Creating a culture of belonging in LOSD requires diverse representation
My name is Neelam Gupta, and I am applying to serve in Position 2 on the LOSD Board. I have a 30-year history in Lake Oswego, with the schools as a sibling and now parent.
When my parents moved here, I embraced the Pacific Northwest as my new home. Born in Los Angeles, I relocated following a 14-year stint abroad. After getting my Oregon driver's license and helping my family settle, I attended UCLA to earn undergraduate and masters' degrees, returning regularly for holidays and summers. My brother Rajan, who graduated from LOHS, is a practicing physician on the COVID-19 crisis frontlines.
In 2015, we decided to move back to Lake Oswego when my husband Kabir received an offer to work for Nike. It was a chance to put down roots and be close to family. After living in diverse areas like Los Angeles and San Francisco, I wasn't prepared for life in the LO bubble as a person of color.
I volunteered at my daughter's elementary school right away, but I felt like an outsider. I wasn't prepared when she encountered bias incidents and had trouble fitting in. Although we felt alone, friends who recently moved to Lake Oswego confessed to experiencing similar difficulties. The community was growing more diverse, but our schools had not caught up.
We wondered if we had made a mistake moving here. But we saw the potential, as we had wonderful neighbors that took us under their wing. We decided to double down on our community involvement to become the change that we wanted to see.
I continued to be active in our schools. I joined the Lake Oswego Schools Foundation board and co-chaired last year's LO Levy Campaign with an amazing group of parent volunteers and the LOSD board. I am a responsible steward as the LOJ Parent Club co-treasurer.
I co-chair the LOSD Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory Committee, formed two years ago. We've had hard, emotional conversations about the racist and bias experiences our students face, as young people of color, differently abled, LGBTIQ+, etc. We are presently moving the LOSD Equity Policy into practice, so that our students experience lasting change in the classrooms.
My life experiences inform me, especially in this moment. While I was at UCLA in the 1990s, a bystander videotaped the brutal police beating of Rodney King, a Black man. The officers went to trial and were acquitted. Days-long civil unrest followed, while I was curfewed in my apartment transfixed to the television in disbelief. I am reminded of those feelings watching the tragic death of George Floyd and too many other Black Americans. I never imagined the phrase "knee-to-neck" would become so commonplace. I share the public outrage at these incidents, at a time when COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting Black communities, people of color and other high-risk populations.
Throughout my career, I've advanced health equity and systems change in cross-sector, multi-million-dollar initiatives under the tutelage of brilliant, accomplished Black, Latinx, Asian and White leaders. I've learned from my mentors and 20+ years of experience that creating systems change takes planning, commitment, collaboration and time.
I am ready to roll up my sleeves as an LOSD board member and make the change towards inclusion happen.
Neelam Gupta is a Lake Oswego resident and candidate for position 2 on the Lake Oswego School Board.
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