Patricia LeBoeuf | Berkshire Eagle
PITTSFIELD — Two daylong conferences 5 miles apart Thursday helped Berkshire County students to navigate common challenges.
And to speak up, be heard and make change.
In Pittsfield, the Berkshire District Attorney's Office's Youth Advisory Board hosted the STRIVE Youth Leadership Conference for middle school students. The name stands for Students Teaching Respect Integrity Values and Equality.
And at Hancock Shaker Village, about 115 high school students chose among 20 workshops focused on the arts, compassion in action, wellness or "adulting" as part of the 411 in the 413 Youth Conference.
In one workshop there, Lucy Doren, a junior at Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington, joined with co-facilitator JV Hampton-VanSant, special programs coordinator for Multicultural BRIDGE.
GREAT BARRINGTON — The Nonprofit Center of the Berkshires, in partnership with The Berkshire Eagle, has named 21 finalists for the Berkshire Nonprofit Awards.
The winners in each of seven categories will be announced at the first Berkshire Nonprofit Awards Breakfast on Tuesday, May 22, from 8 to 10 a.m., at the Country Club of Pittsfield.
Sixty-two people were nominated, according to Liana Toscanini, founder of the Nonprofit Center, including Gwendolyn Hampton VanSant, Founder and CEO of Multicultural BRIDGE, for the category of "Executive leadership."
Matthew Vernon Whalan | Berkshire Edge
From left to right: Claudia Maurino, Mae Rose Whaley, Lucy Doren and Fionna Shea of the Monument Mountain Regional High School student group Rise. Photo courtesy Rise
Great Barrington -- The shock of the presidential election to the future of this country was not lost on young people at Monument Mountain Regional High School in November 2016. During the campaign cycle, students had been gathering in classroom B-12 of English teacher Michael Rosenthal to discuss their feelings about the current political climate in the buildup to the election. The more the year went on, the more important these meetings became.
Lucy Hoffman founded the anti-racist, anti-sexist student activist group Rise along with another student and Rosenthal in the wake of the 2016 election. Hoffman had an independent study in creative writing with Rosenthal but increasingly used that time to pursue her interest in politics. The more intense the political atmosphere in the country became, the more passionate she was.
“[Rise] started as a place where we could just get together and talk about how we felt. Just to be able to talk to each other and have discussions about it was really great,” Hoffman explained.
She added that, while it was important to have a space to talk about how the students felt, she “thought that we needed to have an outlet to express these feelings more and actually do something.”
“A lot of us felt really let down,” Hoffman said about the time following the election, “because we’d grown up in the Berkshires where it’s kind of like you live in a bubble and the majority of the people you meet just reinforce the things you already know. That’s partly why the 2016 election was so jarring. It was a way of learning that so many people have these other ideas about the world and about life.”
Hoffman said that Rise was inspired by the wave of activism that swept across the country in 2016. The group started to grow from a meeting group of a few like-minded students into a more community-oriented space. Rise developed a strong relationship with Railroad Street Youth Project and Multicultural BRIDGE and worked on various forms of outreach, such as an open mic-style event in which students spoke out, read poetry and played music. The event raised approximately $600, surpassing its original goal of $200, all of which was donated to Planned Parenthood.
Heather Bellow | Berkshire Eagle
GREAT BARRINGTON — For rural residents, isolation and poverty can make health care hard to come by.
But now there's a plan to help people stay healthy, and it now needs community input.
Fairview Hospital's Rural Health Network, of which Multicultural BRIDGE is a member, with a federal rural health grant in hand, is working to make connections among South County residents and a range of health care services, and to work on related rural issues like transportation.
Heather Bellow | Berkshire Eagle
Elizabeth Blackshine, co-founder of Harmony Homestead & Wholeness came from Albany, N.Y. with family and friends for this "historic event."
GREAT BARRINGTON — They packed the alley for the native son.
At the downtown unveiling of a new mural honoring W.E.B. Du Bois, around 100 people came for the big impact of a little mural in a small-town alley — now known as Du Bois Alley.
The mural and local celebration of the Du Bois' legacy is "long overdue," said Monument Mountain High senior Theresa Russell, who introduced the mural honoring the African-American scholar, author and civil rights activist who was a founder of the NAACP.
Guided by Ari Cameron, a special projects coordinator at Railroad Street Youth Project, about 20 young people spent the last year planning, discussing, seeking approvals and painting the mural depicting William Edward Burghardt Du Bois in the place he loved most, and with two people he loved — his wife Nina and infant son Burghardt, who would die young because white doctors would not treat him.
Monument seniors Zufan Bazzano and Sophie Shron also led the mural team, which found guidance from artists Massimo Mongiardo, Brian Cartier, and Multicultural BRIDGE youth coordinator JV Hampton-VanSant.
Heather Bellow | Berkshire Eagle
GREAT BARRINGTON — When W.E.B. Du Bois is on the agenda, it's a happy night at Town Hall.
Anticipation met excitement, and expressions of gratitude were abundant as a local group organizing a long festival for William Edward Burghardt Du Bois' 150th birthday celebration got permission from the town Selectboard on Monday to hang banners in his honor, in the town where he was born and raised.
Those will go up soon in the downtown area and near his Boyhood Homesite off Route 23.
The approval was just one step in the kickoff for a festival that will run from Jan. 15 to Feb. 23 to honor the African-American scholar, civil rights leader and author.
Led by festival committee co-chairs Randy Weinstein and Gwendolyn Hampton-VanSant, the committee has arranged a rich assortment of events in town during the week that begins Jan. 15, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and will extend to Jan. 18.
Anticipation met excitement, and expressions of gratitude were abundant as a local group organizing a long festival for William Edward Burghardt Du Bois' 150th birthday celebration got permission from the Great Barrington Selectboard on Monday to hang banners in his honor. Here, Du Bois is shown with his wife, Nina, and son, Burghardt, in a photo taken around 1898.
Haven Orecchio-Egresitz | Berkshire Eagle
As of mid December, more than 375 Berkshire County residents have pledged not to stay silent in the face of intolerance or discrimination.
The list is growing, and come January, towns, cities and organizations will be able to make the same declaration against hate to the group Multicultural BRIDGE, according to Gwendolyn Hampton VanSant, its CEO.
Terry Cowgill | Berkshire Edge
Great Barrington's Select Board is now on record as standing against “hate based on race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity or any other factor.”
That was the situation Monday night (Nov. 27) as individual selectmen signed a “Not In Our County” pledge presented to them by Multicultural BRIDGE, a Lee-based advocacy group that offers diversity programming in the Berkshires.
“The Bridge and many partners are working together on a campaign to stop hate in the Berkshires,” said Gwendolyn Hampton VanSant, who head Multicultural BRIDGE. “But really we have more of a positive spin about needing to all work together and forge a coalition to promote equity, trust and justice.”
Multicultural BRIDGE announces the launch of the Not in Our Berkshires campaign, a mission that calls on communities throughout the Berkshires to stop hate, address bullying and build safe, inclusive communities for all.
Part of the national Not In Our Town movement, the campaign will engage Berkshire residents, businesses, town governments, schools, community organizations and others in an effort to educate, organize and mobilize communities to respond to and prevent incidents of hate and injustice.
The comic drama, "Melissa's Choice," will be presented as a staged reading at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2, at the Unicorn Theatre in Stockbridge, MA. The presentation is a fundraiser for Multicultural BRIDGE.