Nicole reached out to us to tell us her story of forming a Be the Bridge group and the ripple effects of Be the Bridge in her life. We love to hear about the initiative she took to get a group going even when she knew very few people in a new town, the ways she refused to give up, and also how she is reproducing Be the Bridge groups. But this story is really about how she took what she was learning and experiencing and produced a work of art for her own processing and for the good of her community. Take a moment to read her story and watch the program in the links at the bottom.
I attended the IF:Gathering at my local church where we lived in Texas in February 2015. At that conference I saw Latasha lead a conversation with women of all ethnicities, and I cried through the entire segment. I knew God was pulling at my heart. The feelings were also intensified because of a friendship I was making with an African-American woman at work. She was beginning to share with me things that had happened to her and her family and how she continually deals with racism. My eyes were being opened and my heart broken, and I felt prompted to start a Be the Bridge group in my town.
However, in July 2015, we found out that my husband got a job at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC, and we moved a few weeks later. Of course I didn’t know anyone, and everyone I was meeting were all White people. I decided to put packets of materials together about Be the Bridge, along with a personal letter of invitation to women, and I dropped those packets off at as many churches in my town as I could find. I received no response.
Frustrated, I contacted Latasha on Facebook, not really expecting to hear back from her. A) She didn’t know me; and B) I knew how busy she was as Be the Bridge was taking off nationally. I told her a bit about myself, that I was moved to try to start a group, and that I was at a loss as to how since I had just moved from Texas to Greenville, NC. And within 24 hours, Tasha wrote me back and blew my mind. SHE WAS A GRADUATE OF EAST CAROLINA UNIVERSITY in Greenville, NC! What?!? She directed me to some key people in town that she knew when she lived here, and along with her acquaintances and a few of my own, our group was born. We have been meeting now since April 2016.
God has moved in so many wonderful ways since our group has been together. We have attended panel discussions, including one with Tasha when she was in Wilmington; we attended a lecture given by Bryan Stevenson (author of Just Mercy); last Spring, I hosted a local IF:Gathering at my church, and my group was a featured segment to tell more women about Be the Bridge; we have since hosted information sessions and mixers, and we will have 4 new groups starting next month in Greenville! I love these women, and we have had real, hard, and life-changing conversations. I am so thankful for the work of Be the Bridge, and it will be a life-long commitment and journey for me. Our next goal is to have Latasha come speak at ECU, her alma mater, in Greenville!
I am a trained, classical singer, and I teach voice at East Carolina University in the School of Music. Leading up to, through, and after the election season/election of 2016, I became deeply grieved at what I was seeing. Not only was I devastated to watch what was happening in our country, but I was also horrified at many things that I saw coming from the Church. I was explaining my feelings to my group one night, and one of my sisters said, “Nicole, it sounds like you have been in the stages of grief.” Yes, that was exactly how I felt. So I decided to put together a program that not only expressed my grief and frustration, but also brought the audience back together around the hope of peace and love. While I worked on and performed this recital sort of as a working-out of my own personal journey, I had no idea the chord it would strike with my fellow faculty members and my students and my church family in attendance. I dedicated the recital and the evening to my Be the Bridge group, who were also in the audience. I asked them to stand and be recognized, and I thanked them for sharing the last two years of their lives with me.
As the program began, I played a video made by a dear friend of mine (an Arab-American), where he blindfolded himself and stood on the streets of NYC, inviting people to trust him. If he could also, in turn, trust them, he asked them to shake his hand or give him a hug. It is extremely moving. Then I begin by singing a setting of the “Give me your tired, your poor” text. I took the audience through the questioning of my identity as an American and what I thought I knew about our country, through prayers for peace, then I played a recording some students helped me make. They read the names of about 50 men and women of color who have been brutalized, wrongly incarcerated, or killed by “stand your ground”. I then played a slide show of their pictures, while I stood behind the screen in the dark and sang a song by an African-American composer called “Grief” and the hymn tune “At the River”. I ended with some songs about rest and love and hope.
Before the very end, I also challenged the students in attendance to think about what they are creating in the world every day. I affirmed their ability to created and make something beautiful rather than something terrible. I had kids still coming by my office a week later in tears, wanting to talk and wanting to know how they could get involved. I am going to help a few of them try to start a Be the Bridge group at ECU.