West Linn's Rob Ward connects with youth to teach about racism
Rob Ward is a former sheriff's deputy, coach, athlete, mentor, advocate against teen substance abuse, and a Black man.
Ward, who has lived in West Linn for six years, wants to use his time on Earth to impact people's lives positively.
Right now, he's primarily doing that by connecting with youth in the community.
During the past two months, he's joined the student protests against racism and police violence at the 10th street on-ramp to I-205 in West Linn.
"It's about our future generations," Ward said. "I'm very excited about our youth coming out and being courageous in these challenging times."
Ward said he tries to connect with the kids, talking with them about his experiences — as well as theirs. The student protesters, he said, seem very open-minded and receptive to learning from others.
This kind of first-hand education is vital for kids in West Linn, according to Ward, because he believes the West Linn-Wilsonville School District has dropped the ball when it comes to teaching about race and racism.
Ward recounted the time his daughter had a racist encounter in school.
"She passed it on to her councilor, and nothing happened. It got swept under the rug. What a good opportunity to educate," he said. "Most kids are not racist in West Linn. They're just not educated. The school missed the opportunity to educate, explain what those words meant and how they made that person feel."
Ward also said the school district needs to do a better job of teaching students about the countless Black leaders, inventors and scientists in the world — both past and present.
"There are so many Black men and women who have invented things," he said. "That gives the Black community more value — especially when we're looked upon as gangsters or bad people."
The district also needs to do a better job of hiring people of color as teachers, according to Ward.
"Black teachers don't feel like they have the support in this community to be themselves," he said. "That's why they don't want to get hired here."
Participating at protests isn't the only way Ward serves as a mentor to youth in the community.
He has also coached football, basketball and track.
Currently, he's running weekly workouts for young athletes with former Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Rashaad Carter.
Ward, who played cornerback for the University of Oregon, also coaches with Alex Molden, another former NFL player and Oregon Duck.
Ward recounted an important lesson that Molden recently taught the kids he trains.
While joking around during training with the small group of kids, one of them shouted to Molden, "All right boy."
Molden explained to the kid how disrespectful it is in the Black community to call a man "boy."
"It's disrespectful because the slave masters used to call their slaves 'boys.' Alex called that young man and explained to him, and that kid was so apologetic. He had no idea what he did, but he passed the same lesson on to his siblings."
Ward said he, Carter and Molden use their knowledge of sports and positions as coaches to teach life lessons in addition to quick feet and passing routes.
"We're also establishing a relationship as African American leaders," Ward said.
Ward said he wants to have a community conversation where people can share their own experiences with racism in West Linn. He'd also like the discussion to include viewing the Netflix documentary "13th," which focuses on systemic racism and the mass incarceration of Black people.
As a 25-year veteran of the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office, Ward said he's seen how the inequities of the criminal justice system depicted in "13th" affect people every day. He cited the vastly disproportionate number of Black people incarcerated in Multnomah County.
Ward said he estimates over 90% of people in law enforcement are good people.
"But the teachings and the hiring process is what causes racial profiling," he explained. "There's not a lot of Black people in West Linn, so when they (police) see one, they pull them over, pull me over."
Ward explained that another aspect of the problem is that most Black people aren't keen to go into law enforcement because of the long racist history of policing, and the stigma that a Black person would be "selling out" if they became a cop.
"In our culture, it's frowned upon to go into law enforcement, because your aunt, your mom, your cousin, your dad experienced brutality," he said.
Ward said he hopes that this moment of people standing up against racism and showing solidarity for people of color lasts longer than a moment and that it isn't just a fad. He's happy to help in any way he can to make the future better for his kids, grandkids, and all the generations that come next.
"It doesn't matter what color my skin is. It's just who I am. I love to help our future out. And in today's time, my skin color adds a different dimension," Ward said.
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