A group of about 100 people gathered in Foothills Park, adorning masks and keeping a reasonable distance, to commemorate Juneteenth and talk through the ins and outs of anti-racism.
Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865 when, in Galveston, Texas, the last African American slaves in the U.S. were given notice of their freedom.
In the midst of nationwide protests against the killing of Black people by police, many people are hearing the call to be actively anti-racist.
Mya Gordon, a Lakeridge High School graduate and founder of the LHS Equity Council, said a lot of people are unsure of what to do next. That's why she, along with Anna-Marie Guenther, another LHS grad and member of the LHS Equity Council, decided to keep the momentum going with an open session — an open-forum style discussion — on being active in the anti-racist movement.
"So why we're here today is to take that momentum and to try and get people to care at least a little bit," Gordon said.
The session was originally scheduled for June 12, but persistent rain prompted the students to postpone and hold an impromptu gathering that day instead. Gordon said the discussion went well, despite the rain.
Gordon said one of the things the equity council is focused on is empathy. "It's a basic but somehow forgotten idea. It's the idea that I care for other people almost as much as I care for myself," she said. "The lack of empathy is the basis for a lot of our problems. So just looking at your neighbor, looking at everyone else around you and thinking, 'what can I do to make your life better?'"
Organizers kicked off the event by having current and former students come to the stage to share their experiences dealing with racism in schools and the community.
Sonoma Leland, cofounder of the Black Student Union at Lakeridge, shared her experience getting the BSU off the ground. She shared that a lot of students didn't take it seriously.
"It's great that we have numbers here today but that needs to be something that we have every day … without numbers we can't go far."
Gemma Pleas, a recent graduate from Lake Oswego High School, said moving to Lake Oswego from Chicago nine years ago was a big adjustment and that the microaggressions she faced shaped her. "Things like people touching my hair without my permission or questioning my intelligence or talking to me a certain way or saying, 'why are you in certain classes' just because I was a Black student, and I don't think I really reflected on those things until I left Lake Oswego High School and I realized how those things have effectively isolated me from the community," Pleas said.
Pleas added that when it's your friends and teachers who are saying those things it really sends a message that you don't belong there.
"We need you to really care about these events because we have read Black books in Lake Oswego High School, we had a This Is Us Day, but the response I often hear from students is … 'why are we talking about race?'" she said.
Pleas added that it's the responsibility of the people who attended the session to spur anti-racism forward.
"It's up to you to stop the apathetic sentiment and fuel a caring culture," she said. "I think it's really easy to condemn an organization but I think the real work comes from taking an introspective look at yourself."
Guenther asked the crowd to break into groups of five and use a set of provided questions to have a discussion.
"It's better to be honest than to be right today and if you're not uncomfortable, you're not participating," she said when giving event goers instructions.
In the breakout sessions, community members talked through questions like "What can you do to educate yourself without putting unnecessary work on Black people?" to round out the event.
Guenther said she hopes people will take the tools they learn today and form habits in their daily lives.
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