volunteer, staff member, etc.)
My relationship with BRIDGE started through a friendship with the CEO of BRIDGE, Gwendolyn VanSant. I was curious about the work that she was doing through BRIDGE and the way that she carried herself while doing this work in diversity, equity, and inclusion.
So, Vanessa, that is really compelling…When did you ultimately decide to begin your more formal working /relationship with BRIDGE?
Once I came to understand more of the reason that Gwendolyn’s passion was so strong about something that I felt was a hopeless case - that is teaching people to respect, if not love one another - I was led in my heart to also try to help make a difference in this world, if possible. The thought of doing this with another Woman of Color made it seem so much more reasonable to attempt. I also very quickly came to realize that this wasn’t just business for Gwendolyn. Working to lift other people and helping them work through biases were huge parts of her passion, and I wanted to at the very least learn more about this work.
I can hear your passion for the work through your relationship with BRIDGE! Would you please give me one example of work that BRIDGE is doing and that keeps you involved with the organization?
Indeed, and it involves some of our very young people in the Berkshires…This past summer, there was a little white boy in a North County elementary that called another young child the “N” word. BRIDGE was contacted to ask Gwendolyn if she would come in to help minimize the chances of this occurring again by way of a Cultural Education session.
Gwendolyn went to the school with an area author of children's books, who is a partner of BRIDGE.
The way the little white boy’s eyes lit up when he saw this author – a man of color, who writes children's books – was amazing! The little boy seemingly knew the author and was elated to see him. This reaction by the little boy made me think that all too often our children are led astray by ignorance and a lack of education on appreciating and respecting differences. Communication is the key!
I have several grandchildren, and if I truly want them to get the fullness of knowledge and education in cultural competence, for themselves and to help others live in this ever growing diverse world, then I must at least try to continue to learn as I help others to learn the Platinum Rule. “Treat others as they want to be treated, not how you think they want to be treated” as CEO Gwendolyn VanSant constantly reminds us.
Vanessa, thanks so much for sharing your work with BRIDGE!
Buenas tardes a todos, soy Gabriela Cruz y este dia tengo el placer de hablar de una gran mujer llamada Gwendolyn,La conocí hace doce años en el programa de masajes para bebés donde ella era la intérprete.
Empezamos a crear una relacion y ella empezó hablarme sobre su sueño de crear una organización que ayude a integrar a las personas de diferentes culturas a este país y brindarles servicios y ayuda,
Lo primero fue organizar cenas donde se mostraba a las personas como preparar los platillos se compartían las recetas y se hablaba de la cultura de ese país.
Después inició su organización llamada Bridge, ella estaba feliz porque no había sido facil, pero siempre ha sido una mujer persistente. Posteriormente se inició el programa de mujeres. Donde asistíamos mujeres de diferentes países, donde nos brindaban información de diferentes temas que nos ayudaban a tener una mejor relación con nuestra familia, en la escuela de nuestros hijos y en nuestros trabajos. Nos educaban sobre las leyes y cultura de este país lo cual nos permite integrarnos más fácil y sentirnos parte de esta comunidad.
El trabajo de ella no ha sido fácil ha tenido que vencer muchos obstáculos, pero ella nunca se rinde, jamás he visto una mujer tan apasionada y entregada a su comunidad, sacrificando tiempo con su familia o descanso personal por ayudar los demás. Siempre buscando solución a los problemas.
Es una mujer quien siempre tiene una sonrisa y una Buena actitud para todos, una mujer que celebra el triunfo de los demás.
Agradezco a la vida el haber la conocida a Gwendolyn VanSant
Good afternoon, my name is Gabriela Cruz, today I will be talking about a great woman. Her name is Gwendolyn.
I met her 12 years ago in a baby’s massage program, where she was an interpreter.
We talked more, after that, and became friends; she talked about her plans, helping other woman and people from different countries, offering services to help them integrate in our communities.
She started cultural dinners where I shared my dishes, recipes and culture. It was amazing.
Later she created an organization, it was called Bridge. She was so happy for this goal. In this organization she started a program called Women to Women. The purpose is to put women together sharing their experiences and bringing different subjects and other organizations to help us. Also she created more programs for young people and summer camps for kids.
Gwendolyn’s work has not been easy, she has had to overcome many obstacles, I have never seen a woman who is so brave and thoughtful for her community.
She inspires me to be a better person. Gwendolyn, a lot of the time, has to sacrifice her days off to take care of other people, looking for justice for everybody.
She is a great woman, friend, mother, and wife. I have been learning a lot from her.
Thank you Gwendolyn for your amazing work. You are the lady who always has a smile and good words for everybody. I think that Gwendolyn is an angel of the Berkshires.
I became involved with BRIDGE about three years ago in response to the 2016 election. I wanted to get involved locally because I recognized that I needed to leverage my resources and abilities to stand up for what I believe in--safe communities where everyone is valued and treated with dignity. I'm honored to join an organization that's been working for justice and equity for over a decade.
A lot of volunteers first get connected with BRIDGE through its grassroots organizing, like the Towards Racial Justice and Equity in the Berkshires campaign (Race Task Force and TRJ-South), or its community classes like Real Talk on Race--but I first became involved as an office volunteer because I felt that would be the best way for me to contribute my experience and skills to BRIDGE's mission.
Through working in the office over the last three years, I've learned so much about BRIDGE's work with individuals, communities and institutions to create a more just, equitable and safe world. It's inspired and empowered me to get more involved and promote BRIDGE's racial justice work in my own life and community, and I have gained a more informed perspective as a working donor by learning what is actually needed--as opposed to what I think is needed--inside and outside of BRIDGE. I've been especially moved by and proud to support BRIDGE's work in lifting up the life and legacy of Dr. W.E.B Du Bois, the Not in our County campaign and town Trust Policy work, as well as numerous events and performances that feature authors with a different voice and perspective from my own.
Today, I'm both a BRIDGE donor and volunteer. It's rewarding to work behind-the-scenes in the office--Gwendolyn and the entire BRIDGE team accomplish so much every day: facilitating support and leadership groups for immigrant women; organizing community meetings with local leaders and residents in response to incidents of injustice; leading trainings on bias in the workplace for local businesses; designing and implementing curriculum for schools, parents and guardians to learn tools and resources for discussing issues of race, gender and class within families--and so much more! I'm honored to be a part of it, and to see and experience BRIDGE's growth organizationally. Over the last few years, I've seen the shift and impact in hiring of invaluable office support staff that has enabled Gwendolyn to focus on outreach, which has resulted in several generous matching grants. I'm also grateful to be able to see the impact of my donation, which has been used enable underfunded organizations to obtain BRIDGE's training and consultation. I'm encouraged by the increased training requested by institutions large and small, to learn how to better support their clients, employees and communities as a whole.
I'm so excited for what BRIDGE has planned in 2020! Please join me and make a donation today to help promote equity, inclusion and justice.
Looking ahead to 2020, as representatives of the BRIDGE Board, we (A.J. Enchill and Ari Cameron), are focused on resourcing and supporting the BRIDGE team as it transitions into its second decade (yes!) of organizing, service, and training for equity and justice here in the Berkshires. Toward this effort, we are looking to expand our work and welcome in new board members. We currently seek potential new board members who are happy and eager to fundraise for BRIDGE as well as lift up and represent the work of BRIDGE while also showing commitment to self-reflection and ongoing learning.
It’s an exciting time at BRIDGE! Many wonderful community and organizational partnerships are blossoming. BRIDGE holds a minority and women-run status through the state of Massachusetts’ Supplier Diversity Program, something we are committed to maintaining on the board with intentionality and care. As our CEO Gwendolyn VanSant recently shared with us, we can also expand our definition of “diversity” for the board to include profession, age, region, etc. We look forward to collaborating with corporate leaders across all sectors as board members and advocates, something we know is a best practice in corporate responsibility. More than anything, we want to continue to build a strong board of directors who will work together to guide and support BRIDGE as it becomes a nationally-recognized model for training, education, and rural organizing!
We, A.J. Enchill and Ari Cameron, are honored to step into the Board Co-Chair role and work with our brilliant CEO, Gwendolyn VanSant, to steward BRIDGE into a new chapter of network- and momentum-building, with a continued commitment to accountability, collaboration, and equity at all levels. By accountability, we mean taking responsibility for the impact of one’s actions and following the leadership of people of color who have been at the core of BRIDGE’s mission since its founding. Through cultural competency coaching and strong structures already in place at BRIDGE, we have worked with Gwendolyn as a Governance Committee to create a set of Operating Agreements and formalize an Accountability Committee within BRIDGE’s bylaws intended to fortify and guide our board of directors. BRIDGE will also move forward with a Co-Board Chair structure as a part of our bylaws to further weave in BRIDGE values of shared leadership, space for multiple social identities, and collaboration.
We choose to invest in BRIDGE at this time in history because we have witnessed and experienced the impact that BRIDGE’s organizing, training, resources, dialogue, and work toward repair has had on young people, adults across a range of professional sectors, organizations, institutions, and ultimately, the social and structural fabric of the Berkshires. This is work that touches people’s hearts and lives, increases self-understanding, and shows us our interconnectedness. Now is the time that we need full community collaboration in creating the world we want to live in. As co-chairs, we are passionate about serving as ambassadors for BRIDGE, building resilient connections, and creating a well-resourced future for BRIDGE by supporting our CEO Gwendolyn VanSant and her team to grow BRIDGE as a model for accountable, grass roots movement-building and systematic change.
A.J. Enchill and Ari Cameron
Tribute from Christy Daignault, BRIDGE Vice Chair and Development Co-Chair
"Prior to this event I was not familiar with Berkshire Business and Professional Women and looked it up to better acquaint myself. BBPW has been honoring a local woman with the Woman of Achievement award since 1965 which is Based on considerable career accomplishments and outstanding commitment to the community. Their MISSION : is To promote full participation, equity, and economic self-sufficiency for America's working women.
Three major issues that Berkshire Business and Professional Women have identified and commit to working on:
One of the founders of this organization is Dr. Lena Madesin Phillips who said “you are now pioneers in the dream of peace and social justice, of international understanding and goodwill. This dream will come to pass. It matters little whether you or I live to see the day. It is only important that each of us struggle without pause towards that day.
I know many women of color in this area that I see stand for these same principals, that I see fight and advocate all in different ways, bringing different and much needed strengths to the table. So I just want to again bring attention to the fact that in 54 years of this award being given out Gwendolyn is the first women of color to receive it and she very much deserves it! She is a driving force that is moving forward in countless ways to promote a more inclusive, and safe environment helping to shift the narrative and center the voices of those often left out of the equation. I realize I only see a tiny portion of the work that Gwendolyn does day in and day out forging new paths. I want to leave us today with a quote by Carol Snow who is of Seneca heritage.
“There are those of us who insist on finding our own paths. We use those things that speak to us to mark our trails: the stars; the winds; the sound of a beloved voice; the calling of our hearts. We become the ones who lay down signs for guidance by the tracks we leave. Those of us who go before all others are the pathfinders, and sometimes the path makers. There must always be a first step taken.
Thank you to all women who are the ones to take the first step. Thank you Gwendolynn for helping to forge new paths, congratulations!"
tRIBUTE FROM John Bissell, President & Chief Executive Officer of Greylock Federal Credit Union
"Our partnership with Multicultural BRIDGE dates back 10 years. During the past 3 years, we have kept Gwendolyn very busy with equity and inclusion work inside of our organization. BRIDGE provides training for all of our employees and for our Board, and Gwendolyn provides coaching for me personally... She believes that our community is stronger when the doors of opportunity are open to everyone regardless of income, race, religion, culture, gender identity or physical ability. Please understand, I mean, not when someone SAYS the doors of opportunity are open, but when the doors are ACTUALLY open, and inviting, and ready to accept EVERYONE, from EVERY neighborhood. THEN we are stronger, and then we will be more successful in our community. She knows that to achieve this, we must think and work, strategically and collaboratively, at the systems level. Financial systems, public funding systems, transportation systems, education systems – They were all designed by people who look like me. And left in their current state of play, those systems continue to operate for the benefit of people like me. To change the outcomes, to include all people in our vision, we must change the systems. And that means we must change the hearts and minds of the people controlling the systems. This is the work to which Gwendolyn has dedicated her career, and indeed, her entire life. Make no mistake, she is deeply devoted to her family. But it seems that every other waking hour is spent in pursuit of social and economic justice....Whether working in a room with 12 banking executives, or an auditorium full of middle school students, she creates space for honest dialogue, for growth, for healing... I am grateful that thanks to our partnership with Gwendolyn and BRIDGE and so many others, Greylock is becoming a more inclusive organization. We may not be able to transform the entire US financial system – not yet! – but working together, in partnership with BRIDGE, we can have much greater impact right here at home."
Multicultural BRIDGE helps to improve the lives of community members throughout the Berkshires, and provides consultation and training to groups and businesses across the state and throughout the country.