Key Lake Oswego leaders band together to fight hatred
Lake Oswego community members have spent a large part of the past year grappling with how best to respond to an increase in incidents of racism and other forms of intolerance in the city.
Those responses — to a racially charged road rage episode, incidents of racist and anti-Semitic graffitti at local schools and more — have come from groups such as Respond to Racism and LO for LOve, as well as from staff at City Hall and the Lake Oswego School District.
"There's been a very positive effort to do whatever anyone can come up with that has proven itself to be helpful," says Rabbi Alan Berg of Lake Oswego's Beit Haverim congregation.
Now, Lake Oswego Police Chief Don Johnson and others are working on what they hope will be a more broad-based, comprehensive approach to addressing instances of racism, sexism and anti-Semitism in the city. The plan: to send a group of officials representing a cross-section of the city's leaders to a training class hosted at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.
The museum is a project of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights organization named after the famed Nazi hunter. It opened in 1993 with the goal of becoming "a human rights laboratory and educational center dedicated to challenging visitors to understand the Holocaust in both historic and contemporary contexts and confront all forms of prejudice and discrimination in our world today."
The museum takes an interactive, experiential approach, Johnson says, and can be visited as a standalone experience or as part of a seminar in which museum exhibits are paired with classes that teach guests about historical events such as the Holocaust and the civil rights movement, as well as how to spot their own implicit biases as they navigate the modern world.
Johnson says he first visited the museum while working in California earlier in his career, and he found it to be a highly effective training opportunity for police officers.
"I sent around 330 employees from the public safety department I worked for prior to coming here (to Lake Oswego)," he says, "and had great results with it."
Johnson says he and LOSD staff have held a series of conversations in the past five months focused on how to coordinate community responses to the rise in hate incidents, and the museum trip emerged as a possible step that the group could take.
Other community leaders and officials became involved in the planning efforts, including Berg, who says he had also been hearing reports of anti-Semitic incidents from some of the students in his congregation.
"I recognized the program, or at least the organization," he says. "This seemed like a very sophisticated approach to keeping the community ahead of this crisis, so I supported it."
The seminar, which is currently scheduled for Feb. 19-21, will be attended by a cross-section of city staff and officials, including Johnson, LOPD Capt. Dale Jorgensen, Sgt. Jay Wietman, School Resource Officer Bryan Sheldon, City Manager Scott Lazenby, Assistant City Manager Megan Phelan and City Councilors Jackie Manz and Jeff Gudman.
Several school district staff will join them, including Superintendent Heather Beck, Assistant Superintendent Mike Musick (who will take over as interim superintendent when Beck leaves the LOSD later this year), Executive Director of Communications Christine Moses, Lakeridge Junior High School Principal Kurt Schultz and two additional principals — hopefully one from an elementary school and another from a high school, Johnson says.
The museum typically offers different seminars aimed at distinct groups of public-sector employees such as police, educators and municipal staff. But for this trip, Johnson says, the planners wanted Lake Oswego's leaders to tackle the issues as a single group, so the Lake Oswego seminar will include aspects of all the other configurations.
"It'll be a custom course for us," Johnson says.
As a result, Johnson says he doesn't know exactly what the course will cover. But he says the goal will be to find the things that all of the city's leaders have in common and identify the tools that they can use to help promote tolerance in the community.
"I want to be able to say, 'We went down there, and this is what we talked about, and here are the things we're going to actively address,'" he says.
Final details of the trip are still being worked out, in part because Johnson and others are still working to secure the last of the funding. The trip is primarily funded by a $15,000 state grant, but the group currently faces a roughly $7,500 shortfall.
Johnson says he's searching for additional grant dollars, but in the meantime, Berg and other community members have been trying to help out by fundraising to close the gap. Johnson and Berg say they hope one or two additional community members involved in diversity issues will be able to attend if the group can reach its funding goal.
"I'm just one person raising funds and making noise about it," Berg says. "I'm involved trying to raise that residual $7,500, just reaching out to people I know who might want to reach out to other people."