The magic Gwendolyn and Multicultural BRIDGE brought to the staff, students, and parents at PHS was truly astounding! Having been to a number "Diversity Trainings" during my time as a classroom teacher, I was expecting much of the same “one-day-talk-talk-talk-and-we’re-done”. But, I was happily wrong. Multicultural BRIDGE engaged our leadership team, teachers, staff, and students in courageous conversation around differences, inclusion, and acceptance at a deep level that made everyone better...including myself. We were truly blessed that Multicultural BRIDGE spent the entire school year making our school community better.... and for that the Pittsfield community is truly grateful. I say again, Thank you.
Inspired by this evening let me tell you a little story before I continue with my remarks...
When Gwendolyn and Multicultural BRIDGE first came to PHS, I assumed their workshops were just for faculty, staff, and students. So, the day of our first training I helped gather all of the faculty into one room for a half-day workshop. As I was exiting the the room, expecting to return to my office, I ran into Gwendolyn who asked me, “Where are you going?” I proceeded to tell her that I was headed back to my office for a meeting with my VP and Dean. Gwendolyn responded, in a very matter-of-fact way, “This training is for everybody, including you and your administrative team. I’ll wait a few minutes for you to walk down to the main office and invite them to our half-day training.” I did just that. After the training, I realized the importance of engaging in courageous conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion as a whole school. Making our school a more accepting, understanding, and equitable place wasn’t just about the teachers, but about how everyone contributed to making PHS a better place. That workshop was the first of many workshops Gwendolyn and Multicultural BRIDGE held at PHS. In fact, they held workshops for faculty, staff, and students throughout the school year. They held workshops, celebratory events, and helped start a PHS-based, student-led Multicultural BRIDGE club with JV Hampton-VanSant, the BRIDGE Youth Coordinator and Berkshire County and Lesley College alumni. "Multicultural BRIDGE” is such a fitting name, because connection and caring are at the core of their mission. The power of the collective "We" is the only way bridges get built and sustaining the test of time. As a churchgoing person, I have always appreciated the pause in the middle of service specifically dedicated to connecting with one another and building that collective “We”. We call it the sharing of peace. It is not an after-thought or something parishioners are expected to do on their own time, but a purposeful part of every service where we stop and connect with our neighbors. So, in this spirit and in the spirit of Multicultural BRIDGE, I'd like to spend the next 2-minutes connecting with one another.... so, when I say GO, I'd like everyone to look around and find people you have not yet connected with, approach them, make eye contact, give them a hearty handshake, and say “thank you for being here”. I'll let you know when you are 30-seconds left to make your way back to your seats. For the next 2 minutes try to connect with as many people as possible for the next. "Go!" Thank you for all for participating so vigorously! I hope everyone got a chance to connect with someone they might not have otherwise. I know I did! So what now? What do we do with all of this positive energy we’ve generated this evening when we go home, back to our regular lives. I'm sure I do not need to remind us of all of the horrible divisions being formed across our country. We can just read the paper, watch the news, or simply click on social media to witness all of the cultural chaos our county is embroiled in right now. So, again I ask, what now? How about continuing to build bridges? …Dedicating our every day to the collective “we". Being humanitarian does not depend on your race, color, sexual orientation, religion, or political affiliation. So instead of de-friending someone on social media who you do not agree with, how about inviting them out for a coffee and conversation. Instead of turning up our noses at someone who supports a different political position than our own and calling them ignorant or uneducated, how about realizing they are people just like you and me and are entitled to their opinion and respect as a person. How about confronting hateful language and actions in our most intimate relationships? It's easy to turn a blind-eye and say, "that's not my problem".... It is courageous to stand apart from the group and say it's not acceptable to use racist language, it is not okay to sexually harass women on the job or anywhere else, and unless you are Native American, we are all immigrants who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. I believe in our courage because we are all here...and I challenge you to look at yourself in the mirror tomorrow morning and recommit to every person here that you will continue to courageously build bridges throughout your day, everyday. Thank you.
~Dr. Tracey Benson, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
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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.