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Building bridges of understanding

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By Marisa Geitner

In recent weeks, many of us have sacrificed personal comfort for our own well-being and the well-being of others.

Nobody enjoys wearing a face mask on a hot day or when we’re standing six feet away from people we love, but we know that for now, wearing them when we’re around others is necessary.

Acts like that are part of a sense of community. By looking out for others (and ourselves), we protect and preserve the place where we live. This commitment to taking care of ourselves and others has helped slow the spread of the coronavirus. Over time, it becomes clear that even when we’re operating together under similar circumstances, we all bring different experiences and different backgrounds to the occasion.

One of the most powerful aspects of our agency is the way we work to cultivate and expand a culture of inclusion that embraces differences. Part of that means listening for and amplifying the voice of groups in society that we as individuals may not always understand. Our elders, people younger than us, people of color, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ individuals — all of those “differences” are “sames” to members of those groups.

Every day, people at Heritage Christian Services work hard to ensure that all people feel valued and are treated with dignity — whether it’s someone who chooses our services, their family members, a co-worker or a total stranger.

With events like the Women of Color Summit, which will now be a virtual event later this summer, and commemorations of historical touchstones, we show support and build understanding among all people in our community. This month, we honor the achievements reflected in LGBTQ+ Pride Month and Juneteenth, which recognizes the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in the Confederacy.

Iesha Eldridge, who works in our community services program, has been at Heritage Christian Services since 2006. A great advocate for all, Iesha is always willing to share her personal experiences so that co-workers and others can learn from them or relate to them. Here’s what she had to say recently about Pride Month:

To me, gay pride means freedom.

Freedom from a trapped person living inside of you. Freedom from having to hide who I was because of what others would do or think. Freedom from hiding myself from the world because I wasn’t considered normal.

Being a lesbian was hard my whole life. By the age of 22, even though I had become comfortable in my skin and body, I was still afraid of what others would think, so I carried myself very carefully. I graduated from college and got a job working with people who needed support with their everyday life skills, and I loved it.

Over time, I was becoming one with myself. I gained confidence in myself as well as in my sexuality. That gave me the strength to start talking about my experiences and helping others.

Pride to me is having that confidence about yourself. It’s about waking up every day being happy with the person you are today — because you are free from hiding your true self from the world! It’s about not caring what the world thinks of you — because you are you.

I truly believe it’s important to celebrate Pride Month because there are people who are still afraid to come out and be who they really are because of this world.  

— Iesha Eldridge

 

Celebrations come easily. They’re fun, and we need that now, too. However, challenging ourselves to learn about communities outside our own is a sacrifice of comfort that is necessary in creating a better world.

With God’s blessing, I hope you’ll join me in embracing that challenge.