Respond to Racism, a local grassroots organization tackling racism in Lake Oswego, celebrated its second year of changing the city at a July 1 meeting. The celebration featured a discussion led by Lake Oswego School District Communications Director Christine Moses, who also sits on the Respond to Racism steering committee.
Respond to Racism's mission is to "educate and empower Lake Oswego residents and institutions with the tools to end racism in all its forms and make LO — and Oregon — a better place to live for residents of all races and ethnicities."
The organization's co-founder Willie Poinsette opened Monday night's meeting with a reminder of the mission as well as the history of Respond to Racism in Lake Oswego.
"Two years ago we began talking about our city — the situation in our city began long ago — but we began our work," Poinsette said.
Respond to Racism was formed in response to incidents of overt and systemic racism in the city. One particular blog post, made in 2017 by Lake Oswego resident and Portland Police Detective Nathan Sheppard, was particularly influential.
In the 2017 post, Sheppard described an incident in which he had encountered an aggressive driver and followed him to a nearby parking lot with the intention of telling him that his behavior was unsafe. The man, whose young children were in the back seat of his car, responded with a racial slur, telling Sheppard he didn't look like he was from Lake Oswego.
That and incidents in local schools prompted Liberty Miller to start a conversation on the social-networking site Nextdoor, which led Miller to Poinsette. The two then decided to invite the entire community to join them in person and have a more in-depth discussion about racism and how it relates to Lake Oswego. Two years later, Miller and Poinsette are still going strong, along with the citizens who pack the monthly meetings at United Church of Christ.
The turnout at Monday's meeting was no different. Involved citizens gathered at the church to hear Moses' presentation and celebrate Respond to Racism's achievements. Those in attendance included LOSD's new superintendent Lora de la Cruz, City Councilor Jackie Manz and school board member Liz Hartman.
Moses' discussion was titled, "Designing a Thinking Approach to Creating a Community of Belonging." Moses is currently pursuing a doctorate degree, and said she wanted to present was she has learned about "design thinking," and how it can be used to create a better community.
"Research says that belonging is critical for success, it is a fundamental human motivation, and it is the cornerstone to community," Moses said. "Additionally, mental health is dependent on belonging."
Design thinking is an "anthropological approach to understanding people and their community in order to solve community issues," explained Moses. "It's an incredibly engaging process that comes out with tangible results."
Moses asked the attendees to consider what "community" means to them, and what their ideal community would look like. Some people described community as people who have a range of values and cultures but respect and care for each other, while others envisioned a community where everyone is able to be seen for who they are and met with love.
Attendees were also advised to consider what role their biases play in their everyday life. "Bias is always working," Moses said. "Consciously overcoming bias means actively putting yourself in the presence of others, which can feel uncomfortable."
Moses also presented a goal: how can you be more inclusive in your own life? She asked attendees to consciously think and act on this for the next month, and report back at the next meeting. "Come back in August and tell us what you've done," Moses said. "Hold yourself accountable."
The last thirty minutes of the meeting took on a celebratory spirit, as Poinsette was presented with a bouquet of flowers for being the group's "fearless leader" the past two years. Attendees then enjoyed cupcakes, music and dancing.
The next Respond to Racism meeting is Aug. 5 at 6 p.m. at United Church of Christ, 1111 Country Club Rd, Lake Oswego.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.