Building Bridges Initiative Works to Connect City Kids, Suburban Kids, and Families

April 16, 2021

Six months after its founding by a core of Bedford educators and volunteers, Boston Bridges Initiative (BBI) is already assembling an array of accomplishments.

The nonprofit organization awards grants that support local efforts to create social programs between city and suburban kids and their families. The goal is “to foster lasting friendships and dialogue among students and families within racially diverse communities.”

On the ground floor were former Bedford Superintendent of Schools Jon Sills, METCO Director Akil Mondesir, Bedford METCO parent Jessica Castro, and Kimberley Anderson, co-founder of Bedford’s Parent Diversity Council.

Anderson is serving as executive director of the initiative.  She listed several recent achievements and plans: a virtual presentation to Bedford students by the poet and activist Jamele Adams; a planned bus tour for Wayland students of Boston’s Black heritage sites, which is BBI’s first in-person event; and a STEM program with a foundation of diversity.

A recent symposium was designed to help towns share best practices for developing programs that encourage social integration between city and suburban families in Greater Boston.

That virtual event exceeded expectations, Anderson said. “We had 22 towns join in, even towns outside METCO like Burlington and Manchester-by-the-Sea. We have a lot of things in the pipeline and some great donors.” Since the symposium, “we have had so many requests to speak about grants and what they can do.”

BBI has partnered with METCO and the METCO district directors to augment the school-based activities in many towns. The organization also helps support social programs in areas that do not have METCO or similar programs.

“Networking is a big part of our mission, and we wanted to reach more people,” Anderson explained. “So Akil reached out to the 33 METCO directors. We had a great turnout. What we were hoping to do is establish best practices, to brainstorm ideas, learn what kind of programming has made an impact, and to introduce them to each other so there could be collaborative efforts.”

Another objective was to avoid duplicating funding sources, she said. “It really was to help navigate all the different local initiatives in the right direction to be successful.”

Some examples shared included Bedford’s K-2 cultural mosaic effort, a playgroup involving Newton and Boston families, and different programs under the umbrella of What Can Weston Do. Also participating were members of Families Organizing for Racial Justice (FORJ) of Newton.

Among the best practices, participants “talked about how to make sure we don’t exhaust our minority children – being very respectful of them and their time.”

“We were surprised by the number of towns that participated, as well as the range of activities that are taking place already throughout the Boston suburbs to encourage more social interaction between the city and the suburbs,” said Sills. “We are glad to be able to facilitate best practice sharing as well as financial support for programming to encourage learning and social interaction in the area of race and diversity.”

Anderson added, “The talent and energy are there in most towns.  What is needed is a catalyst, some advice, and a small amount of money.” Anderson also noted that the effort helps city-suburban interaction and appreciation of diversity within the town itself.

More information on BBI is available from Anderson at [email protected].

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected], or 781-983-1763

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