Deanna Giles – Staff Writer
Building Bridges returns for their 26th annual conference amidst the pandemic, “Revolutionizing Tomorrow: Envisioning a World of Collective Liberation.” The transformation of in-person interactions to a virtual format created adversity which was conquered by this year’s Co-chairs, Seniors Amanda Braun and Chelsea Boyden, and the committee captains in the organization. Building Bridges has found a way to make the all virtual format open up a conference approach which has never been done before.
The 2021 Building Bridges Conference will be held March 6 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The conference follows a same-day registration model. Attendees will login to the Gustavus website and register through the 2021 Building Bridges Conference page.
The Conference provides a platform for students to address significant issues of justice in a proactive and informative way.
“This year…there is something so emotionally raw about the conference. Building Bridges means love, joy, and hope,” Braun and Boyden said
Olakemi and Opal Tometi have been chosen as this year’s keynote speakers. Olakemi is a spiritual advisor who hopes to reach various communities to provide enlightenment and healing to all groups.
Tometi is a feminist freedom-fighter and one of three women who founded the Black Lives Matter movement. She uses her voice to ensure that race, immigration and gender justice remain at the forefront of global conversations.
“We wanted to be intentional about who we asked to speak at the conference this year, and both of their works center collective liberation,” the Co-Chairs said.
The theme stemmed from the injustices seen in society following the murder of George Floyd. A world where death and despair are on the forefront, the co-chairs thought it best to have a conference that centered the radical aspects of joy, hope, and community.
“Building Bridges means…anchoring students to the ground when they feel themselves slipping away into the anxiety that is caused by current world events and knowing we are making tangible change simply from being there for students when they have nowhere else to go,” the Co-Chairs said.
“Collective Liberation, the driving theme is all encompassing and really lets people explore what makes them uniquely them,” Sophomore Action Piece Co-Captain Mad Chase said.
“Nothing can be done alone. Collective liberation is all about community efforts, and, especially in these trying times, solidarity is the key to change,” First-year Workshop Co-Captain Ainsley Cox said.
The Conference poster symbolizes collectivism in one’s community. The artwork created by Junior Audrey Ochtrup-Dekeyrel, touches on ideas of radical liberation taking many forms. Ochtrup-Dekeyrel stated the individual is intended to represent the embodiment of revolution rising out of the megaphone, a quintessential symbol of protest and rally. The silhouette intentionally lacks gendered features because she believes liberation will result in our transcendence of binaried thought.
The poster also includes the spiritual component of liberation and revolution.
“So many social justice movements began in faith groups, to deny the inherent spiritual nature of collective liberation does a disservice to our understanding of the ways radical action can happen,” Ochtrup-Dekeyrel said.
The vision for the poster was to be dynamic and visually engaging.
“I feel so lucky that my means of liberation could be employed by this year’s conference in such a visible way. I’m incredibly honored,” Ochtrup-Dekeyrel said.
Building Bridges incorporates a variety of ways to promote audience engagement through workshops and action pieces.
In previous years, action pieces were held throughout physical rooms. This year, there will be more individually standing art that tells stories.
“Often art speaks louder for people. I hope students will be able to see and experience the conference’s theme through some tangible art forms and think about collective liberation in their daily lives,” Chase said.
The conference will host three pre-recorded workshops throughout the event. Attendees will hear from the Bloomington Anti-Racist Coalition (BARC) who centers on anti-racism within the public education system, Tahmyrah Little, and Tre Tellor who is a scholar of liberation theology. “Each of these workshop leaders are dedicated individuals and groups that understand the needs of society and have done their part to create social change wherever they can,” Cox said.
“I want people to feel inspired to fight for social justice in all aspects of their lives and see the brighter future we can create together,” Cox said.
The workshops will also feature a panel of Gustavus Professors: Dr. Misti Harper, Dr. Thia Cooper and Dr. Joaquin Villanueva.
The conference is new to the virtual world but the conference presents exciting events that attendees can enjoy from the comfort of their home. The co-chairs stated our liberation is tied to one another and we cannot move forward without intentional collective action.
“So much about advancing social justice and collective liberation is reflecting on our own roles in oppressive systems and society in general. Our hope is that Gustavus students and faculty will “leave” the conference with a better understanding of their role in advancing collective liberation and leave with a new sense of agency and hope,” the Co-Chairs said.
The event is free and open to the public. Anyone who is interested in engaging in critical conversations about the need for collective liberation is encouraged to attend. Viewers will have the opportunity to interact with keynote speakers, workshop presenters, and a panel by submitting questions to be addressed during the Q&A session.
“We are so honored to be able to hold space for all the feelings that come with the theme, Revolutionizing Tomorrow: Envisioning a World of Collective Liberation,” the Co-Chairs said.