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At the onset of COVID-19, we experienced destabilization with a drastic drop in our planned work and revenue sources to support our programs. Through the strength of our network and our innate resilience, we stabilized.

We then emerged as a guide for other organizations to lean into equity and inclusion work as part of their strategy. As Cyndi Suarez wrote in The Nonprofit Quarterly, we must not let resilience efforts “sidestep the [core question]: Who gets to decide what is normative?” This is an important question for leaders to ask who need to broaden their awareness in general.

Bridge faced the pandemic by leading with partnerships, care and mutual respect. We prioritized the well-being of our internal team and I, as CEO and founding director, developed three new innovations to carry us into the future: a mutual aid program; “new pathways” offerings; and an inclusive leadership cohort.

New Pathways

COVID-19 had us pivot quickly to meet the needs of our community. The most marginalized among us were the first to be laid off, to go without what they needed for their families to survive, and the ones living with the most uncertainty.

We witnessed how care workers and nurses, our elders and those who live paycheck to paycheck in unsalaried jobs were vulnerable. This is the “why” at the core of the New Pathways series of labs, talks and the conference (which also allowed us to continue to serve our clients well). The conference, featuring Angela Davis, brought more than 40 practitioners and 350 attendees from all over the country to advance accessible equity and inclusion work.

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Mutual Aid: Food sovereignty and empowerment

With partners in 2020, we served 120-plus people weekly or biweekly, with fresh, local food for more than 42 weeks. We worked with 12 farms, farmers markets and environmental groups to support under-resourced families. We worked with 24 local businesses and 23 family foundations to shift money and resources to people on the ground leading the work. We led with cultural competence, support around language barriers, and relied on relationships to create access to resources.

It was mutual aid in action. Solidarity, not charity, and so much collaboration. We infused aid with activism and education.

Inclusive leadership cohort for social change

Our Inclusive Leadership Cohort is a yearlong, peer-led program for leaders committed to equity and inclusion. Our 2021 inaugural group is guided by best practices in justice and equity as well as cultural competence. We’re benchmarking equity in each of the 30 participating organizations.

Over a year, we will build networks with national subject matter experts speaking to accountability. New projects and insights will emerge. This summer, we will create new plans to reflect our larger community’s collective vision and needs.

Gwendolyn Hampton VanSant is CEO/founding director, Bridge.