Inspired by the ongoing fight for social justice taking place around the country and encouraged by others to pursue public service, George Fox University administrator Bryce Coefield threw his hat into the ring of candidates for the District 4 position on the Newberg City Council.
Having lived in Newberg just three years and possessing a background previously unseen on the council, the 31-year-old Coefield said he was just excited to be part of the process and share his perspective with councilors.
Clearly, that perspective and CoeNewfield's experience as a leader, mentor and academic proved a necessary addition to the council's ranks. After being named one of four finalists, he was appointed on Aug. 17 by Mayor Rick Rogers and the council to fill the remainder of former councilor Patrick Johnson's term.
Coefield will be sworn in this September and serve through at least 2022. He is believed to be the first Black man ever to serve on the Newberg council.
"Multiple people had reached out to me about potentially serving, and my first response was to say, 'oh, no,'" Coefield said with a laugh. "It seemed unwise because I'm still writing a dissertation, I have my job as the director of intercultural life at George Fox, and I want to be a father to my newborn son and a responsible, attentive partner to my wife.
"I'm someone who deeply believes that the best leaders emerge from a community that props them up, and I think this community propped me up to do this without any real ambition on my part. I hope that results in positive servant leadership for the community."
Witnessing what he called an "uprising" around systemic racism, racial injustice and a fight for equality among all people, Coefield said he felt a strong desire to make positive change in a community he's lived in for a short time, one that has publicly wrestled with issues of racism in its past, including at the city government level.
Last year, the city settled a racial discrimination lawsuit with Gregg Patton, a Black man who accused the human resources department of not hiring him because of his race. In the Newberg School District, board member Dave Brown — also a finalist for the District 4 councilor position — voted against a resolution on antiracism and has repeatedly voiced his disdain for the social justice organization Black Lives Matter.
But issues of racism and inequality are not limited to incidents involving public officials. People of color who are residents of Newberg — a city with a population that is 86% white — have voiced their concerns over unfair treatment by police and by fellow citizens, and have been historically underrepresented in city and county government.
The appointment of Jules Martinez Plancarte to the District 2 council spot in January was an important step forward, local Latinx community members said, and Coefield's appointment has the same potential for the Black community.
"We know representation matters," he said. "A concept I believe in is the ideas of windows and mirrors. The best work occurs, the best learning occurs, and the best community emerges when there is a balance of windows and mirrors. You have mirrors that allow people to see themselves and people they can identify with when it comes to decision-makers. There is also a necessity for windows, which allow us an opportunity to imagine a different world where we can potentially do things better with people of a variety of backgrounds in positions of influence."
From valley to valley
Coefield was born and raised in Southern California and said he "bounced all over" the Golden State throughout his life before coming to Oregon. He calls Los Angeles home and roots passionately for the Dodgers and Lakers. He's married with a 1-year-old son, and his Christian faith is integral to his life.
All of his experiences, so far, as a leader in his church back home, as someone who works in education and as a husband and father have shaped his perspective. Beyond the representation he acknowledges is an important factor in his service on the council, he wants to be a person who listens to, cares about and asks questions of the people he serves in District 4.
When he speaks, it's clear that Coefield is an intellectually curious person who loves to read and tell stories, and he brings that attitude to both his professional endeavors and friendly conversations.
"I'm a curious person and I ask a lot of questions, and I try to ask them openly," Coefield said. "To be able to hear what folks are saying in the community and be able to respond well is something that I think I'll bring to the council. It's a huge reason why I wanted to apply in the first place. I'm coming in with a curiosity and a deep desire to listen so as not to lead in a way that compounds the negative impacts of some decisions in local government."
Trust is an issue that is at the center of the council's current work. Regaining trust from the community after all the controversy in recent years is going to be a key part of the road ahead, and Coefield acknowledged that in his application.
In addition to not being sure whether he should even pursue the councilor position, Coefield wasn't sure he should move to Oregon in the first place. He read up on its history of Black exclusionary laws and saw the demographics and was skeptical. But a combination of what he believed to be divine influence and the urging of those close to him led to Coefield taking a job at GFU three years ago.
Now, having ingratiated himself in the community, he's discovered a new home that he wants to make even better.
"God really did bring me here," he said. "But let me make something clear: it wasn't like I heard the voice of God and he said, 'Bryce, move to Newberg.' I had a job opportunity here at George Fox that I was convinced to take, and it ended up being a great decision for me and for my family. My family and friends were in LA and I had read about the unfortunate history of Oregon as a place where, for a long time, it was basically illegal to be Black. That made me hesitant initially, but once I got here and got to know this community, I realized that many Oregonians — especially in Newberg — are constantly recognizing what has gone wrong in their past and are trying to be better. I can work with that."
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