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Ripple effect

Building Community Bridges empowering, shaping young minds for success by India Garrish | March 16, 2022 at 3:30 a.m.
Endya Carbin smiles while sparring with Erica Ketcherside BCB Jawbreakers.

When young folks from the South Side walk into Building Community Bridges, it’s usually for learning a skill or joining a club or to sit down in the chair at Alicia Edwards’ salon — what they leave with is more than that. 

For female leaders in the center, it’s a chance to impact the next generation of women to find their passion. Those young women know it’s possible because the women teaching them have been there, either in life circumstances or as students of BCB programs. 

It’s a cycle, a ripple effect. It ignites a spark.

In partnership with founder Doug Wright, Edwards started BCB in 2017 to combat the inequities in Jefferson City through the building of bridges between community partners, businesses, nonprofits and volunteers. The focus is on youth, but after the 2019 tornado, they have expanded to helping families facing challenges like poverty and lack of resources.

The hope is through creating programs where youth can learn new skills, they can break down barriers to success. Classes so far have included the Royal Tigerettes Dance Team, BCB Jawbreakers boxing club, Poise Search Fashion and Modeling Company LLC, and LOTUS after-school program — more are on the way, and all are free. At the core of each group is the to desire bring youths a healthier life and newfound self-image.

  photo  Endya Carbin and Erica Ketcherside spar at BCB Jawbreakers.
 By India Garrish 

Edwards said it’s crucial to reach people when they’re young.

“When you really sit back and see how this one person can make an impact and how it ripples out, how you being in the center of that ripple controls how much (you affect), it’s very humbling,” she said.

“If you catch a kid at an early age — and teach them how to know who they are as an individual, what they want, how their mind works, to know that all that other stuff doesn’t matter unless you choose for it to matter — then you change everything.”

Everything, including the workforce.

BCB is also a “business incubator,” Edwards said, as a majority of volunteers who run programs within the center are also small-business owners. Often, the people they’re helping are expanding their businesses as they participate in the programs.

It’s a cycle for some folks: A few people who started going to BCB programs have grown to lead their own programs and start their own businesses. Giving that spark to young people provides a need the city is missing for the next generation, Edwards said.

“(When) you choose for it to matter, then you change everything. You change your workforce, business startups — and that’s what Jefferson City needs,” she said. “I’m very humbled to put that jolt into the forgotten part of the city — right in the low income area of the city. If we can do a rebirth here, can you imagine the waves that it’ll send out?”

‘Strong woman mentality’

With many diverse programs, young women have been especially impacted. 

As a female leader, Edwards recognizes she has influence in that role — she calls it a “strong woman mentality.”

Mecca Dixon, department head for Royal Tigerettes at BCB, said she’s seen women lead and act as mentors for youths.

“The biggest thing is you always see males in these roles. When you have (a female executive director), you think ‘This is something I can build up and do,’” Dixon said. “I used to be quiet, but she encouraged me: ‘Get out your shell; I want you to do this.’”

There’s a similar heart behind each of the programs: Teach a skill but empower the person while doing it. 

Wolky Belancourt, instructor at BCB Jawbreakers, said programs started by teaching the basics — such as how to box — but they’re now moving into a more intentional curriculum, learning life skills and character development.

“We’re having it run the right way, making sure we’re actually helping those kids,” he said. “At the beginning, we weren’t helping them with their lives, just taking them off the street and giving them something to do.”

He said since restructuring Jawbreakers’ curriculum in November, students are learning discipline, respect, how to work hard and that there will be challenges in life — but as fighters, they can push through it and learn in a safe environment.

Two of his fighters are examples. They can be found in the ring on almost a daily basis.

Erica Ketcherside, a junior at Helias Catholic High School, has been attending every afternoon for the past few months to learn how to box. Although she’s not a part of other BCB programs, she instantly connected to Jawbreakers.

“I just heard about it, so I tried it out. I loved it instantly,” Ketcherside said. “It feels like a family. They’re just really welcoming to me; they help me out because I don’t really understand it.”

She has seen a “village mindset” in the group — neighbors from all walks of life uplifting each other through finding purpose. Because, as Edwards said, “once you find your purpose, you can pretty much do anything.”

Another regular, Endya Carbin, found her passion for boxing at a young age. Her father was a professional boxer, and she’s been in the gym since she was 9. That passion was always in her veins, leading to a boxing career at 16 — but because there weren’t many young female fighters to compete with her at the time, she took a break.

“Girls were supposed to be ice skating or ballerinas. That was never me,” Carbin, 33, said. “Today, you see more women actually in contact sports or even (Ultimate Fighting Championship).”

Jawbreakers has rekindled her passion. When she straps on her gloves and approaches the ring to spar with Ketcherside, Carbin sees a younger version of herself — Ketcherside is the same age she was during her professional career. Now a mother, Carbin also thinks about her daughter, who is 7, and what she could become as a boxer.

“She already has a mean right hook,” Carbin laughed.

Boxing is more than just learning self-defense or how to land a punch, she said: It’s about gaining confidence.

Self-image & social media

Although Carbin’s daughter is young, she has already been affected by the societal expectations she sees on social media.

“My little girl has darker skin than me, so she’s worried about looks already, at age 7,” Carbin said. “That’s something she shouldn’t be worried about. That’s why it’s important to join groups like this: We’re all different, and I think it could make her feel more confident in herself.”

Seeing the diversity in backgrounds and skin tones in BCB has been important for Carbin because she knows that community will help her daughter.

BCB programs have been havens for young people building self-confidence. Edwards also worries about the effects of social media taking hold of people at younger and younger ages.

“There’s a lot of little girls who aren’t mentally a little girl,” she said. “The influence things like the internet have is very extreme, but it’s up to us to navigate where our child goes with that, how they perceive it.”

Encouragement echoes through the halls of the center: “You’re powerful,” “You’re a queen,” “You’re a king.” That’s the mentality the nonprofit has worked to set.

One program focuses on self-image through modeling. Khiara Brown, founder of Poise Fashion Search, concentrates on beauty, fashion and “inner engineering” — as young men and women are learning modeling skills, they’re also becoming more aware of themselves and recognizing their greatness.

  photo  Khiara Brown, left, founder of Poise Fashion Search, and modeling student Timyra Edwards read through Edwards’ daily affirmations, which include:
 By India Garrish 

Sessions with Brown, who also goes by RoyalKey, start with a time of reflection, where models write down what their focus is for that session. They learn different postures, how to “own the room” in different types of events, then end with affirmations — specific words that speak to what they’ve learned.

In a session with Poise student Timyra Edwards, Brown read her daily affirmation:

I have grown in so many areas of my life, and my journey is just beginning. … I choose calm over worry and faith over fear. … I will be patient with myself through the journey of self-discovery. I am thankful for friends and family who enrich my life every day. I realize that happiness has been inside of me all the time …

“A few of those resonated,” Brown said. “These are really good ones.”

Her biggest dream is to see young people not use technology to define themselves but to inspire them to do something with the tools they have to make creative work for themselves.

Giving opportunities

Sometimes, youth don’t even realize they might be able to do something unless they try it, and BCB is a safe environment to explore, Belancourt, who helped start the boxing group, said. They have tried to expand opportunities based on what youth are passionate about.

Tawanda Edwards, Alicia’s mom who is known at the center as “Mama T,” said one main factor of its programs is giving people mentors to inspire them. Brown and Belancourt started participating in programs before starting their own businesses. Instructors in BCB Jawbreakers, Royal Tigerettes, Poise and others have had professional experience in what they’re teaching — which provides healthy influence, she said.

“We reach out to everybody — this is where they can learn the facts of life, how to avoid things that aren’t for them,” Tawanda Edwards said. “This program is helpful to everybody because they come in here one way and leave another. That’s change.”

Programs also provide tools for career prep. Brown and Brionna Sales last year started LOTUS, a tutoring and youth development program that meets Monday through Friday. Cheryl Hibbett, a retired professor from Lincoln University, has been volunteering for LOTUS since its conception.

  photo  Cheryl Hibbett, retired Lincoln University professor, BCB tutoring volunteer
 By India Garrish 

Hibbett said the program operates through an “organic” process, pairing a student with a tutor based on their interests (if a student wants to learn about getting their GED, they’d be paired with a tutor with experience in that field). Since the start of the pandemic, they’ve been meeting with youth by appointment, but she hopes to have more students as it becomes safer.

It’s always been important to her to be a part of the diverse experiences happening in BCB because she believes in what is growing there.

“I know you can see on television there are places where people really do work together; everyone brings their talents and everyone is appreciated,” Hibbett said. “But it doesn’t happen (in Jefferson City) with a diverse group of people very often. That’s why it was really important for me to be here, just to be a part of it.”

The future of BCB

Alicia Edwards echoes that with the start of Women of BCB, a multi-generational women’s group that started meeting in 2020 for community-building events. Tawanda Edwards said they are trying to reach “as far as they can” to new members — women of all walks of life, especially those in the younger generation.

“The purpose of the group is to bring women together from different places in life,” Alicia Edwards said. “If we have a lot of different women (in different careers), then there’s something everyone in the room can learn from something else.”

BCB’s groups have continued expanding thinking about the larger community impact they can make. For youth, the programs give them a head start to practice more skills before college or their careers. For Women of BCB, the executive director believes, “in order to strengthen our community, we have to strengthen our sisterhood.” 

And in having business leaders develop programs, it sprouts new business leaders in Jefferson City.

Ambitious? Yes. But Edwards has found more support as the years have passed, from friends to folks she met on the campaign trail, running last year for the Ward 5 position on Jefferson City Council. Those connections led to the start of the Capital Campaign, an effort to purchase the building in which BCB operates, leading to further developments.

There have been roadblocks in the campaign this year that were major blows in BCB’s efforts, which as a nonprofit, are especially hard. Over the past months, they’ve faced issues with rent and their building being dubbed an unsafe structure by the city’s Department of Planning and Protective Services, which delayed their largest fundraiser of the year. Some days, Edwards feels like she’s in a fight.

“Punch after punch after punch, and that’s been the last four years,” Edwards said. “I’m really hoping this is the last blow before the breakthrough.”

She’s not giving up on BCB, which she calls “her baby.” With the completion of the fundraising campaign, they would be able to hire the volunteers as staff and make changes to the building that support their programs. BCB has been approved for a loan, and they are looking to purchase their current building in March.

The volunteers are inspired, and their hope isn’t lessened, either.

“When life hits you in the face, it’s going to hurt; that doesn’t mean to quit,” Belancourt said. “After you win your first fight, you learn there’s always somebody bigger. ... Losing is just an improvement. We’re teaching them not to give up on anything.” 

To donate to the BCB Capital Campaign, visit bit.ly/3BEvLpT. Sign up to volunteer at bit.ly/3sa1Y5d. Some programs are by appointment only.

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