By Karen Vance
Saturday morning, 15 black children from Zion Baptist Church in Avondale and 15 white children from Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church in Delhi Township shared a bus tour of Cincinnati.
The event was the third in a series of five called the Youth Leadership Academy, a partnership between the two churches to bring together children ages 8-13.
"It crosses communities, it crosses race, it crosses ages and it also crosses religions," said Scott Bischoff, one of the organizers of the program who attends Our Lady of Victory.
The program was started by the Faith Community Partnership Program, created by the Ohio River Valley chapter of the Volunteers of America. It is designed to pair churches of like sizes but diverse backgrounds for community projects.
For the Rev. William Harris, the opportunity to be in a relationship with the Catholic Church was a welcome blessing.
"This is what heaven looks like. Heaven is not going to look like our congregation. It's going to have people of all races and faith backgrounds," said the Rev. Mr. Harris, an organizer of the partnership and youth minister at Zion Baptist Church.
The churches participated in a congregation exchange program before discussing ways to create a stronger bond.
"We decided our partnership was going to focus on preparing the next generation of church leaders," the Rev. Mr. Harris said.
The Cincinnati Chapter for the National Conference for Community and Justice provided facilitators for the initial meetings, said Chris Jarman, a program director for the group, which participates in 10 to 12 community dialog sessions a year.
"It's a really good way for them to not only get to know each other, but to give them tools and tips for a continued relationship," she said.
The Leadership Academy has met three times already to discuss the importance of being a leader, what it takes to be an effective leader and how to unlearn prejudices.
Saturday's session included a tour of Cincinnati, as well as conversations with Municipal Judge Cheryl Grant, a member of Zion Baptist Church, and Councilman David Pepper.
The children also toured the Mount St. Joseph Motherhouse in Delhi Township and worked on mission statements and pledges at Our Lady of Victory.
On Friday the group will have a graduation. Program organizers are hopeful the children will continue to keep in touch with their "cross-town pals." The group is also exploring the idea of repeating the program.
"This is not legislated through the city council. It's not the result of a corporate donation," the Rev. Mr. Harris said. "The solution to Cincinnati's problems is going to be a move from the people. God bringing people together of all faiths together, in all religions, not just Christians."
And the organizers feel bringing together the city's children is the right first step.
"We felt that we might be able to instill in them that differences are something you should celebrate and not be afraid of," Mr. Bischoff said. "It started with some very stiff meetings for the adults from the different congregations, but for the kids, you can see race is a non-issue. It's just about being a kid."
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