By Naomi MacMurdie
A community effort to reduce racial discrimination is building bridges between people of diverse ethnicities, professions, and backgrounds in Billings, Montana, through the Cross-Community Reconciliation (CCR) program.
The CCR program is in the midst of its second phase, following a successful pilot program that took place in 2020. This year, the program was launched in February with the support of local non-profits as well as representatives of government, law enforcement, and universities. CCR Phase 2 aims to build deeper understanding and relationships between people who identify as Native American, Hispanic, Black, and White or “other.”
Mr. Bill Snell, Director for the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council, a CCR program sponsor, backed the project's unique platform, saying, “There are many organizations seeking peace. The CCR is actually doing this by substantially changing people’s attitude toward race and racism.”
A married couple that joined the program together, Melvin and Michele Terry, shared, “We are a mixed couple of Black and Hispanic. We love each other. We have faced many forms of racism. We learned through adversity; we learned to deal with racism one on one, face to face. The CCR is a platform where we can share honestly and help others overcome their own racial bias.”
Prominent leaders in the community have served as guest speakers during the CCR meetings, including Ada Bends who is an elder of the Apsáalooke Tribal Nation. She shared her painful story as a young girl who was abused repeatedly in a boarding school, testifying that those experiences, while agonizing and traumatic, made her strong. She has since become an advocate for reconciliation and healing, inspiring everyone who has heard her speak during the CCR project past and present.
One participant, Terra, spoke about her experience in the CCR program as someone with what she described as a ‘privileged background’ saying, “I wish to use this to be a bridge for racial divides even when I feel out of place as a white person.”
Shi, a participant of African American descent, encouraged dialogue saying, “I want to welcome those who are not Black to the conversation and not have them feel isolated or ashamed. We need to find ways together to reconcile our different views on race.” When asked about participating in the meetings, Shi stated, “I absolutely enjoyed coming. I loved learning about others and their life. I loved the happiness you feel from everyone. No judgment, just love and acceptance. I can’t wait to come again.”
Meetings for the CCR program are projected to continue through September and will culminate in a Global Peace Forum in October 2022 where all participants and community stakeholders will hear reports on the results of CCR Phase 2.