News: Building Bridges

Former NCCJ recommits to mission with new name

Graham Lienhart

Chip Harrod is executive director of Bridges for a Just Community, successor organization to the National Conference for Community and Justice.

It's only been a month, but the numbers of affiliated organizations is growing, the public is warming to the old group's new name and Robert "Chip" Harrod musters the excitement of a school kid when he talks of the future.

It's been a glorious past here in Cincinnati — 62 years stretching through name changes from National Conference of Christians and Jews to National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ).

Last month NCCJ-Cincinnati left the national organization, renamed itself Bridges for a Just Community and became one of the co-founders of a new national human relations organization called National Federation for Just Communities.

The organization's new mission statement is simple: "Bridges brings people together to achieve inclusion, equity and justice for all."

"The community is responding well to our re-branding," says Harrod, executive director of Bridges. "Folks really like the name. This is a good time for us. The old organization is moving forward as a new one with a new name."

The break with the national NCCJ was ultimately a business decision precipitated by a financial crisis at the national level, Harrod says. When the time came to renew the contract with NCCJ, based in New York City, Cincinnati NCCJ balked at the $30,000 renewal cost.

"For us, that's sending a lot of kids to our camps," Harrod says. "It was not an easy decision for us. But it was not offering much in the way of national services. We wish the NCCJ well, and we're grateful for all the years that they gave us. We feel at this time that this is the direction we ought to go to best serve the needs and interests of residents of the Greater Cincinnati area. When we made the decision, it really afforded the board and staff here some great relief."

For its entire history, Bridges, under its various names, has been in the forefront of fighting racism and bigotry. NCCJ helped found the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, which opened in August 2004, and worked to repeal Article 12 in the Cincinnati City Charter, the law that denied anti-discrimination protection to the gay and lesbian community.

Its mission will remain essentially the same, according to Harrod.

"It is the very same mission we've had since World War II," he says.

Harrod, who was president and CEO of the national NCCJ until he resigned after just four months in 2005, said local programs will continue. Those include police-community relations work, Jewish-Muslim dialogue and its youth institutes, which involve sending high school sophomores and juniors to Joy Outdoor Education Center for a week to learn openness and trust and to talk about prejudices.

"It is probably the most profound social and cultural experience these kids will have, and that's not an overstatement," Harrod says.

Other areas of public policy also will be explored.

"We're looking at disparities in access to health care, we're looking at the issue of immigration reform," he says.

The local staff of about a half-dozen remains intact.

"We have the same people, same purpose, same programs," Harrod says.

An overarching mission is the creation of the National Federation for Just Communities, which was incorporated in Michigan. Dues are nominal, about $3,000 a year. So far a dozen former NCCJ regional offices have signed on. Harrod expects another eight to 10 within the next three months. The emphasis will be on addressing local needs.

"We took a minimalist approach and didn't want any kind of central office," Harrod says. "The strategic plan is not governed by a national template."

The Web site for Bridges is still under construction but can be found at

"We're excited about this re-launch," Harrod says. "We've just adopted a new strategic plan that offers more focus, more reach, more impact. This is really a great time for us." ©

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