| Program: || Inter-Faith Bridge Builders Coalition, Utica, NY |
| Contact(s): || Rev. John E. Holt: (315) 733-4227 |
| Purpose: || To celebrate and uphold the cultural and ethnic diversity in the community and promote racial reconciliation |
The Inter-Faith Bridge Builders Coalition was created in February 1995 with the encouragement of the local newspaper, The Observer Dispatch, which convened a group of local clergy to discuss race relations in the area. After this meeting, the group formed the coalition to advocate for racial peace and justice and ensure fair and equal treatment for everyone.
The activities of the Inter-Faith Bridge Builders Coalition have been numerous. Major efforts, however, have been the initiation of study circles. Within these small groups of 14-17 people, a facilitator leads a discussion that centers on race relations, racism, changing racist attitudes and public policy on racism. Each circle meets five times over a three-month period, with the facilitator moving the participants from a frank dialogue towards possible action steps. The coalition also aims at organizing responses to incidents of racism and violence, including arson. With an eye towards increasing the number of public forums available for constructive dialogues on race, the coalition successfully planned and led a weekend-long cultural awareness event with activities ranging from a speech by actress Yolanda King to an inter-faith prayer service for racial reconciliation. The coalition also promotes: diversity and tolerance training and mediation of racial problems in the public schools; an annual cultural awareness event; support for community-wide education on race; and support and advocacy for a civilian police review board.
Outcomes and Significant Accomplishments
To date, over 700 people have engaged in study circles, and participation in coalition events has been strong. After a violent racial incident in Utica, 500 people attended a prayer service for racial reconciliation. After a burning of an African American church, over 100 attended a prayer service. Diversity and Tolerance Training has been given to area church groups and at two public high schools. The coalition has also helped to mediate tensions between Bosnian and Hispanics students. Several pulpit and people exchanges have brought together churches from city and suburb and have had an impact on hundreds of people. One exchange had over 150 in attendance. In response to the coalition's advocacy, the Mayor of Utica has proposed a Civilian Police Review Board. Several public forums attended by 50 - 100 people have been held to address issues of race in school and government. The program has been highlighted in the Center for Living Democracy's "Bridging the Racial Divide" and the "Interracial Dialog Groups Across America: A Directory."