Hands across the water

Since 1993, the Building Bridges program has challenged participants to reach across racial barriers throughout Western North Carolina. To date, more than 1,200 attendees have completed the nine-week series at venues including churches, schools and community centers.

Speaking for the cause: Oralene Graves Simmons, founder of Asheville’s MLK Prayer Breakfast and former director of the YMI Cultural Center extolls the work of Building Bridges. photo by Cecil Bothwell

Employing videos and selected readings, the sessions consist of large-group presentations followed by small-group discussions, with the intention of deconstructing racial stereotypes and forging new community ties. The course’s reading material is specifically geared to local conditions, and continuing-education credits are awarded for participation in all of the programs.

Community activist and Building Bridges board member Dawn Marie Klug told parishioners at a Unitarian Universalist service in August how participation in Building Bridges had shaped her life. “Before I went to Building Bridges, I would have told you that I wasn’t racist. … The reality is that we live in a country—and probably a world—that grants certain privileges to people with white skin. In fact, we receive messages everyday that tell us we are better than people of color, so the fact that we might have a racist thought cross our minds does not mean that we are bad people. What it does mean for me is that I need to be intentional in how I discard and discredit those thoughts.”

Building Bridges’ next session will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Asheville (1 Edwin Place), and runs from 7 to 9 p.m. each Tuesday from Sept. 11 through Nov. 8. Registration is limited to 90 people; a fee of $20 covers materials.

For more information, visit www.buildingbridges-asheville.org or call 253-0749.

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About Cecil Bothwell
A writer for Mountain Xpress since three years before there WAS an MX--back in the days of GreenLine. Former managing editor of the paper, founding editor of the Warren Wilson College environmental journal, Heartstone, member of the national editorial board of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, publisher of Brave Ulysses Books, radio host of "Blows Against the Empire" on WPVM-LP 103.5 FM, co-author of the best selling guide Finding your way in Asheville. Lives with three cats, macs and cacti. His other car is a canoe. Paints, plays music and for the past five years has been researching and soon to publish a critical biography--Billy Graham: Prince of War:

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