Not all heroes wear capes. Some work from the grassroots all the way up, educating and enriching their communities for the better.
Some, like Gwendolyn Hampton VanSant and Multicultural BRIDGE, are a source for cultural competency and much more within the reach of your town.
Even within the dated, white walls of my school on the hill, BRIDGE found a way to reach me. Gwendolyn came to facilitate the black affinity group at the end of my sophomore year, once every other week. The majority of the black students at Miss Hall's sat around a classroom table, and Gwendolyn encouraged us to speak, to share, to lift each other up.
We aired our grievances and came to terms with the more difficult facets of being the minority in an oppressive environment. On my birthday, Gwendolyn brought cupcakes and we listened to Earth, Wind & Fire. Within this room we could laugh, put aside fear of scrutiny and being called by the wrong names. The contrast between "traditional" values of an all girls boarding school and a dynamic, action-oriented social justice organization was a necessary outlet.
This was the first experience I had with BRIDGE. Multicultural BRIDGE's mission is stated as, "We promote mutual understanding and acceptance among diverse groups serving as a resource to both local institutions and the community at large." This statement leaves room for all sorts of beneficial action.
In my junior year when some of my friends and I were harassed at the Berkshire Mall by Confederate flag-wearing youth, BRIDGE was at our school the following Monday to provide a day of cultural competency training for students and faculty. More than being there when needed, BRIDGE responds to situations for the sake of aiding in recovery and rehabilitation. No one in this world is born equipped to deal with situations of social injustice, and this organization works to help communities move forward together for the collective good.
More opportunities became available to me when my eyes opened. I went to BRIDGE's production of Facing Our Truths, and hassled teachers at my school to give me a ride to a meeting of the Race Task Force. For my senior Horizons internship, I had no doubt that I would be a BRIDGE intern. Gwendolyn was my direct line to the community, giving me causes to get involved in through my writing.
My fellow interns, Maya Finston-Fox and Tiffany Harris, were constant support systems and inspirations. Maya led the effort to work with public schools in the area on racial sensitivity in response to incidents and to prepare for the future. Tiffany worked yearlong with the Race Task Force, organizing agendas and keeping them focused toward a common, sustainable goal.
As I reflect now, I see that my time these past years with BRIDGE has given me additional purpose. From within my school community, we are constantly unaware of the cultures and concerns that flow throughout the Berkshires.
I feel that the meaning of community is more than where you go to school. I may not be from Pittsfield, but the people I've met, worked with and achieved with have added to my understanding of the quiet power in the environment.
My activism has flourished at Multicultural BRIDGE, but what I really sought was a safe space. I eat my breakfast sandwich, I trade ideas with Maya and Tiffany, and Gwendolyn tells me of a new event or occurrence in the area. I open my laptop, and I write my most unadulterated thoughts. Then, all of you read them.
This is an opportunity many students my age do not have, and I've been so fortunate. I thank the Eagle for giving me this outlet, my fellow interns for their drive and passion, and Gwendolyn for her years of support.
People of color need spaces to assure them that they are still valid in a world that often scars them, and BRIDGE has consistently been mine. For any person, regardless of identity, do what you can to add to the definition of community and stretch beyond the comfort of your situation. It is very likely that an organization could be waiting to work with someone just like you.
Jadesola James is an intern at Multicultural BRIDGE and a senior at Miss Hall's School in Pittsfield. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.