John Townes | Berkshire Trade and Commerce
Multicultural BRIDGE is launching a new initiative that expands its emphasis on economic and social justice into food security. The overall initiative is called Food Sovereignty and Sustainability.
“It’s an exciting concept,” said Gwendolyn VanSant, CEO and co-founding director of Multicultural BRIDGE, which is based in Lee. “It’s an opportunity to help strengthen the local food system, give people more control over their food sources, and also support local farms and producers.”
According to VanSant, the COVID crisis pushed the issue of food security to the forefront at BRIDGE. “Many families were already vulnerable, and with the COVID shutdown many lost their jobs,” she said. “So we intensified our activities to meet these urgent needs. We sought and received support to distribute food to vulnerable families.”
While the program grew out of the COVID crisis, it evolved to become a long-term initiative beyond the current situation, explained VanSant. “We decided that beyond the COVID emergency we wanted to be more strategic and systemic about change, to help make the food system more equitable and work for more people,” she said.
Josh Landes | WAMC
The Berkshire Hills Regional School District committee will soon hold a public hearing on a petition that calls for the Monument Valley Regional Middle School in Great Barrington, Massachusetts to be renamed after local civil rights icon W.E.B. Du Bois. WAMC spoke with Gwendolyn VanSant of Great Barrington’s W.E.B. Du Bois Legacy Committee to find out more about the decision, and why Du Bois’s support of Communism in his later years has led some in the community to resist past efforts at recognizing the NAACP co-founder. The public hearing is set for September 3rd.
Gwendolyn VanSant featured on The VIA Institute on Character: "Bouncing Forward, not Bouncing Back: Adapting with Resilience (Part 1)"
Based in Cincinnati, Ohio, the VIA Institute on Character is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing the science of character strengths to the world. We do so by creating and validating surveys of character, supporting researchers, and developing practical strengths-based tools for individuals and professionals, such as therapists, managers and educators.
Gwendolyn's recent piece, Bouncing Forward, not Bouncing Back: Adapting with Resilience, discusses the Via Character Strengths Survey and was adapted and featured on the VIA Institute of Character's blog.
Gwendolyn VanSant is the leader of Multicultural BRIDGE in Lee, MA. In 2017, Gwendolyn and her team helped launch the Not In Our Town movement in the Berkshires to unify communities throughout the county to stop hate, address bullying, and build safe, inclusive communities for all.
Earlier this month, Gwendolyn spoke with both WGBY and Berkshire Bank for an in-depth discussion about the killing of George Floyd, the protests that have erupted across the country, what can be done to create change, and how to take care of our communities right now.
Watch the video and read Moving as an Anti-Racist: Acknowledge, Align, Amplify, Ask, Activate, Gwendolyn's recent article which summarizes what was discussed in both conversations. The pieces was originally published on her site and recently featured on the Not In Our Town blog.
Jack Lyons | The Berkshire Eagle
PITTSFIELD — Institutions in Berkshire County are pledging to promote racial equity inside and outside their organizations, as frustration over systemic racism continues to ignite protest after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Demands for action, not words, are growing louder.
But not all responses are created equal, one local expert said, and organizations must be deliberate and sincere to create real change.
Gwendolyn VanSant, chief executive officer of the local diversity nonprofit Multicultural BRIDGE, advises organizations to be personal and honest in their response to outcry about systemic racism.
"The most important thing is if they talk about what's happening and they reflect on where they are as an organization. So if they haven't talked about race, they have to start there," she said. "If they've been doing training for some time, and they've been working at it, then I think they need to take stock on where they are; what goals they've met and what goals they haven't."
VanSant emphasized that creating an equitable culture is a process, and organizations shouldn't pursue actions like significantly adjusting hiring practices if they "haven't done the work."
"In our county, what happens when you just start hiring people of color is you cause a lot more harm," she said. "You actually reinforce negative stereotypes because people aren't used to working cross-culturally, they don't understand that the culture is hard to penetrate for someone of a different background."
"All of that turns into being perceived, most of the time, as somebody's confidence or `good fit,' when really it's white supremacy culture," she added.
Heather Bellow | The Berkshire Eagle
GREAT BARRINGTON — The nation of Ghana honored the late George Floyd this month by placing his name at the W.E.B. Du Bois Center, an act that linked the May 25 victim of police violence with one of this country's most celebrated black intellectuals.
Back in DuBois' hometown of Great Barrington, efforts continue to honor him, at a time when monuments of Confederate generals and other racist symbols around the country are driven out. There are two plans in the works: a sculpture of Du Bois in a prominent location downtown, and the renaming of Monument Valley Regional Middle School after Du Bois.
Jake Mendel | The Berkshire Eagle
GREAT BARRINGTON — Living life on a farm and through the lens of food, Sean Stanton and his partner, Tess Diamond-Stanton, wanted to support the fight against systemic racism.
As the owners of North Plain Farm in Great Barrington, Sean and Tess are taking part in "Bakers against Racism," a worldwide virtual bake sale in order to combat structural racism.
The sale started Monday afternoon and runs through this week, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the Berkshire Resources of Integration of Diverse Groups through Education, also known as Bridge.
"Sean and I have been searching for more to do," Diamond-Stanton said. "We have a lot of customers in the community and a great network of incredible culinary talent. This seemed like a good fit for us to highlight the work of an organization that has done a lot of good work in the Berkshires for years."
Bridge, a Lee-based grassroots organization, is dedicated to advancing equality and justice by promoting cultural competence, positive psychology and mutual acceptance in the Berkshires and across the state.
"Our vision is to advocate for communities that were invisible or marginalized," said Gwendolyn VanSant, CEO and Founding Director of Bridge. "We went into overdrive and worked to be approved as an essential business as soon as the quarantine hit in order to provide food and services."
Josh Landes | WAMC
Gwendolyn VanSant is the CEO and founding director of Multicultural BRIDGE, a minority and women run Berkshire County cultural competency training organization that focuses on racial justice and equity. VanSant spoke with WAMC about how communities can combat structural racism – and how municipal budgets play an outsized role in that conversation.
Heather Bellow | The Berkshire Eagle
SHEFFIELD — A student's racist social media post last week is continuing to stoke fear and outrage in the community, and parents say they are worried about a culture of bigotry among some that festers in the district.
Mount Everett Regional High School officials say privacy laws prevent them from commenting about the student, a freshman, and they doubled down over the weekend on their stance that such acts are hurtful and require a reckoning.
Gwendolyn Hampton VanSant, founder and CEO of Bridge, said the behavior of children and students is influenced by parents, teachers and school systems.
"It is our collective responsibility as a county that we don't produce Berkshire children with a limited understanding of civics, civility and our American history," she said. "This young [person] has been failed by our school system."
Stephanie Wright and three generations of her family moved through the Southern Berkshire district, and Wright went on to teach there for two years. Wright, who is Bridge's community engagement coordinator, instructor and facilitator, said her students there were "full of curiosity and suspicion" because they weren't used to seeing educators of color.
Bridge has been highlighted in a new video from Ezvid Wiki Editorial, as one of six groups fighting discrimination and striving for equality. Other groups featured include RISE, Reclaim Philadelphia, Migrant Justice, Arab Resource & Organizing Center, and Alice Paul Institute.
Watch the full video here.