The conversation went something like this.
“How do we capitalize on the momentum gained from the Poverty Simulation?”
My reaction: jumping in before they finished saying, “ … Simulation?” “I know! Let’s launch the Bridges Steering Committee and get some trainings going!”
Stares from around the table. Later …
“How can our agencies help people get and stay out of poverty?”
My reaction: bouncing in my seat because it is SO the right answer, “I know! Getting Ahead, the Bridges curriculum, is perfect for that!”
Again, blank stares.
The results? The Bridges Steering committee was stalled. The core group of newly minted Bridges trainees worked with our personal connections. No broad-based community effort began. Everyone remained in their respective programmatic or agency silos.
It did not matter that the Bridges Framework works and works well. It did not matter it is part of the answer for our community. It did not matter that I am passionate about system and policy change and would work with the Tooth Fairy if it made a difference in someone’s life. None of it mattered and it was my fault.
It was my fault because I failed to put into practice the core ethic of Bridges – individual relationships built upon mutual respect. It’s easy for Bridges professionals to focus on relationships with those who are in poverty. It is just as important and just as difficult to build the same level of relationship at the institution and agency level.
I will be honest. I didn’t build relationships because I didn’t respect them or their work. I believed what they were doing perpetuated the cycle of poverty. I believed the “getting by” resources they handed out were merely Tic Tacs® making the taste of poverty slightly less bitter – but only for a time. I winced at their middle-class judgments evidenced by comments during meetings which emphasized achievement over relationships.
I was ready to quit. Then I realized it started with me. I needed to learn how to “get ahead” in a community committed to just “gettin’ by.” I had to confront my own ranking and arrogance. Who am I to judge another’s activities? The fact is, they are doing SOMETHING. I had done little except get trained.
I didn’t quit. I redoubled my efforts to work on myself and my attitudes. I re-examined how I trained. I determined to share – humbly and gracefully – with anyone who would listen. If they weren’t ready to listen, I would bless them and move on to someone whose ears were open.
Internally, I would work to embed Bridges concepts into our agency’s work. We would intentionally change processes and procedures to focus on personal capital building. We would examine where we helped people “get by” and ask how we could help people “get ahead.” For example, in our workforce development efforts looking for a job became building a career.
It’s a slow process. I have much work to do in building relationships and shoring up the interpersonal damage I did at first. Some will never partner with me in this work. That’s okay. There is plenty of work to do and I can’t do it all – I’m not Wonder Bridges Woman.