Rise Bridge Project executive director Jovan Johnson, front, is joined at the Nicol Street space this week by Amanda Steele, left, Sarah Lovegrove, Maddison Steele, Gumesh Teklay and Helen Gezahegn. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)

Rise Bridge Project executive director Jovan Johnson, front, is joined at the Nicol Street space this week by Amanda Steele, left, Sarah Lovegrove, Maddison Steele, Gumesh Teklay and Helen Gezahegn. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)

New non-profit provides programs and connections for BIPOC individuals in Nanaimo

Rise Bridge Project opens drop-in space on Nicol Street

Nanaimo has a ways to go to be more comfortable, safe and supportive for BIPOC individuals, and a new non-profit has stepped up to do something about it.

The Rise Bridge Project became a registered society at the beginning of the summer and on Aug. 1, it opened up a drop-in space on Nicol Street.

Executive director Jovan Johnson and others have been working on the project since last fall, but the idea began to formulate several months before that, when she spoke at a Black Lives solidarity event at Maffeo Sutton Park.

“Standing on that stage and seeing how many BIPOC individuals we actually have in the community and realizing that we had no organization that could really pull all those individuals together and support them with an appropriate capacity made me want to see more diversity, inclusion and BIPOC programs happen in Nanaimo,” Johnson said.

She said other professionals in the community shared her frustration with the availability of BIPOC programs. The Rise Bridge Project brings together more than 30 volunteers from health-care, social services and related sectors and there are plans to offer programming such as youth groups, pre- and post-natal groups, men’s and women’s empowerment programs, cultural education nights and trauma-informed support services.

For now, the Nicol Street centre is a low-barrier, safe space open seven days a week from 9 a.m.-9 p.m.

“Anyone can stop in [for] mental health support, peer counselling and mainly just resource connections to all of the other organizations that are within the community,” Johnson said.

She said the Rise Bridge Project is meant to fit into a collaborative community framework so directors and volunteers can “stay within our lane” and keep focus where their passions lie.

“We’re seeing where we can pick up the pieces right now, what really needs to be offered and what that looks like, especially within this community, is anti-racism programs, BIPOC programs and … trauma-informed programming and counselling,” she said.

Johnson said a lot of white community members aren’t aware of the level of racism and micro-aggressions that BIPOC individuals deal with daily on Vancouver Island. She said there have also been concerns raised about the way other organizations have run BIPOC programs, and noted the Rise Bridge Project team has more than 30 people with “a level of ethnic background” which she said is important.

“If you’re getting a BIPOC grant, it should be for a BIPOC individual who’s running a BIPOC program and that just hasn’t seemed to be what’s happening in the community,” Johnson said. “But we’re just wanting to support those organizations that are supposed to be doing those things and figure out how to make them more accessible to our community members because they’re needed.”

The Rise Bridge Project will be involved in recognizing International Overdose Awareness Day on Aug. 31 and anticipates that structured programming will start in September out of the Nicol Street space. An online fundraiser has been set up to help the society start up operations.

For more information, visit www.risebridgeproject.ca. To view or donate to the online fundraiser, visit www.gofundme.com/f/support-the-rise-bridge-project.

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