Our fourth interview in the “Young, Black, Homegrown and Leading in Baltimore” series is with Erricka Bridgeford, who, after her younger brother was murdered in 2007, helped create Baltimore Ceasefire 365 in a bid to quell the violence that plagues the city.
In an interview with Adam Bednar, Bridgeford, a longtime mediator, talks about how she tries to build credibility and trust in communities where the emotional trauma of violence often leaves residents angry, raw and suspicious.
Erricka Bridgeford is a self-described “West Baltimore girl.” The 47-year-old has been a trained mediator since 2001 and previously worked as the director of training for Community Mediation Maryland. In June Baltimore Community Mediation Center named her executive director.
Bridgeford, whose younger brother was murdered in 2007, helped create Baltimore Ceasefire 365 in a bid to quell violence that plagues the city. Since 2017 the organization has held quarterly weekend-long events citywide asking residents to “celebrate life” and participate in a variety of “life affirming” events in a bid to stop killings.
Baltimore Ceasefire 365 held its most recent Ceasefire Weekend earlier this month. While three people were still murdered during that weekend and the city still struggles with shootings and murders, Bridgeford remains committed to her anti-violence activism.
She spoke with The Daily Record as part of a series of interviews aimed at continuing the conversations started during the newspaper’s “Young, Black, Homegrown and Leading in Baltimore” webinar. The interview below has been edited for clarity and space.
The Daily Record: Tell me a little bit more about what it’s like to reach out to these families at such a vulnerable time. How do you go about conveying that you (only) have the best intentions towards them?
Erricka Bridgeford: Well, what’s really amazing to me about movement, at this point, is people already believe in our reputation and credibility. And so when we put out a message to everybody saying, “Hey, please help connect us with these families” by the time the family either reaches out to us, or … I’m calling them, and they already know it’s Baltimore Ceasefire 365, and that we don’t mean them any harm, and that we just want to talk to them, to give them love, and support.
They still give me a kind of trust that I know is very difficult to give, especially when somebody you loved has just been killed, right.
When you lose someone to murder it puts you in a place where you really don’t trust anybody because you don’t really know all the time who had something to do with it, and if people are going to try to exploit your story, and that sort of thing.
So it is a very vulnerable time that justifiably people don’t trust easily at that time, and so I feel really honored that … because I’ve been doing this work in Baltimore to stop violence, and create peace for over 20 years, and so people are able to connect with me in a way where they already trust (me).
TDR: You mentioned credibility and trust. Those are two huge pieces of leadership. Tell me how you go about building up credibility and trust that enables you to have a voice to be effective in this role in helping lead Baltimore Ceasefire?
Bridgeford: I think that I have built credibility and trust over the years by doing my very best to really walk in the values that I talk about.
We have values, but very often it’s hard to know how to apply those values in a particular situation.
And so I worked really hard over the years, even when things are difficult, if I say that being honest in my conflict for example, being honest is important to me, being transparent, but finding a way to disagree with you without attacking you.
It’s easy to say that until somebody pisses me off, and then I have to figure out how am I going to be honest, and transparent, and not attack this person when I really inside of me somewhere I want to punch them in the face, maybe.
And how do I work through that and still have a conversation where I’m not attacking a person?
So it’s things like that where I have done a good job I think “standing on my square,” we say, you know standing on my integrity when it’s hard to do, when it would be easier to, especially if I’m being attacked, it would be easier to attack back.
TDR: How has being a Baltimore native shaped your view of the city and the challenges?
Bridgeford: It took me a while to really understand my own journey in Baltimore because I grew up in 21216, which has become one of the most violent ZIP codes in Baltimore.
But it wasn’t like that when I was little. I grew up in … low-income housing projects, and they were townhomes, but they were nice. We had grass, and we had trees, and my mother had a garden out front and out back. So that’s what I grew up in, and so I learned about community there. I learned about what my worth was, people loved me. I had one hand, but if anybody teased me, at school for example, people who lived in my neighborhood did not accept it, and they protected me and things like that.
So I learned about how strong Baltimore is, how resilient and protective we are of one another. So I learned about love and community and strength in a low-income housing project growing up.
So I remember when suddenly we’d hear gunshots in the neighborhood, suddenly people were using drugs, and suddenly my friends were selling drugs, and I knew they had never left our neighborhood.
At 10 years old you don’t understand where all these drugs are coming from. Where all these guns are coming from. I remember feeling when I was little like, “Oh, we must just not care about ourselves around here. We must just be trifling and lazy.”
I didn’t know something was happening to us, right. But as I got older and I saw how the neighborhood changed and the kinds of things that happened to the neighborhood, and within the neighborhood, as I got older I understood.
People came into our neighborhoods with guns and drugs and took advantage of us living under a system of oppression.
Professional: Helped found Baltimore Ceasefire 365 and is executive director of Baltimore Community Mediation Center.
Education: A graduate of Western High School
Personal: She’s 47, with three birth children, a stepson, and three grandchildren. She has a cockapoo and a cat, both of which she’s “in love with.” Outside of work, her passions are creating experiences with my with children and grandchildren, binge-watching shows online and going to the beach.
This item is part of The Daily Record’s video series, Young, Black, Homegrown & Leading in Baltimore.