The following article by David Jay for Q2 Montana News covers the Cross Community Reconciliation program initiated in Billings, Montana, by Global Peace Foundation (GPF). The unique cross-cultural and community-based program utilizes GPF’s international peacebuilding experience to build bridges across racial lines in a diverse region of Montana in the United States.
BILLINGS - A group in Billings brought to a close eight months of work on race relations.
It's a model that has people in other parts of the country looking to emulate.
The Billings chapter of the Global Peace Foundation brought people together of different races to share their stories.
Those involved say it's an ongoing challenge and they hope to bring more people into the project.
The group of about 40 celebrated the culmination of phase two of the Cross Community Reconciliation Project at a forum at the CLDI meeting room on Saturday.
"Four different cultures, black, Native American, Hispanic, and white," said Mike Yakawich, northwest regional director for the foundation.
Yakawich says the goal is to improve race relations.
"You realize that we're similar," Yakawich said. "It's almost as what many people said, we're one family. We're one family under God is kind of that model. We're not that different."
Part of the process during the eight months involves sharing experiences.
"If we're sitting here having these conversations together, that's how problems are solved," said J.C. Beaumont, one of the project facilitators. "That's how barriers are overcome and bridges are built."
Beaumont talked about what he faces as a Crow tribal member.
And for everyone, it was important to be talking face to face in the same room with each other.
"As you get to know somebody, you could really empathize," said Gerardo Trevizo, also a facilitator. "And just once you hear their story, you really realize that we all have commonalities."
"We discussed every aspect of our lives," said Michele Terry, another facilitator. "Because your race doesn't really define you as a person. We're all one race, the human race."
And one woman in the group has a unique perspective, having lived in Ukraine before and after the Soviet Union.
"For me it was like therapeutic, safe space," said Yuliya Johnson, project facilitator.
Johnson recently brought her mother to Billings from Ukraine.
She appreciates the freedoms in America.
"It's the best place where you can live," Johnson said. "It's good for American people to go abroad Just to appreciate your own country."
"While we all come to the community from different professional capacities, really, it's that spiritual component of it, that everybody is coming together in that capacity," said Nick Enslow, another facilitator. "Not under one umbrella of this faith or this congregation, but as a larger community that spiritually we can grow together."
Learn more about the Cross Community Reconciliation Project