West Linn-Wilsonville School District Board member Chelsea King Martin doesn't notice overt discrimination often in Wilsonville. Yet, she believes implicit biases — which can lead to a homogeneity of leadership and those who are celebrated and most frequently heard — are prevalent.
For that reason, King Martin is part of a new group forming, the Wilsonville Alliance For Inclusive Communities (WAIC), designed to foster a more equitable City for everyone. For more information about the group, visit Wilsonvillealliance.org.
"What can we do to help facilitate tough conversations or be a part of education efforts on topics that maybe don't get talked about as much: race, religion, sexual orientation?" member Garet Prior said. "Hopefully, this will lead to a more welcoming and safe place for those conversations."
Over the past couple years, nearby communities like West Linn and Lake Oswego formed equity-focused groups and Lake Oswego's Respond to Racism recently organized a Multi-City Equity Summit, which was attended by some WAIC members.
Wanting to coalesce a group similar to their nearby counterpart in West Linn (which is called the West Linn Alliance for Inclusive Community), the WAIC met once prior to the equity summit in October, but began to make headway after the event.
"I think a lot of us had it in the back of their minds, but I think at that summit, (we thought) 'I know you. We're all here. Why aren't we doing something together?'" member Dana Ramsey said.
The seven-member group is still formulating plans but has established a mission statement, attended the school board's equity work session on Monday (after the Spokesman went to press) and is considering events and initiatives of their own. King Martin also said they plan to advocate for policies and apply for grants.
The three members of the group the Spokesman interviewed have different life experiences that led them to this point.
Prior, who moved to Wilsonville a year and a half ago, attended an ethnically diverse school in Ohio that was poorly funded, and then transferred to a school nearby that was predominantly white and one of the most well resourced in the area.
"It (his interest in racial equity) was born out of childhood experiences with inequity in the education system," he said.
Now, Prior is a planner for the City of Tualatin and has been actively involved in the City of Wilsonville's current analysis of how to bring more affordable housing to town. He wants the City to invest in affordable housing in part so that minority populations can afford to live here.
"If we have a community where we all look the same and have the same amount of money, I see that as a weakness," Prior said. "We need affordable housing to maintain community diversity so we can be a thriving place."
King Martin, for her part, grew up in a homogenous white community in Hugo, Oregon. There, she remembers people making insensitive jokes about race and sexual orientation. This didn't sit right with her then. And recently, she was a proponent of the school board's recent decision to add the words "disrupt systems of racism" to one of its goals.
"Even that phrase has led to really intentional work," she said.
Ramsey, for her part, grew up in Ghana and remembers the community as being welcoming to her even though she was a minority there. When she came to the United States, she noticed more racial disparities and discrimination. Now, two of her children are members of the LGBTQ community. She said the Wilsonville community has treated her children well and that it is inclusive for the most part, but things could always be improved.
Challenges of diversifying
As of now, the group itself isn't perfectly representative of the community.
Currently, two of the seven members of the group do not identify as white (including City Planning Commissioner Kamran Mesbah) and none are Latino, which is a rapidly growing population in town.
King Martin said the group will ask members of that community to join and also conduct outreach to hear their needs, but that language barriers could be challenging to overcome because they don't have the resources or skills to facilitate multilingual outreach.
She said that even if the group doesn't attract members from all minority groups, the work of fostering a more inclusive community is still worth attempting.
'I think we want diverse participation and if all we do is reach — this is my opinion — if we celebrate diversity together and have dialogue together as a homogenous group because that's all who turns out, we can still implement change," King Martin said.
The group's goals
Whether it be the students who are named prom king and queen, the faces of the people highlighted in the news or which sports teams receive the most recognition, King Martin said majority groups — white heterosexuals — often are celebrated disproportionately. And one of her goals is to bring to light the positive contributions and successes of minorities.
Ramsey said holiday prioritization also is something that might not cross the mind of Christmas celebrators.
"One thing I was noticing coming home is 'Oh, all these Christmas ornaments and Christmas things. I like the lights, but it's all about Christmas,'" she said, adding that she would like to see the holi-
days of minority groups highlighted.
Ramsey also brought up the idea of working with the Wilsonville Chamber of Commerce to help facilitate diversity training for businesses.
Prior said different members of the group have different areas of interest and expertise and that the group can support each individual effort.
"Where I see this group now is, we're a collective. I have my interest with housing and equity and there are people with other interests in the group. It's supporting each other in our own individual interests," he said.
But what binds them together is their commitment to the Wilsonville community and determination to make it a better place for all, King Martin said.
"Everybody who has been coming to these meetings loves Wilsonville and came here intentionally for very clear reasons and is doing this work because we love our community and we want everybody who lives here now or will come here in the future to have their place," she said.
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