The Bridge Builder
Nancy Day seeks to bring people together.
Photo by Joerg Adlung.
The National Conference of Christians and Jews (NCCJ) was founded in 1927 by a prominent group of Christians and Jews with a mission of fighting bias, bigotry and racism. At its height, the NCCJ boasted 65 offices nationwide, including ones in Tulsa and Oklahoma City. In 2004, the national office began experiencing financial problems and closing offices. In 2005, under the leadership of president Ginny Creveling, the Tulsa office separated from the national organization to form its own, independent organization. On May 1, 2005, the Oklahoma Conference for Community and Justice – now known as the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice (OCCJ) – was formed. Nancy Day is the executive director, and has been with the organization for more than three decades.
I wasn’t really seeking a career in (social justice). I had grown up in Tulsa, lived away for10 years and moved back in 1980. I was looking for a job, and a friend knew about an opening at NCCJ and thought it might be a good fit. Thirty-one years later, I’m still here. I didn’t have anything in particular in my background that would have led me to this job, but I think they saw something in me. I was not familiar with the organization when I found out about the job, but I’ve learned so much and had many opportunities to get to know some of the finest people in the community and state; these are opportunities I don’t believe I would have had without this job.
The most important thing we do at OCCJ is bring people together across that which divides them and try to help people learn to live together with deep differences in race, gender and socioeconomics. We’re always trying to build bridges between groups. Over the years, we have come to be seen as an honest broker in the community.
Almost everything we do is educational. At OCCJ, we feel that when people are fearful of “the other,” it is many times because they are ignorant; they just don’t know the other. Educating them about people who are different from themselves is the best way to dispel those fears and myths and stereotypes that divide people. We also do a lot of collaborative programs with other organizations. Then there are those that are solely OCCJ programs, like Camp Anytown, Different and the Same, Teen Trialogue and Youth Interfaith Tour.
Some days I am encouraged by our progress; I think back 30 years ago when maybe we wouldn’t have been having daily conversations with our Muslim neighbors, for example, or our Hispanic neighbors. The next day, I may be very discouraged when I read about groups that are not able to get along together, or those who are victims of discrimination or even hate crimes. The best news would be if there was not a need for an organization like OCCJ. I don’t see that happening, unfortunately, but we’ll never give up.