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Bridging the Great Divide


By Gregory Kepferle

Chief Executive Officer
Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County and President, Charities Housing

How many times have we heard the sentiment, “I just can’t understand them. How could they think that way? How could they act that way?” Maybe we experience that feeling ourselves about people we disagree with, people we don’t understand, people we don’t accept, or people we don’t know. Pundits claim the polarization in America is the highest it’s been in over a century. It’s not just political polarization, but also economic polarization.  Income inequality as measured by the Gini index is the highest since first tracked five decades ago, and in Silicon Valley it is getting worse. It’s also social polarization. Despite increased ethnic diversity in the Bay Area, today many of our neighborhoods and schools appear as segregated as they were before the 1954 Brown vs. the Board of Education Supreme Court ruling. And the algorithms built into social media reinforce the separation and isolation so that we tend to see mostly news and opinions that reinforce our own beliefs.

Countering this trend are the bridge builders – the individuals and institutions that find ways of creating dialog, of opening hearts and minds, of connecting unlikely allies. Whether through civic groups like American Leadership Forum or through church prayer and study groups, community organizing groups like PACT, service associations like Rotary, or interfaith alliances addressing homelessness, many of us are quietly and steadily working at bridging society’s divides.

Believing that all are made in the image and likeness of God, at Catholic Charities we work hard to create just and compassionate communities. Through our Responsible Landlord Engagement Initiative, neighbors, tenants, landlords, nonprofits, and government officials find ways to reduce blight and neglect in neighborhoods in San José. Through the Franklin-McKinley Children’s Initiative, a coalition including parents and neighbors, schools, local government, funders, and Catholic Charities works to prevent the cycle of generational poverty by strengthening children’s education, families and neighborhoods. Through our Parish Engagement pilot at Our Lady of Refuge parishioners are helping fellow parishioners and neighbors with the support of a network of food, health, immigration, and social service providers. Through our Bridges of Hope, we welcome back previously incarcerated individuals into society, connecting them with church, housing, jobs and a sense of purpose and belonging.

When you are feeling discouraged by the polarization around you, come visit one of our sites at Catholic Charities. As we start the new decade, please join us in building bridges.

For more information please visit, www.CatholicCharitiesSCC.org.