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Bridgebuilder Spotlight: Brice Mickey

This feature is a part of our “Bridgebuilder Spotlight” series where we lift up some of the amazing Bridgebuilders in our network. If you’d like to connect with Brice or other Bridgebuilders, contact our Creative Director: Adam Denney

“I am a storyteller, and for me, the stories I tell seek to amplify those voices that have been left out of the conversation.”

Brice Mickey wears a lot of hats. As a Cohear Bridgebuilder we know him as many things--a leader, an advocate, a mentor, and a friend. Professionally, he is the Manager of Strategic Partnerships and Special Projects at Public Allies and a Core Facilitator for Avant Consulting Group (ACG). But when you ask Brice to describe himself, he will tell you that he is a Social Justice Educator. He has always been passionate about community-driven work, and if you have ever had the pleasure of attending a workshop with Brice, it shows.

Brice dates the start of his social justice work to 2009 when he made a decision to leave IT and do impact work full time. However, he has been having community-centered conversations for much longer. Growing up in Cincinnati’s west side (and a self proclaimed proud west sider), Brice understood from an early age that there is still a lot of work to do to achieve equity. And for him, community building and intense conversations were the way to dig into the hard work.

“I’ve always felt connected to the community and when I started this work I thought, ‘who would show up and do this just because?’ And I saw that people had skin in this game, they were passionate about making local change.”

The past 18 months has highlighted a major shift at both the community and institutional level as more and more folks are hungry to learn from the experience of everyday experts, fueling a new culture of decision-making. As Brice noted, “social impact, diversity, equity… they aren’t check box activities anymore.”

“I remember when it was much harder to find organizations that were ready to have difficult conversations. It’s hard work. Not only are we talking about systemic issues--racism, wealth gaps, social determinants of health, etc.--but also how institutions are historically linked to the major challenges we are facing today. That vulnerability is difficult.”

That vulnerability is what begins to build cognitive empathy, and empathy comes from sharing stories. Storytelling is a tool for Brice in his work, and when we asked Brice to explain what he means by “storytelling as a tool” he quickly put on his facilitator hat and responded with a question of his own. Try it out: think of the last ten movies that you watched. What were they about?

“I ask this question because what I often hear is that the films we recall are usually about someone who was white, spoke English, had no discernible accent, no form of disability, and probably straight. Why? Because these are the narratives we have access to and the stories that are allowed to be told. But if these are the dominant narratives, how can we really get to know other people and their experiences?”

Stories have power and stories drive change. That lightbulb moment happened for him as he recounted a facilitation he had led with ACG and a healthcare provider. A nurse shared a story about a woman who came into the ER by ambulance accompanied by a gentleman, neither of which spoke English.

“The nurse was startled because the man was ready to leave shortly after they got to the ER. As the nurse was trying to keep him there, she became frustrated and didn't get why he would just leave. As the translator arrived, she realized that these two people were strangers. He had just happened to be next to her and the only one around who could comfort her. A stranger had been by her side the whole time.”

For Brice, and for Cohear, the power of stories comes from what happens when we really listen to someone’s experience. And just like the nurse he mentioned, when we step back and hear the intricacies of someone’s situation, our perceptions begin to radically change. And this change can be the catalyst for us to act and to make better decisions based on the experience of others we otherwise wouldn’t have known. As Brice put it, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”

This change in our perception is leading to another major milestone, perhaps for the first time on a massive scale. Brice noted that a huge shift is taking place as institutions begin to not only understand how they have been linked to inequitable outcomes, but are now willing to actively name those structures. Naming the problem is the first step to finding better solutions to the problems we face.

“Institutions are being vocal and identifying systemic routes of inequity. Racism, class/wealth gaps, homophobia, sexism… they are not shying away from calling it out. I don't think they would have done that 3-5 years ago. And part of it is the accountability and the standard the public is holding institutions to.”

But it’s not just that institutions are willing to name systemic problems that are leading to more equitable ways of decision-making. It all comes back to the community as we begin leading the forefront of the changes we need to make.

“Those folks who traditionally may have not seen the value in equity work are starting to say, ‘actually, this is really needed.’ A huge wake up call was George Floyd. It is hard to be a social justice educator and to see value being picked up after a national tragedy. More institutions are getting into this work than ever before. It feels new, it feels different.”

Cohear agrees with Brice, it does feel different. We see this in our work with decision makers, our Bridgebuilders, and those everyday experts leading this shift. Community impact happens at all levels and the culture of decision making is being changed one conversation at a time. And for Brice, being a Bridgebuilder is one more ingredient in the “social equity soup” he finds himself a part of.


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