|Bridges Across Racial Polarization, St. Louis, MO
|Cindy Follman, Bridges Program Director: (314) 622-1250
| To develop greater interaction, new friendships and broader understanding among people of different races
In the spring of 1993, Gregory Freeman and Daniel Schesch met to discuss racial polarization in St. Louis and a perceived lack of interracial interaction in the city. As former participants of Leadership St. Louis, a nine-month long public affairs seminar and leadership training program, Freeman and Schesch saw the need for residents of St. Louis to develop cross-racial relationships. Encouraged by the success of a series of informal, interracial events that they organized, Freeman and Schesch created Bridges Across Racial Polarization. The program is housed at Focus St. Louis, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help transform the city of St. Louis by developing citizen leaders and mobilizing residents to unite around critical issues.
Bridges is a voluntary program consisting of groups of eight to 12 people from a mix of racial and ethnic backgrounds. Participants meet socially every four to eight weeks to discuss issues of concern and general interest. The goal of the program is for members to hear the various perspectives that people of different races have on certain issues and learn how to respect these different viewpoints. Focus St. Louis provides initial training sessions on how people should conduct themselves during these meetings, and it assists Bridges members with special event planning. Both the Bridges program director and its steering committee members participate with groups as mentors, guides and facilitators. These individuals also monitor progress and seek feedback from the groups, which is essential to the on-going evaluation and success of the program.
Outcomes and Significant Accomplishments
Since the program's inception, participation has tripled. Currently, Bridges consists of 12 functioning groups (approximately 125 individuals). The Bridges program is also working collaboratively with The National Conference to promote dialogues across the region. For further information on this organization, look at their Website, www.focus-stl.org.
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