Posted Monday, September 3, 2018 4:09 pm
By Heather Bellow, The Berkshire Eagle
GREAT BARRINGTON — The W.E.B. Du Bois honors keep coming, after decades of what scholars, local activists and some town officials have said was a pernicious lack of honors for the towering native son.
To robust applause, the town unanimously agreed Monday to create a permanent town committee to promote and preserve the legacy of Du Bois, the African-American scholar, civil rights movement architect and writer who tackled civil and economic rights at the turn of the century and beyond.
"As we move ahead together in community may we heed Du Bois' teachings and grow in solidarity and purpose as a town and with our neighbors," Gwendolyn Hampton VanSant, co-chair of the Du Bois Legacy Committee, wrote in a statement issued after the board meeting. Hampton VanSant is president and CEO of local nonprofit Multicultural BRIDGE.
The board established the committee on the 55th anniversary of Du Bois' death in Ghana in 1963.
Hampton VanSant, as well as co-chair Randy Weinstein of the Du Bois Center on South Main Street, were co-chairs of the Du Bois 150th Festival, which launched in January and stretched into the summer.
11:03PM / Sunday, June 24, 2018
CongratulationsGwendolyn VanSant of Great Barrington was honored as a member of the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women’s (MCSW) 2018 class of Unsung Heroines during a State House ceremony on Wednesday, June 20. State Sen. Adam Hinds nominated VanSant for this recognition because of her leadership in the Berkshires on matters of diversity, cultural competence and coalition building for justice and equity. In total, the Commission named 130 women from across the state their 2018 Unsung Heroines.
VanSant is the chief executive officer and co-founding director of Multicultural BRIDGE, a grassroots organization dedicated to catalyzing change and integration through promoting mutual respect and understanding among diverse groups. BRIDGE is a resource to local institutions and the Berkshire County community at large, and provides resources and training in collaboration, education, training, dialogue, fellowship and advocacy.
VanSant has worked with corporations, schools, colleges and universities, law enforcement, hospitals, teaching and leadership institutes, and more. In addition to designing cultural competence trainings, she is a frequent speaker and long-time activist deeply rooted in gender equity and positive psychology. Since 2012 she has served as an appointed official on the Berkshire County Commission on the Status of Women.
Most recently, she has served as co-curator and co-designer of the Du Bois 150th birthday festival commissioned by the town of Great Barrington. In spring 2017, she spearheaded the county-wide campaign and coalition "Not in the Berkshires" and, in partnership, stewarded the crafting and passing of her town’s Trust Policy. In 2016, she served as the Founding Director of Equity and Inclusion at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, her alma mater. In 2015-16 she was recognized as a “Berkshire Trendsetter” finalist and was named one of her county’s most dedicated and creative social entrepreneurs by Berkshire Magazine.
She is on the board of UU Mass Action Network and is a reactivation and annual member of the Berkshire County Branch of the NAACP.
As described by MCSW, the 2018 Unsung Heroines are women who don’t make the news, but make the difference. They are the women who use their time, talent and enthusiasm to enrich the lives of others and make a difference in their neighborhoods, cities and towns. They are mentors, volunteers and innovators who do what needs to be done without expectations of recognition or gratitude. These women are the glue that keeps a community together and every community is better because of their contribution. The Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women is an independent state agency that was legislatively created in 1998 to advance women of the commonwealth to full equality in all areas of life and to promote their rights and opportunities.
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.”