40 Years in America

Bridge of Peace

Paula Fujiwara

The Bridge of Peace ceremony was introduced to Southern California by the Womenís Federation for World Peace in Sept. 1995 as part of its International Womenís Friendship Conference series between Japanese and American women. It is a ceremony of forgiveness, reconciliation and healing of the wounds caused by past wrongdoings. Nine Japanese-American bridge ceremonies took place in Los Angeles. Out of the urging of Southern Californian participants in this conference series, a new project was born in January 1996.

The Interracial Sisterhood Project (I.S.P.) was established to address the problem of racial division in the Los Angeles area. The first interracial Bridge of Peace ceremony was held at the L.A. Convention Center with 350 participants on Oct. 5, 1996. It was an entirely volunteer effort with many goods and services donated.

"After months of hard work and fund raising for the first I.S.P. event, we found that participants were inviting us to bring the ceremony to their Ďrealm of influence,í" said I.S.P. chairwoman Sheri Rueter. Consequently, in 1997 there were Bridge of Peace ceremonies held in four different communities. The first event was held at the beginning of spring as an interracial ceremony for 185 girls of the ABC High School District. It was coordinated by Diane Stonbraker, a teacher and founder of the Artesia High Rainbow League, which promotes interracial harmony on their culturally diverse campus. Now the campus has an Interracial Sisterhood Club which just held the second annual bridge ceremony including girls from the other four high schools in the district. The second event was held for residents of a large senior citizensí complex in Pasadena. I.S.P. supporters from the Pasadena Interracial Womenís Club organized the ceremony, pairing residents from the two towers in order to encourage a closer-knit community. The third event involved a national Native American conference held in Anaheim. The bridge ceremony was part of the conferenceís cultural night coordinated by Paula Star of the Southern California Indian Center. There were 250 participants; mostly Native American women were paired with I.S.P. supporters but also some men, children and family "partners for peace" were formed. The fourth event was the first city-sponsored ceremony in Carson, California. Several city officials who were invited to earlier ceremonies were instrumental in making it happen. It was held in October (Cultural Diversity Month) as the second anniversary of the original Interracial Sisterhood Ceremony. There was a total of 300 participants, including all the city officials.

I.S.P. Builds Momentum in 1998

The spring season was ushered in once again in 1998 by 150 excited girls from the ABC Unified High School District at the Cerritos Park East Community Center. The new Interracial Sisterhood Club of Artesia High took responsibility for many aspects of planning and preparation of the event, which had been done by faculty advisors and the I.S.P. in 1997. This yearís event was "very challenging but equally successful," commented club advisor Diane Stonbraker. "The girls got to know each other better this time." A segment was added to the program allowing time for new interracial pairs to get to know each other.

This yearís event was covered by the Long Beach Press-Telegram and the New California Times. The keynote speaker was school principal Dr. Genevieve Shepherd, who spoke at the first interracial bridge ceremony in Los Angeles. She reminded participants that something as simple as a smile and a kind word go a long way to bridge the gap between individuals. Held on Friday, March 20, some girls were eagerly awaiting the experience. "People said it was really fun last year and the girls were nice and friendly," said Whitney High sophomore Lejone Morris, 15 years old. Honesty Brown commented that "in high school people have a tendency to hang around people of the same race.... But here you donít have a choice and you get paired with someone of a different race and you can talk with them and find out you have a lot in common. Itís amazing to find that out!"

Honestyís "Sister of Peace" Christine Maldonado is co-president with her of the Gahr High Interracial Sisterhood Club. "We just made meetings (to organize the event) but never really sat down together and just talked," says Christine; at the ceremony "we got to talking and I learned so much!"

"I think itís probably one of the best events that has ever come to our school district," says Kristy Crumbo, Artesia High student body president and ceremony coordinator. "It built unity among the whole community."

Interracial Sisterhood Club members are considering sponsoring a retreat to address womenís issues and things that affect them every day, since meetings during the school day have been too brief, and after school and weekends are crowded with other activities.

First College-Sponsored Bridge Ceremony

Saturday, March 28 marked the historic first college sponsored Interracial Bridge of Peace Ceremony. It was held at Chaffey College in the community of Rancho Cucamonga in Californiaís Inland Empire region northeast of Los Angeles. The coordinator of the event was Chaffey College Professor Arlene McCall. Arlene came in contact with Womenís Federation for World Peace when she responded to an invitation to the International Womenís Friendship Conference in Los Angeles. She attended the first Interracial Ceremony at the L.A. Convention Center as well as the third International W.F.W.P. Convention last November in Washington, D.C. By the beginning of this year she was determined to hold a bridge ceremony on campus this spring and intends to have a bridge crossing at her church in May. This semester she was able to rally the support of the faculty, staff and students as well as the local mayor and city council. There were approximately seventy attendees and about twenty pairs of sisters crossed the bridge. Arlene and I.S.P. chairwoman Sheri Rueter were co-emcees. Arleneís talented students created the atmosphere for harmony with poetry, song and modern dance.

Director for Student Activities Susan Stewart made acknowledgments and presented a proclamation from the city of Rancho Cucamonga. Keynote speakers were Cheryl Landon and Dorinda Henderson. Cheryl shared something of the lessons of love her father, actor Michael Landon, wanted to convey through his TV series Little House on the Prairie and Highway to Heaven. Dorinda Henderson is an active WFWP/ISP member who was an exchange student at Chaffey College and was named Alumni of the Year in 1996. A native of Belize, she has served in the management of Bank of America and as deputy director of the stateís Fair Employment and Housing Department. Dorinda told of many positive experiences with her advisors at Chaffey who understood about cultural diversity and the challenges she faced adjusting to the American education system and culture. She concluded: "Iím back and Iím proud!"

Students were heard saying that a teacher told them to come and they could get extra credit, but they had no idea it was going to be so magnificent. They were surprised that they were so moved. Chaffey student Rhonda Sanchez remarked, "It was more than I expected. I felt so touched today." Arlene added, "This is really a groundbreaking event for this community and Iím sure itís just the beginning; itís paving the way for much larger events to follow."

Prof. McCall is currently working on a Ph.D. in International Education. She plans to develop and implement a certificate program and an Associate of Arts degree in multicultural studies. Ongoing bridge of peace ceremonies will be part of her program. The Interracial Sisterhood Project of Southern California is planning more bridge ceremonies this year, as part of a youth conference in the city of Carson and with the International Friendship Festival in Long Beach, among others. ISP wants to multiply these ceremonies in schools, churches and cities. Partners for Peace who have had a chance to recognize and heal the wounds of the past can make great strides toward a future of harmony.

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