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Ready to Listen

Ready to Listen

In Jerusalem, Odessa, and Ferguson, in our communities, in our neighborhoods, in our schools, and even within our families, the assumptions we make about one another drive us apart. Building Bridges believes that segregation is at the heart of the hatred, discrimination, and violent conflict that impact lives all around the world. Our participants sit down face to face to listen, really listen, to people who look, talk, and think differently from themselves. They do it to be able to understand the ‘other’ more deeply. And when they do, it transforms conflict from a problem to solve to a relationship to cultivate.

We call this the Practice of Empathy.

It’s a practice, because it takes a lifetime to learn, and because it’s really, really hard. It’s empathy because it assumes that every human life has equal worth, and that assumption will lead to a more just and inclusive world. The practice of empathy begins when you are ready to listen. Let us know you are ready.

Click here to donate and unlock a $25,000 gift on indiegogo, and hear more from Building Bridges staff, alumni and participants, and share the campaign with your community.

Amani image

Hear what Amani has to say here.

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Building Bridges alumna Gal and Rawan featured on Public Radio International’s TheWorld.

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My So-Called Enemy

Have you seen the incredible film about our work? It’s a film by Lisa Gossels called My So-Called Enemy and you can learn more about it here.

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A heartbreaking decision

Dear friends,

Last week was heart-wrenching. We made the difficult decision to make a major change to the nature of our upcoming Middle East /U.S. summer session. In consideration of the escalating conflict in Israel and Palestine, we have decided that instead of bringing current American, Israeli, and Palestinian participants to Turkey, their facilitators and alumni will meet for intense training, dialogue, and planning.

We firmly believe that this is the most important time for our work of building relationships across divides and creating opportunities for meaningful communication. It is so tempting to bring these teen girls out of a situation of violent conflict, even if only for two weeks, but 20 years of experience tells tells us that:
it is extremely scary and unsettling for participants to be away from their families during times of violence, and taking them away, making them feel safe, and then sending them back into active conflict can cause emotional trauma.

Our top priority is always the physical and mental well-being of our participants.

Despite this change, and the situation in Israel and Palestine, we are bringing renewed energy and commitment to this work.

Home groups will meet together as soon as possible.
The school-year program, which will include in-person meetings and innovative on-line programming across groups, residential retreats, and leadership projects in their communities will begin in September.
We hope to bring all four home groups together next summer.
The Building Bridges office in Jerusalem is open and equipped to conduct year round support and programming in Israel and Palestine. The Denver office will continue to support the U.S. home group.
The facilitator training and alumni work in Turkey will help us deepen our ability to support participants and alumni. After our time there, we will have even more trained facilitators ready to support each another and our participants and a stronger plan for how best to implement MEUS programming in this era.

Thank you for your continued support, and we hope you’ll join us in this life-affirming work. It is the way forward.

With love and appreciation,
Amani, Amy, Deme, Erin, Jen, Rawan, Tulie, Yafa, and the Building Bridges Board

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Our 5 minute film features our Middle East / U.S. program

This beautiful film was created by Oscar award-winning documentary film-maker Daniel Junge during our 2013 summer intensive.

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Now is the time to do Building Bridges’ work

To our Building Bridges community,

Along with the rest of the world, we are watching the violence in Israel and Palestine with enormous fear and sadness. And, we are in contact with our staff, alumni, and participants offering what support we can.

One question we are grappling with is the role that Facebook is playing in moments of violence. It’s such an easy way to keep in touch that it sometimes seems necessary. But it is also an easy place to hit ‘like’ or ‘share’ without a great deal of thought, or even a close reading of what’s being passed along, so it gives a distorted image of people’s ideas and moods.

The way we approach conflict at Building Bridges is essentially the opposite of that. We focus on connection through sharing personal experiences and truths. We call what we teach the ‘practice of empathy,’ that is the lifelong practice of operating under the assumption that other people are full human beings, and that they have reasons for acting and thinking the way that they do that are possible to understand. The practice of empathy involves seeking out perspectives different from your own, and being willing to sit face to face, as we ask our participants to do, and listen to another person’s point of view, even when it is hurtful to you.

This approach transforms conflict from a back-and-forth struggle to decide who is right, into collective problem solving where the goal is understanding.

In difficult times like these, the practice of empathy is harder than ever. It is much easier to choose a side and shout as loud as you can. It is easy to generalize and stereotype. We believe, however, that the practice of empathy is the way forward that leads to life over violence.

Our work continues with a sense of urgency:

  • We completed part one of our pilot Colorado program in July.
  • We are gearing up for our second facilitator training and summer program for MEUS (Middle East/U.S.) in August.
  • We are expanding our Legacy programs for all alumni.
  • We are designing new facilitator training and dialogue opportunities for adults.
  • We are planning for new programs in 2015.

And much, much more.

Join us. Support our work through your donation of funds, time, or expertise. And join us by reaching out with the intention to practice empathy, and strive to understand someone with a perspective different from your own.

All of us at Building Bridges and Building Bridges East

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Sisterhood, Segregation & Safe Spaces

By Fadumo Adan

When I was taking a Community Organizing and Development class this past spring, a friend of mine asked if I was doing anything over the summer. I didn’t have anything planned or a full time job, so I was open to any opportunities. Then, she suggested I apply for a position with a pilot program that was seeking more women of color as facilitators. She knew me quite well, so I had an inkling the position would have something to do with economic justice, race, immigration etc. I emailed our program director soon after.

She followed up with a plethora of forms and prompts for an essay submission. That was definitely a first. I’ve never had a job ask for essay responses. It was my favorite part of the entire process! For the first time, I was being asked about my own experiences. Finally, I had an opportunity to actually incorporate my readings into a framework that would (hopefully) augment my role as a facilitator. Two weeks later, I was interviewed. I found out the model for the Colorado program mirrored a Middle East/U.S. program that focused on American, Palestinian and Israeli participants. However, this year’s summer intensive would be specific to segregation in schools along racial, ethnic and socioeconomic divides. I accepted an invitation to join the team the very next day.

I consider myself an expert in the above mentioned. After all, I am a first generation college student and a woman of color who grew up with working-class immigrant parents. This was my calling. I was being invited to have conversations that almost never happen beyond the secluded ivory towers of academia. It was in college where I developed the vocabulary to talk about my experiences in a way that commanded visibility. I had context, theories, statistics and everything else I needed to deconstruct parts of my story I felt were void of insight. While I mulled over how the training would be like and the kind of roles and responsibilities I would have, I looked forward to overcoming challenges and the personal fulfillment that comes with doing just that.

Facilitation training consisted of repeatedly being confronted with my own assumptions. We spent a little over a week working through internal conflicts that were impeding our ability to create a container of safety and trust amongst all of us. We would spend our entire day discussing and acknowledging the experiences, events and narratives that have taught us how to rehearse our responses. Sometimes, it hurts too much to revisit how parts of my story unfolded, but doing this work is how I will avenge for my silence. By working through conflict and surfacing our own unresolved issues, we created a milieu built on support, care, acceptance and sisterhood. We practiced intentional listening, experienced workshops firsthand, painted masks, modeled self-care, engaged in the practice of empathy and sang camp songs. Creating a community of safety requires an immense amount of trust and follow-through. I don’t think any of us knew our training was going to equip us with the communication skills and insight we would need to recreate this experience for the participants.

When the participants arrived, I witnessed how ill-equipped most Americans are in navigating tensions caused by legacies of oppression, segregation and inequality. We deter conversations about race by speaking in codes instead. Participants from a particular high school differentiated between international baccalaureate and traditional students. “Traditional” is this context alluded to someone who was potentially violent belonging to a Latino or Black racial/ethnic group that did not value education. The imagery associated with the word is so engrained that admitting who exactly is a traditional student would require days of intensive programming and building of trust. It was only when we established group norms and cultivated a community of inclusion and safety, could we honestly discuss free/reduced lunch, the DREAM act, the model minority myth, gender, sexual orientation, ‘pulling oneself up by their bootstraps,’ power and privilege in the context of each person’s lived experiences. My role as a facilitator was to create suitable conditions for participants to address conflict rather than avoiding it. I was to ensure they felt safe enough to speak their truth and they did.

In the United States, many of our problems are embedded in fear, prejudice and hate. We are the only industrialized country with an astonishing number of gun-related deaths without a foreseeable solution, we have more children living in poverty than any other industrialized country, our safety nets pose a danger, and we grapple with deportation, mass incarceration and income inequality we haven’t seen in a century. These policies undermine our sense of safety, our right to exercise citizenship and advocate for change. We remain in a continuous cycle of violence, poverty and destruction because we are too afraid to talk honestly about our experiences with each other. We choose to be color-blind instead of color-brave. One of my fellow facilitators said something that resonated with me: when we accept the responsibility we have to begin healing, we are able to break cycles of violence. We can affect change that will impact future generations to come. Healing begins once we feel safe enough to create space for our collective trauma and experiences to be shared and acknowledged openly.

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Reflections on Facilitator Training

We have just finished facilitator training for Building Bridges Colorado, and we are tired but brimming with happy anticipation of the participants’ arrival. Last night, at our closing training circle, one facilitator mentioned that, at that very moment, our participants were at home, checking their packing lists, and wondering what in the world they got themselves into, and it was astonishing to consider, because we’d already been through so much.

In one week of training, we laughed together, cried together, learned, played and challenged each other. During facilitator training, we spend a few days experiencing the program, both so we are prepared to conduct the workshops, and to surface some of the assumptions and challenges that might cause tension between us. We also go over the curriculum, review and revise, practice facilitation, and much, much more.

It is as emotionally and intellectually stimulating as any other experience I’ve had. For me, this is my ninth Building Bridges facilitator training. I’ve had the pleasure of watching a team gel, and that humming, happy feeling when you realize that your team has your back. I thrive on the late-night slap happy laughing that makes your cheek muscles ache, and the curious pep of the morning people.

There is nothing quite like the community of a summer camp, and nothing at all like the community of Building Bridges.

This summer with the Colorado program, the work takes on a whole new dimension. In our culture, we don’t often talk about the differences that divide us. More often, we take them in stride, or pretend they don’t exist. We know that racism and classism and power and privilege are out there impacting our world, but we don’t often acknowledge how we play into those systems in big and small ways. We don’t talk about the how we are personally affected by those massive societal ills, or ask someone different from ourselves how those forces touch their lives.

Except at Building Bridges. That’s all we talk about. The experience is eye-opening and enlightening. For me, it’s a few weeks a year when the masks we all wear in order to function in daily life get to fall away, and we talk about our true lived experience. The best part is, those conversations serve to bring us closer together, rather than further apart. We learn how to make space around even the scariest, most hurtful truths, so we can examine where they come from and what purpose they serve.

And, when all that is done, the session closes, the facilitator makes the invitation to continue the conversation, and we get down to the business of building this warm, vibrant, truly inclusive community with the power to change the world.

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Circles of Change 2014

Circles of Change for feature


Colorado friends, thank you for making our 9th annual Circles of Change event our most successful yet!

Congratulations to this year’s honorees:

Denver City Councilman Albus Brooks

Muna Aghawani, Building Bridges Alumna and Lead Social Scientist

Shift Award winner artist Inocente Izucar



Thank you to our 2014 Circles of Change Sponsors.

The Sea Change Circle:

Nancy Reichman and Charlie Gwirtsman
Zinn Mediation Associates

The Rising Tide Circle:

The Koff Family
Sabrina Merage Foundation

The Making Waves Circle:

Celeste Grynberg
The Kurtz Family in honor of Olivia LaRocco
Hogan Lovells
Elaine Selsberg and Dan Recht
First Universalist Church of Denver
Hogan Lovells
Carol and Mike Sarché

The Ripples Circle:

Rachael and Michael Barkin
The Benchmarq
Mary & Glen Burbridge
Cynda Collins Arsenault
Denver Film Society
Molly and Michael Frank
The Marvin Naiman and Margery Goldman Family Foundation
Lynda Goldstein
Melanie Grant
KRG Capital Partners LLC
Hannah and Mark Levine in honor of Aili Miyake
Lohf Shaiman Jacobs Hyman & Feiger PC
Mimi and Keith Pockross

Zinn Mediation Associates
Sabrina Merage Foundation
Lohf Shaiman Jacobs Hyman & Feiger PC
Hogan Lovells
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A New Program for Colorado

Colorado enjoys an incredible range of diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, class, nation of origin, language, gender identity or other exceptionalities.  Segregation between our populations, however, is persistent in many ways, including our state’s schools.

This June, we are piloting Building Bridges Colorado.  During the summer intensive, 24 young women from our school partners George Washington in Denver and Greeley West, and other schools yet to be identified, will come together to address the segregation in their schools.  Often along race or class lines, segregation can be due to social norms, special academic programs, or other causes.  Building Bridges Colorado will offer the participants the opportunity to discuss the things that divide them, and to build deep relationships.  They will also acquire Building Bridges’ set of communication and leadership skills designed to allow young people to explore their own identities and to amplify their own voices.

Following June’s summer intensive, participants return to their home schools, to continue the work and find ways to share what they’ve learned.

The Colorado program will include:
⁃    A 10-day residential summer component, June 8-17 in Allenspark, CO.
⁃    Monthly school-year programming from July 2014 to May 2015
⁃    Two weekend retreats, one in fall 2014 and one in Spring 2015
⁃    Individual or group school-year projects

Participants will include:
⁃    Female students entering sophomore, junior and senior classes in the 2014-2015 academic school year who are interested in meeting peers from different backgrounds
⁃    Diversity across grade level, race, class, nation or origin, language, gender identity, sexual orientation, or other exceptionality

For more information about Building Bridges Colorado, please contact Deme at

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