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A letter from Jen and Erin

A letter from Jen and Erin

Dear Friends,
A few years ago we set an ambitious goal: to deepen Building Bridges programs and to allocate more resources where the majority of our community members live, in Israel and Palestine. We established a legal non-profit in Jerusalem under the name Building Bridges East. We opened our physical office in Jerusalem in October 2013. Social worker, activist, educator and alum Rawan Zaitoun led the effort with the skilled and thoughtful help of fellow alum and Building Bridges board member Gal Yaakobi (pictured from left to right above Erin, Rawan, Gal and Jen).Having successfully transitioned leadership of our Middle East-US work to Jerusalem, we are proud to announce that we are moving out of our joint role as Executive Co-Directors in Denver. We could not be more excited that Rawan is taking on full executive leadership of Building Bridges East, overseeing all aspects of the Middle East-U.S. (MEUS) program that has been the heart of our work for more than 20 years! Rawan’s role as Middle East Director has expanded to take on additional responsibilities, including fundraising and strategic vision for Middle East programming. Those of you who know Rawan know that Building Bridges could not be in better hands. Rawan is supported by a phenomenal trio of local staff, Amani, Or and Yafa, all of whom are alumnae of the program. She is also assisted from Denver by Amy Stapleton, our wonderful Community Engagement and Development Director, who continues fundraising for both the Jerusalem and Denver offices.We also set out to test whether our program model was as relevant for a U.S.-only group of young adults as it has been for Middle East participants. The Building Bridges Colorado program was launched last summer. Led by our stellar U.S. Program Director Deme Yuan, and staffed by an incredible group of facilitators, twenty participants are now mid-way through their program year and the results are breathtaking. Participants are using the Building Bridges skills they learned to build deep relationships with one another, and make a difference in addressing segregation in their schools. As the public outcry around the events in Ferguson and Staten Island demonstrate, we believe now is precisely the time to build skills in crossing the cultural and racial divisions in our own communities. The challenge ahead for Deme, Amy, the Board, and all of us here in Denver will be to secure funding and explore partnership opportunities to make Building Bridges Colorado an ongoing program for our community.
Our time as part of the Building Bridges community has impacted our lives in immeasurable ways. While we will miss working with you on a daily basis, it is the right time for us both to move on to new chapters. We are more committed than ever to Building Bridges’ innovative work and we look forward to staying involved in new capacities, as strategic advisors on programming and revenue generation. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with questions, comments or concerns. You can continue to reach us at our current emails, Erin@BuildingBridgesShift.org and Jennifer@BuildingBridgesShift.org!
Thank you for your enduring support of Building Bridges. It has been a privilege to work for and with you these many years. And to the staff, participants and alum of Building Bridges, our heartfelt thanks to each of you for inspiring us with your courage, wisdom and vision.
With love and gratitude,
 
Jen Sarché and Erin Breeze
P.S. Colorado friends, save-the-date for Circles of Change Awards Luncheon, Friday, April 17th in the Seawell Ballroom. We’ll see you there!
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Colorado and MEUS participants are teaching others the Building Bridges skills and approaches they have learned.

Colorado and MEUS participants are teaching others the Building Bridges skills and approaches they have learned. Since school resumed last September they have: facilitated open race dialogues in school; brought Building Bridges activities to a student council when they noticed all the voices weren’t being heard; organized a student walk-out in response to Ferguson; conducted Building Bridges activities in their social studies classrooms – and all of this before they begin to execute their planned change projects later this spring.

Planned change projects include photo projects, race dialogues, class discussions, public murals, youth worker training and more.  Check back on the site for updates on how those evolve.

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Thursday, July 31

To our Building Bridges community:

After we made the heartbreaking decision to cancel our summer Middle East/U.S. program, we were overwhelmed by the kindness and support you showed us. We were excited to tell you about the 22 alumni who quickly came forward wanting to join us instead, adults from Israel and Palestine who wanted to reconnect, re-engage, and continue our work in a new way.

Sadly, multiple flight bans were put into place last week and we were forced to cancel even those alumni sessions.  Our U.S. staff and facilitators were already on the way to Turkey, along with a couple of Israeli and Palestinian facilitators coming from places other than Tel Aviv. We decided not bring anyone else to Turkey because we can’t be sure that we could get them home safely.  Additionally, we believe that the emotional fatigue caused by the ongoing and worsening conflict would make it challenging to do the work.   Those facilitators who are in Turkey now are receiving advanced training in facilitation and program leadership, and are planning for the coming year, including:

  • Using innovative on-line tools to allow our current participants to continue their cross-community work,
  • Planning and recruiting for the MEUS 2015-17 program, and
  • Growing and strengthening our Legacy alumni program.

It is a huge disappointment that the violence is preventing our work from happening in the way we had hoped, but our commitment is unwavering. It takes enormous strength and courage to seek out other perspectives in a time of conflict. Together, we must strive to make the voices of our participants, alumni and facilitators heard. They are the voices of people who do not wish to perpetuate the cycle of hatred and violence, and are seeking a different path.

We will keep you updated as the year progresses.

With hope,
The Building Bridges Staff
Amani, Amy, Deme, Erin, Jen, Jes, Mimi, Rawan, Tulie, and Yafa
and the Building Bridges Board of Directors

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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
info@BuildingBridgesShift.org

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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.

https://vimeo.com/84419032

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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.

Sincerely,
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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