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Meet Kelli Braggs of Bridge of Hope Ministries

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kelli Braggs.

Kelli, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
My story begins at approximately 3:30 pm on December 31st. 1979 with James and Vera Johnson (Ward). Born and raised in St. Louis Missouri, I grew up in a North County suburb and attended the Riverview Gardens School District. As a child, I would not understand our city’s long, steep, racial history and divide until much later. Shortly after my parents divorced, my mother purchased a home in the Bellefontaine Neighbor’s community where I can recall our family being the only blacks on the street, with very few others in the entire subdivision. My mother, a registered nurse by profession, was referred to by our neighbors as the “colored” nurse with no harm intended because for them it was the socially acceptable term. These same neighbors would often call to seek her medical advice and attention. Over 15 years, I watched our neighborhood go from predominantly white to black. Today I’m well educated in “white flight” and the many intentional circumstances that cause St. Louis and the metropolitan area to be one of the most segregated cities in the US.

I had two different upbringings that shaped who I am today and what I get to do for a living! My mother raised me to know, love, and have a relationship with God; to seek God in all things, including the direction and purpose of my life. My father raised me to question and challenge the “why” behind structural systems, politics, and anything and everything pertaining to life. Like many kids, I didn’t have a clear direction for what I wanted to do at 18. After graduating high school, I went away to college as that was the “thing” to do, but after a year of essentially doing “nothing”, I found myself back home, working and trying to figure it out. After a few odd and end jobs, I landed an entry-level position in Corporate America, and it didn’t take long for me to begin paying attention to what I was good at because I knew this could not be my long-term future. I had started exercising a couple of years earlier, but when I came home from college and would train myself in the evenings, people began asking if they could pay me to be their fitness trainer. I had no formal education in this but immediately began studying and pursuing certification. Within a couple of years, I was certified, and two years later started a business that I operated and grew for 12 years, V Fit. Fitness was the passion that would spark and open so many other opportunities. 

I’ve always been a bit rebellious, never following a traditional path. While running my business, I was simultaneously working in ministry and had become a licensed minister, to which I would spend years trying to figure out and fight against the inequity of women in ministry. My righteous anger and wanting to correct such broken systems in the church led me to seminary, where soon after came an invitation to pastor my first church. My culminating desire to help people live well physically, spiritually, and mentally became the driving force of my motivation. With a clear vision, pure focus, and a very supportive husband, I returned to college because those credentials became necessary in my work. While running a business and pastoring a church, I completed my bachelor’s in Psychology and two master’s degrees, in Divinity and Social Work. One of the best pieces of advice a former client shared with me is that a woman of my generation should have at least 3 different careers over a lifetime. I thought my first dream of running multi-location gyms should be it, but God had more. When it was time for me to decide whether or not to let go of the business I started to increase my capacity, that advice gave me the freedom to do so with no regrets. I was letting go of something I had, to gain something that would take me further. I realized that my purpose was not changing, but God was giving me the privilege of serving out my purpose on different platforms.

Intersecting my entrepreneurship/business, ministry, and social work skills, I now serve as the Executive Director of Bridge of Hope Ministries. This organization serves North St. Louis City’s unhoused and housing insecure in the Greater Ville neighborhood. By far, this has been the most rewarding, yet challenging work I have ever had the privilege of being a part of. I call it “dirty work,” as you must be willing to stick your hands and feet in the muck and mire to pull someone else out. The homeless are like a pariah; they are the ones people don’t want to see or be around. However, they are people who matter, and Bridge of Hope is where they are “someone,” and we are eager to hear their stories and help them find their way to stability and meaningful life. I would have never guessed in a million years that my journey would lead here, but my personal mission statement is: “I serve an audience of ONE. Wherever this ONE leads, I will go, to serve the many”. Just because I can, doesn’t mean I should, and just because I can doesn’t mean I will. For this, I am grateful!

We all face challenges, but looking back, would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
There’s an old song that says, “I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey”. I wouldn’t trade one thing about my story. I certainly wouldn’t call it smooth, but I also recognize that I have had many privileges that have allowed me to succeed. What I know for sure is, that I’m still on the journey, fully living into my now, while allowing God to download my next!

Appreciate you sharing that. What should we know about Bridge of Hope Ministries?
Bridge of Hope Ministries 4001 Cottage Ave.
St. Louis, Missouri, 63113
www.bridgeofhopestl.org

Mission Statement: Our mission is to transform the lives of the homeless in The Ville neighborhood, through professional, supportive services and advocacy, in a safe and secure environment.

Bridge of Hope is 100% supported by individual, foundation, and corporate partnerships. Please consider partnering with a monthly gift at https://bridgeofhopestl.churchcenter.com/giving.

What do you like and dislike about the city?
What I like about St. Louis is that I can get anywhere in the metropolitan area within 35-45 minutes. I love the diversity in our city. I love that I can go to South City and experience any ethnic food flavor of my choice. 

My obstacle is the division within our city. St. Louis is such a segregated city that rather than seeing the ills which plague us as an “our” problem, too many view the issues as a “them” problem and it keeps us stagnating. A term I learned in seminary that has always stuck with me is “fictive-kinship”. When we as a people genuinely want to see “others/those different from us” thrive and have the same access as ourselves, we engage differently. It means that we don’t have to have the same experiences as “others/those different from us” to understand our relationship and advocacy with all of humanity, period. 

The challenge I have is the lack of partnerships and mergers. There is a lot of duplication of services from churches, businesses, and nonprofits. Visions and missions are not so different that each organization/agency needs to stand alone. We go further together! Understanding our unique strengths and partnering or perhaps merging means we must be willing to put down our ego and need for credit to improve the overall community.

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