In early March, Independent Sector’s Bridging Fellows gathered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for their second Learning Exchange as a cohort. The Bridging Fellows program, generously supported by Walmart, is a hybrid program with both virtual and in-person gatherings that enables fellows to engage, learn, amplify, and share adaptive skills to help their organizations and communities build bridges across various divides. Periodically, the fellows gather for Learning Exchanges for curated immersive experiences in which they learn, share, and connect with the fellows from the host city.
I joined the fellows as they gathered in Pittsburgh for a three-day, immersive learning exchange experience, where they inspired, connected, and became better informed about the bridging work – and its impact — happening in Pittsburgh. As fate would have it, with more than 440 bridges, Pittsburgh has so much rich history and expertise to offer our Bridging Fellows as they deepened their bridge-building skills, while building stronger bridges among one another.
During the three days, we traveled across Pittsburgh — visiting many of the city’s more than 90 neighborhoods. We learned about the work happening in Pittsburgh regarding affordable housing and the critical emphasis on building communities with sustainability in mind. Establishing this foundational understanding about “who” Pittsburgh is was critical as we visited various community sites and became immersed in “what” Pittsburgh was about.
If I could sum up the major learning fellows took away from the Pittsburgh experience, it’s that WHY you do what you do matters just as much, if not more, than WHAT you do. Our time at the Mattress Factory – founded by artists to support artists working in residence to create site-specific installations — highlighted the importance of making space for all voices and visions, through the art installations we viewed. It was clear this was a space where art, access and community intersected.
From the moment we got off the bus and stepped foot in 1HoodMedia, it was evident that this was the place where advocacy, education, art and community intersected. Intended to build liberated communities through art, education, and social justice, 1HoodMedia showed us the importance of meeting communities where they are, while authentically prioritizing their voices and needs. There, we heard from Michelle Kenney, mother of Antwon Rose II, a 17-year-old African American who was fatally shot by the police in East Pittsburgh in 2018. In honor of her son and the many lives lost to police violence, Michelle now works with 1HoodMedia to help design and implement policy and advocacy actions to further address the root causes of social justice issues in Pittsburgh. We left there inspired not only by what they are doing, but also by their “why. “
We also spent time at the Pittsburgh Hispanic Development Corporation, where we were hosted by both PHDC and Casa San Jose, two prominent organizations working on behalf of the growing Hispanic and Latinx communities in Pittsburgh. For both organizations, their “why” was so clear, and they are doing the necessary work to build and maintain a sturdy bridge between Pittsburgh’s Hispanic/Latinx population and the rest of Pittsburgh, while ensuring the needs of these communities are met.
In the midst of all of our incredible community visits, the fellows took full advantage of their time together — building, learning, sharing, and bridging with one another. New relationships were formed, old relationships were reinforced, and all we experienced in Pittsburgh left our fellows excited for their next Learning Exchange – scheduled this summer in Chicago.
Loriane Ngarambe is the Community Engagement Manager at Independent Sector.