OKLAHOMA CITY – Local leaders and influencers gathered on Thursday for a conference focused on pressing into critical issues of systematic poverty, race divisions and class divisions that are present in and around Oklahoma City.
Thursday marked the 4th annual Bridge Conference, formerly called Crossing the Bridge.
"I certainly invite you to be a part of my efforts,” Mayor David Holt said during his opening speech, referencing efforts to inspire change.
"We're discussing how we as a state, as a city, really address the issues of poverty and diversity in a way that we've not done before,” Lee Roland, one of the event coordinators, told News 4.
The conference focused on a variety of topics when it comes to poverty, race and class, including education.
"People who are able to go out and get a college degree, their likelihood of incarceration is less likely. Their likelihood of living in poverty is less likely,” Dr. Myron Pope, Vice President for Student Affairs for the University of Central Oklahoma, said during his keynote speech.
Pope recently hosted a summit to discuss underrepresentation at many of Oklahoma’s college and universities.
"Our young black males are underrepresented at University of Central Oklahoma and all of our colleges,” Roland said.
How to work toward changing that was a big part of the focus of the conference.
"We understand that, as we've been hearing that it starts from the root,” Nikki Nice, OKC City Councilwoman for Ward 7, said. “We have to take care of community first and those are things I want to focus on.”
A big part of that focus that many who attended the conference share with Nice is on community and the youth in communities of poverty that often don’t have the same opportunities, like getting a college education, that children from wealthier families have.
"In addition to education, we will be discussing things in the judicial system, how do we get this certain, this audience that's more incarcerated at a greater percentage rate?” Roland said.
The overall goal of the Bridge Conference is to create awareness and brainstorm solutions for the many challenges facing communities in and around Oklahoma City.
"We believe that if people know better, they will do better. They will lend their hand when we're talking about hey, lean on me. I can help you,” Roland said.
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