Southern Oregon Parents Support Driver's Licenses for ALL and the Oregon Voting Rights Act

A story with Healthy Beginnings+Healthy Communities Collaborative Successful Transitions.

Spanish-speakers attend a Driver’s Licenses for ALL community forum in southern Oregon.

Spanish-speakers attend a Driver’s Licenses for ALL community forum in southern Oregon.

Kids do better in school and life when their parents are involved in their education and able to advocate for them. Due to language barriers, fear, and unfamiliarity with systems, immigrant parents often struggle to advocate for their children and families. That’s why Unite Oregon has been working closely with Southern Oregon Education Service District (SOESD) to engage and inform parents in SOESD’s migrant parent leadership program.

SOESD staff member Bianey Jiminez invited parents from the leadership program to attend Unite Oregon’s Driver’s Licenses for ALL Community Forum in Spanish on March 28. Almost 100 people turned out for the event. That’s where Unite Oregon staff began building relationships with these parents. 

Since the forum, Unite Oregon has helped the parents advocate for HB2015 (the Equal Access to Roads Act) and HB3310 (the Oregon Voting Rights Act). HB2015 would allow all Oregon residents, regardless of citizenship status, to obtain driver’s licenses after passing the required written and practical tests. This would allow undocumented immigrant parents to purchase car insurance and drive their children to school, the doctor or the park without fear of getting deported for driving without a license. HB3310 would allow Oregonians to challenge and offer solutions to discriminatory electoral methods. This could lead to more candidates of color winning school board, city and county elections.

A parent holds up a poster decorated to look like a giant Oregon driver’s license. His face is framed by a square cut-out in the upper left corner.

Unite Oregon’s Bilingual Organizer Alessandra de la Torre coached parents on how to call their representatives and voice support for these two bills. She reassured undocumented parents that calling would not put them at risk.

Unite Oregon continues to welcome these parents to events like tenant rights trainings and citizenship classes. By talking to these parents over the phone or in person, they’ve gathered parents’ community concerns and visions, which contribute to an intercultural movement for justice.

The parents in the leadership program want to encourage other community members to take advantage of the resources and connections available to them. Although it might be uncomfortable, they emphasize that people need to empower themselves if they want change.

Learn more about the Equal Access to Roads Act and the Oregon Voting Rights Act, then call your legislators to voice your support!

Q&A with Raquel Garay, 2019 National Migrant Parent of the Year

Raquel Garay is a member of Healthy Beginnings+Healthy Communities Collaborative Successful Transitions, which is based in Medford, Oregon.

Raquel Garay smiles, holding a plaque.

Raquel Garay smiles, holding a plaque.

Q. How long have you been involved in the migrant parent program in southern Oregon?

A. As a parent, I think maybe five years. But I wasn’t as involved to begin with. I got more involved about three years ago.

 

Q. What motivated you to get more involved?

A. At first I would always just attend the meetings. Then I was selected by the parent advisory council to represent them, because they needed someone who could travel to conferences and trainings. Once I started getting more involved, I realized there was a high need for migrant parent leadership, and especially bilingual migrant parent leadership. I realized we do have rights and a stake in our kids’ education. Parents need to know this and get educated. I had something to say, and, being bilingual, I could give that extra service.

 

Q. How have you changed through your involvement with this program?

A. Before I had a blurry vision of what we were being served and what we deserved. Through meetings, trainings and conferences, I gained tools for advocating, not only for my kids, but for other kids and parents as well. I learned there is no right or wrong answer, and it doesn’t hurt to speak up or ask. I’ve learned to be less shy and to model for other parents and accompany them when they feel uncomfortable. There’s no one in front of me who has done it, so I have to be a leader in a way of trying. Our community is so unequal, so it is hard to expose yourself. But I’ve made connections, and I’ve learned who and how to ask for help.

 

Q. What leadership positions do you currently hold?

A. I’m the vice president for the Eagle Point School District Parent Advisory Council (PAC). I’m also on the budget committee for the school district, and I represent southern Oregon, Lane County and Klamath Falls on Oregon’s state parent advisory council (SPAC). We meet four times a year in Salem. And I’m on the Southern Oregon University parent committee for the Latinx community.

 

Q. Have you seen southern Oregon or Eagle Point School District change because of the migrant parent programs’ efforts?

A. A little bit. Eagle Point is tough to change. I urged people to vote for a person who will acknowledge our community, because our community doesn’t function the same way as other parents. And she won! The woman I urged people to vote for won. Finally, there’s someone elected advocating for us. She encourages parents to come to meetings and tells people about the work I’m doing. She’s always asking for my input. She understands all the kids in our classrooms aren’t the same.

 

Q. What do you hope to happen in the future through this work?

A. I want the district to follow through on concerns voiced by the parents. They listen, but then they don’t do anything with those concerns. We’re losing parent representation in the program because no changes are happening. If one thing changed, that would be a big deal.

 

Q. What’s something you love to do in your free time?

A. My kids play soccer. My passion is traveling with them and watching them play. Actually I’m part of that committee too. I like to sit and watch them play and yell. If I’m tired, that moment is relaxing.

Set the Stage without Defining the Script: OPAL Environmental Justice

The Kaiser Permanente Community Fund (KPCF) at Northwest Health Foundation was founded in 2004 with an initial $28 million investment by Kaiser Permanente to improve conditions for health. As we learned how to best partner with community organizations, we made pivotal decisions that changed how we operated. In this story, we tell how OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon taught us the benefits of setting the stage without defining the script.

Youth Environmental Justice Alliance onstage at the 2017 Climate March.

Youth Environmental Justice Alliance onstage at the 2017 Climate March.

If Tommy Jay Larracas is able to catch one of the few buses that leave after-school activities, he settles in for a long crowded ride. It can take more than two and a half hours to get home, which leaves little time for chores and homework. The same is true for his morning commute; if he can’t catch the early school bus, he has to scramble to find money to pay for a ride on the public bus. When he doesn’t have the extra money or time, Tommy can’t find a way to get to school.

When Kaiser Permanente Community Fund first decided to focus on improving educational outcomes for Oregon youth, we weren’t thinking about how students get to and from school. Among other funders, we heard lots of discussion about creating new after-school programs, but we rarely heard discussions about what young people need to actually get to those programs.

Thankfully, one of the values that defined how we operated was community-driven solutions. Instead of defining the solution we wanted to fund, we instead articulated a vision and invited community-based organizations to identify possible solutions. “Northwest Health Foundation believes that communities understand the problems they face best, because they live them everyday,” said Community Engagement Officer Michael Reyes “So of course they would also know the best solutions to those problems.”

When we said we wanted to see greater racial equity in education, one community group, OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, directed our attention to public transit and the ability of students to get to and from school and after-school programs. OPAL’s Executive Director Huy Ong told us, “Expanding transit access to underserved schools is a systemic change to win more equitable educational access for low-income youth and youth of color. Access to transportation is a critical factor in improving school attendance rates. OPAL’s organizing activates the potential of our youth to re-imagine how they get to school, and to lead the charge to make their vision a reality.”

Once we learned that public transit was a major barrier for students of color to participate in school and after-school programs, we decided to fund OPAL, even if it took us outside of our comfort zone of funding traditional educational programs. “We trust OPAL, because OPAL’s work is led by the communities OPAL serves. This campaign, for example, was led by youth of color from high schools throughout Multnomah County,” said Michael Reyes Andrillon.

OPAL was successful, not only in Oregon, but across the nation. Their community-led Campaign for a Fair Transfer led to a change in federal policy that requires transit agencies to conduct an equity analysis before changing transfer times. OPAL’s YouthPass to the Future campaign also convinced local policymakers to expand the YouthPass program to give public transit passes to students to two additional Portland-area school districts. Youth in the program, like Tommy, now have a consistent, reliable way to get to and from school and other opportunities across the city, although recent budget cuts mean that OPAL must once again campaign for the program. Again, youth are taking the lead.

OPAL, like many other organizations in constantly-changing environments, must continuously search for new sources of funding to pursue their vision. “Scarcity of resources keeps us from being able to build strong partnerships,” said OPAL Community Engagement Coordinator Shawn Fleek, because it means “we just have more projects and less general operating grants. Projects say ‘reach these numbers, get these outcomes, put your report at the end of the year.’ But when work is led by community, we might not know in advance exactly what we’re going to achieve, but we know we’re going to achieve it by the right process.” Instead, Shawn says, more funders need to say, “We trust your values and your methods. Take this money and use it to do whatever the community says it needs to do.” In short, Shawn says, “Let us do our work.”

From our experience with OPAL, KPCF learned about what is possible when we invite community-driven solutions. Instead of defining specific outcomes we want to fund, we articulate a vision and invite community-led organizations to define a path to get there. By doing so, we learn from the communities most impacted by barriers to health and begin to see new solutions for established problems.

Guiding Values: Partnership for Safety and Justice

The Kaiser Permanente Community Fund (KPCF) at Northwest Health Foundation was founded in 2004 with an initial $28 million investment by Kaiser Permanente to improve conditions for health. As we learned how to best partner with community organizations, we made pivotal decisions that changed how we operated. In this story, we tell how Partnership for Safety and Justice taught us the benefits of formalizing and articulating our approach with guiding values.

Partnership for Safety and Justice advocates walk through the hall at Oregon’s State Capitol during PSJ’s lobby day.

Partnership for Safety and Justice advocates walk through the hall at Oregon’s State Capitol during PSJ’s lobby day.

Brittney’s life didn’t look like the lives of most other children. Her parents were incarcerated for addiction-related harms, and Brittney was passed around from family members to friends to strangers. She lived out of a suitcase, was depressed, and would sometimes lie in bed all day without eating or talking, just worrying about her parents.

Brittney’s experience is common for children of incarcerated parents, who experience lower health-related quality of life than their peers. Children whose parents are incarcerated face higher rates of heart disease, depressive disorders, and drug use than children who do not have parents behind bars. That is why we see Oregon’s growing prison population as a health problem. From 2000 to 2010, Oregon’s prison population increased by nearly 50%, putting the health of both inmates and their families at risk.

“Originally, KPCF received applications from, and funded, more traditional public health organizations and projects. But what we really wanted to get at was the social determinants of health — factors like economic opportunity or early life — that are shown to set the stage for lifelong health,” said NWHF Director of Programs Jen Matheson. In the mid 2000s, even though we knew in our hearts that incarceration was a health problem, we didn’t have a mechanism for the Kaiser Permanente Community Fund to invest in solutions. We weren’t reaching out to organizations that worked on this issue, and they were not applying for our grants. Instead, we saw applications from traditional healthcare delivery, community health, or academic health programs.

So, we embarked on a rigorous process with our advisors to evaluate the fund and its impact. Through the evaluation, we learned that the organizations we felt were a good fit for the fund embraced a set of specific approaches.

We decided to further explore these approaches, articulate them as values, and use those values as filters to decide who to fund. Those values were:

• Social and Racial Equity

• Collaborative Partnerships

• Community-Driven Solutions, and

• Systems Change.

With our newly articulated guiding values, we could appeal to organizations that may not have previously seen their work as a fit for the fund. One of those groups was Partnership for Safety and Justice, which promotes a more effective approach to public safety that focuses on prevention and keeping people out of prison. Andy Ko, the executive director of Partnership for Safety and Justice said, “The fund’s values were consistent with what we wanted to achieve...They also expressed through their own priorities that they understood the intersectionality and the systems element of what we were trying to do.”

We funded Partnership for Safety and Justice to improve health in communities disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system. The organization wanted to pursue justice reinvestment, which would steer state funds away from prisons and into community-based programs that help people succeed outside of prison. These programs include services such as crime prevention, mental health and addiction treatment, and crime survivor services.

We first supported Partnership for Safety and Justice with two capacity building grants to lay the groundwork for a legislative campaign. We then gave them a three-year grant to implement the campaign, which successfully secured passage of the Justice Reinvestment Act in 2013. Then we offered the organization another three-year grant to monitor how the law was implemented.

As a result of Partnership for Safety and Justice and their partners advocating for community-based alternatives to prison, eleven Oregon counties decreased their prison usage rates. These counties put fewer people in prison than before the advocacy campaigns, and more than 6,000 people were able to return to their families and communities.

One of those people was Elizabeth. By the time Elizabeth was 30, she had experienced abusive relationships, struggled with addiction, and felt like she was in basic survival mode. She was jailed multiple times over two and half years, each time separated from her family and community. After her last time in jail, Elizabeth qualified for the community programs now offered because of the work of Partnership for Safety and Justice and their partners. Instead of being behind bars, Elizabeth returned to her children and, with the help of organizations in her community, overcame her addiction. Last year, she celebrated with her family when her daughter got accepted to Stanford University.

Stories like Brittney’s and Elizabeth’s show us how we can make bolder decisions to create healthy communities. Articulating our guiding values was a pivotal movement in the Kaiser Permanente Community Fund that created the structure to make those decisions possible.

 
Infographic_PSJ_SuccessStory_FINAL.jpg

APANO Ensures Asian and Pacific Islander Oregonians are Heard Through Voting

A story from Healthy Beginnings+Healthy Communities Collaborative APANO VOTE Network.

An API youth looks at a clipboard while speaking into a microphone.

Everyone should be able to make themselves heard through voting.

That’s why the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO), a statewide, grassroots organization serving the Asian and Pacific Islander communities, spent the fall 2018 election season reaching out to the one out of every 25 Oregonians who identify as Asian or Pacific Islander (API). APANO increased language access, provided ballot assistance, and invested in non-API-led partner organizations to extend their reach.

APANO Voter Outreach Training & Education (VOTE) Network organizes and supports the development of Asian and Pacific Islander community organizations in Oregon to achieve social justice. The purpose of the network, created in 2016, is to understand community needs and build collective power to improve the lives of Asian and Pacific Islanders in Oregon.

In order to implement equitable policies, we need to ensure that all people impacted by those policies have access to the ballot. Aware that a number of non-English speaking API face a barrier to voting, APANO prioritized expanding language access to reach these Oregonians. We translated our voter guide into seven additional languages in an effort to engage multi-ethnic and multilingual communities.

Language data isn’t often tracked on the Voter Action Network (VAN), an app groups use to identify voters and record their engagement. Many of the API folks whose doors we knocked on and whose phones we called had never had an in-depth conversation about ballot measures and the voting process before. Through multilingual canvassing, phonebanking, and running a voter assistance center out of the APANO office, APANO served 120 people in four days, propelled by the belief that everyone should have a say in measures and policies that affect their lives.

We also know that when community groups work together, we are stronger. That’s why this past election APANO invested in its VOTE Network organizations. We regranted funding to the Bus Project, the Oregon Student Association and PCUN (Pineros y Campesinos del Noroeste), who contacted voters and helped us get a sense of who and where our communities are and what issues are important to them. These partnerships continue into 2019 as we plan for the legislative session and upcoming elections.

2018 was a critical year to defend the dignity and rights of immigrant communities. Our communities were, and continue to be, under attack from white nationalists. In 2018, we fought back to keep our families together. APANO invested directly in ballot measure campaigns for the first time ever, taking a stand on issues that directly affect communities of color in Oregon.

Perhaps the most exciting result of the 2018 election cycle was the innovative approach to winning, with 65% of the vote, the Portland Clean Energy Initiative. The Portland Clean Energy Initiative was Oregon’s first environmental justice ballot measure designed by and for the communities most impacted by climate change. Work on the Portland Clean Energy Initiative began in February 2016 when representatives from APANO, Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA), Verde, Coalition of Communities of Color, NAACP and 350PDX envisioned a way to fight climate change that would simultaneously address racial and economic justice and create living wage jobs. This initiative was the first ballot measure in Oregon’s history launched and led by people of color, from gathering 50,000+ petition signatures to a full on field canvassing operation. It clarified what we need more of: community conversations, grassroots activism, and electoral power moving us toward an Oregon that is healthier, more equitable, and serves the many, not the few.

APANO and the VOTE Network will continue organizing and acting to ensure that immigrants, communities of color, low-income folks, and the many people who live at the intersections of these identities, have a say in the political decisions that impact their lives.

CAPACES Leadership Institute is preparing Latinx Oregonians to run for office

A story with Healthy Beginnings+Healthy Communities Collaborative Healthy CAPACES.

Graduates from People’s Representatives’ elected office cohort stand and smile in front of a large painting depicting farmworkers.

Graduates from People’s Representatives’ elected office cohort stand and smile in front of a large painting depicting farmworkers.

Representation matters. When elected officials and other community leaders reflect the communities they serve, those communities do better. Having had similar experiences to their constituents, these leaders understand the issues firsthand, know the barriers they need to tear down, and can create change that improves people’s lives.

In reality, leaders rarely reflect the communities they serve. Although only 31% of the U.S. population is made up of white men, white men make up 65% of the United States’ elected officials. Similarly, 38% of Oregonians are white men, but white men make up 67% of Oregon’s elected officials. That means women and people of color, among other populations, are underrepresented.

Four out of five students in Oregon’s Woodburn School District are Latinx, but it wasn’t until 2017 that the Woodburn school board had a majority of Latinx school board members (although still not four out of five). As Latinx representation on Woodburn’s school board has grown, Latinx student dropout rates have gone down, teen pregnancy rates have gone down, gang activity has decreased, and graduation rates have gone up. One of Woodburn’s high schools is now among the top five in the nation. 

Woodburn’s success in electing Latinx candidates is largely due to the efforts of a group of nonprofit organizations known as Alianza Poder/Power Alliance (Formerly the CAPACES Network). The Alliance includes an electoral organizing entity, a housing development corporation, a nonprofit focused on educational accountability and equity, a statewide immigrant rights coalition, a youth leadership program and more. By leveraging all their skills, resources and, most importantly, people power, Alianza Poder does an amazing job of engaging and activating their communities, getting out the vote, and preparing community members for leadership opportunities. Acción Política PCUNista, the Alliance’s 501(c)4, succeeded in electing Oregon’s first Latina immigrant to the Oregon House of Representatives in 2016. They also supported Latinx candidates to run for school board and other local positions.

While Alianza Poder has led incredible progress, Oregon’s elected officials are still far from reflecting Oregon’s Latinx population (Oregon’s largest ethnic minority). So, this year CAPACES Leadership Institute launched People’s Representatives – a bilingual leadership development institute based in Marion and Polk Counties, designed to prepare social-justice-minded Latinxs to compete for appointed or elected office or volunteer on committees.

People’s Representatives has two tracks: one for people curious about running for elected office, and one for people who want to serve on committees. Over the course of five trainings, all participants self-assess their values, financial resources, social network, etc.; conduct research about their region and elected office/committee of choice; and learn about messaging. Elected-track participants also learn about fundraising for and planning a campaign, while committee-track participants learn about building relationships and making change through committees.

Graduates from People’s Representatives’ committee cohort stand, sit and kneel in front of a wall hung with paintings and photos. They’re all smiling.

Graduates from People’s Representatives’ committee cohort stand, sit and kneel in front of a wall hung with paintings and photos. They’re all smiling.

The committee pathway graduated its first cohort of 16 people, mostly Latinx parents, on April 28, 2018. The first elected pathway cohort graduated on September 15, made up mostly of young adults. Already, some of the committee pathway graduates have been selected to serve on a school district hiring committee and a Salem area transportation committee.

People’s Representatives will continue to check in with all its graduates, even after they’ve taken on public service leadership roles.

We can’t wait to hear more stories from People’s Representative graduates and the cohorts to come!

Q&A with Author and Social Justice Activist Grace Eagle Reed

In 2017 and 2018, Northwest Health Foundation convened the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative – a group of fourteen disabled people of color interested in deepening their understanding of disability justice and discussing visions and strategies for ensuring the needs of people with disabilities are centered in decision-making. Grace is one of the leaders who participated in the Collaborative.

Grace Eagle Reed holds her fingers up in a “peace sign.”

Q. What communities do you consider yourself a part of?

A. I am part of several communities that address the issues raised by Black Lives Matter, gun violence, racism, alcoholism/addiction support, nonviolent communication, homeless/houseless street outreach, etc. I’m also on Multnomah County’s Disability Services Advisory Council.

Q. What leadership roles have you played?

A. I was part of the MLK Jr. marches in the U.S. South, Vietnam War protests, support for the Black Panthers, Native American Métis movement (bringing equality to mixed-blood Natives), the women's rights movement (yes, we did burn our bras) and Woodstock (peace through music and legalizing that MaryJane). I was able to enjoy Jimmy Hendricks, the Beatles, Janis Joplin and Bob Marley in LA, and I’ve been a social justice activist since then.

Last year I was awarded Senior Leader of the Year by the City of Portland. I step up for leadership roles in various places in my life, mostly as a supporter for leaders who are more front and center in creative art/poetry, religion, political and peace movement efforts. I prefer to be a cheerleader to those that are already doing good work daily in the social justice arena.

Q. What leadership roles do you hope to play in the future?

A. I am 75 with 40 years of sobriety and a published author/poet/dramatist with a B.A. in drama therapy and a M.A. in restorative justice/conflict resolution. I hope to do more work with organizations with my 'Friendship Table' project. I am also working on another book.

Q. What did you get out of participating in the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative? 

I enjoyed being a part of the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative and the people involved. There is much work to be done, and I admire people who step up with passion to bring justice and peace to the chaos and who look for more solutions. 

Q. What did you contribute that you hope others learned from?

A. Justice is needed in most areas of life, especially with marginalized and oppressed peoples. Restoration and balance in the broken systems of this world takes many people with much courage and vision, and I am grateful to be part of this movement. I addressed this in my book Negotiating Shadows and continue to work toward world peace. Our local region is doing much with housing issues, the Black Lives Matter movement, etc., and I am glad I am part of making life more wonderful for my city and community.

Q&A with Pessoptimist Mohammed Usrof

In 2017 and 2018, Northwest Health Foundation convened the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative – a group of fourteen disabled people of color interested in deepening their understanding of disability justice and discussing visions and strategies for ensuring the needs of people with disabilities are centered in decision-making. Mohammed is one of the leaders who participated in the Collaborative.

Mohammed sits cross-legged on top of a round picnic table, smiling.

What communities do you consider yourself a part of?

Muslim community, Arab community, Arab American community, the Palestine solidarity community. And people with disabilities.

What leadership roles have you played?

I’m not sure how to define leadership, but I was part of the Unite Oregon Pan-Immigrant Leadership Program. Through them I was able to participate in introducing bills and supporting bills to end profiling and supporting the housing for Section 8 and expanding it. Also, I was an activist on-campus when I was at PSU in regards of the Palestinian question and how to introduce people to what’s going on in Palestine in regards of occupation. And also further exploring the intersectionality between the Palestinian question and other issues that are facing our communities here in Oregon. How to tie both issues together in regards of advancing to find the best way to handle it.

What leadership roles do you hope to take on in the future?

I haven’t taken any leadership role in regards of disability specifically, so I would like to further advance my skills and my spectrum to go to that. You know, like currently, I’m facing some stuff relating to work and technology and how to introduce the workplace to the right technology. And that accessibility culture it’s not just like accessibility because we like to be progressive, but to be part of the culture itself. So that’s something I’m interested in. And also, in regards of what leadership stuff I did, is at work also we’re currently working on exploring what’s the best way to target the holidays. In regards of like marginalized people like holidays, like the Muslim holidays, Jewish holidays, the Hindu holidays and like how, for example, the county is recognizing only the mainstream Christian holidays and MLK and Presidents Day, but when it comes to the Eid Al-Fitr or Eid Al-Adha for Muslims you have to educate your supervisor about the holiday in order to be able to ask the day off. So we’re working on that and trying to find what’s going on, so we’re mobilizing, organizing, having meetings. So that’s one of the things that we’re doing, but in regards of advancing, I’d like to basically introduce myself more to disability and people of color in general.

Where do you work?

Multnomah County.

What’s most exciting to you about disability justice?

I’m excited that we’re exploring it in a group of non-white people, because there is this big thing about like, well, disability justice concept is being exploited, or like I mean being explored only, by white people. And when I see a group of us in the room talking about it and exploring it as people of color. I started reading the handout that we got that is actually like a Black vision, a Black lens of disability justice that actually makes me feel happy.

What do you hope to get out of being part of the Collaborative?

Well if I want to be realistic, I hope to be a friend of at least all of them. All of the people who are there. On a wider lens I hope to, you know, be connected to the work of disability justice just like after the Collaborative because, yes we did four days a year, but what’s after? How can we translate the concepts that we’re tackling into something visible on the ground?

What’s your vision for the future of our region?

I can’t see very well, but… [laughs] 

In regards of disability and accessibility, I’m skeptical in regards of if we’re going to the best. But I think I would like accessibility to become part of our culture, not something strange or something special. Or something like when you go to an employer or go to a FedEx store, not having to have help to use the printer. Like the printer to be all accessible printer for example. So I would like the vision to be something like that.

My vision for the future in a more realistic way, a disability group that focuses on and is led by people of color.

What is your favorite book, movie or song, and why?

My favorite book is The Pessoptimist by Emile Habibi, and… It’s, you know, he’s a Palestinian and writer, and he’s exploring the regular person notion in regards of the question of Palestine from a person who’s on the ground, who’s basically, it was written when Oslo was like people starting talking about it, and the idea of two-state solution coming up. And somebody on the ground basically happy that there might be some good stuff coming out of it, but at the same time very disappointed at it wasn’t yet justice that we deserve as Palestinians or he deserve as Palestinian. That notion of not optimistic, but optimistic. I feel like it’s an ongoing book. Yes, maybe it’s written about the Palestinian question, but, you know, switch the Palestinian question and put Trump. Or like put accessibility, or put something. You find yourself as a person who’s living in this contemporary age basically cannot be optimistic and cannot be not optimistic. Or pessimistic. So it’s like in-between.

And songs, there’s so many. I like Fairuz. Fairuz is like one of the most famous singers in the Arab world. She’s almost eighty-three, and she’s singing. She just released an album this year, and she’s wonderful. The best time to listen to her is in the morning.

And movie. I’ve never answered that question before. The Lion King.

Anything else you want people to know?

I would just like to see us advancing, and what’s the role of Northwest Health Foundation after the Collaborative? One of the things is like the room that we’re meeting in. It’s one of the best rooms in regards of accommodating people with disability that I’ve ever been in. If there’s a way to make this room accessible for the community of people with disability, how is that would look like? In regards of like the access to the online, like how it’s very helpful in accommodating all types of wheelchairs. And how the tables are configured. So I think, yeah, that’s a question I have. And I think it would be very, very helpful. I remember in one of our email threads – I don’t think if any of the Northwest staff was on it – we were trying to do a meeting outside of the Collaborative, and the different type of accessibilities ended up being a barrier. So, I think that’s a need, and I think it would be nice if you can explore what to do as an organization. 

Q&A with Environmental Justice & Immigrant Justice Leader Joel Iboa

In 2017 and 2018, Northwest Health Foundation convened the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative – a group of fourteen disabled people of color interested in deepening their understanding of disability justice and discussing visions and strategies for ensuring the needs of people with disabilities are centered in decision-making. Joel is one of the leaders participating in the Collaborative.

Joel stands on stage smiling with a group of graduates in caps and gowns seated behind him, facing the stage.

Q. What communities do you consider yourself a part of?

A. I consider myself a first-generation Oregonian, a child of immigrants, Latino, Indigenous and disabled.

Q. What leadership roles have you played?

A. A bunch. In high school, I was captain of my water polo and swim teams. College, I had leadership positions in MEChA and the Coalition Against Environmental Racism. After college, the governor, Kate Brown, invited me to join the Governor’s Environmental Justice Task Force. I’m the chair of that now. Two years ago, I was chosen to be on the City of Eugene’s Human Rights Commission. I’m now the vice chair, and I was just elected to be the incoming chair next year. I’m also the oldest of three siblings. That was my first leadership role. My mom was the oldest of 14. And I’m the oldest cousin of about 30.

Q. What leadership roles do you hope to take on in the future?

A. Like I said, I’m going to be the chair of the Human Rights Commission in Eugene and the Governor’s Task Force. I want all my leadership roles to have a positive impact on the most vulnerable: disabled people, communities of color, elders, children. I want my leadership roles to get increasingly larger and more impactful as I get older, because leadership positions are where you can have the most, largest impact on a lot of people.

Q. What is most exciting to you about disability justice?

A. The people who participate in disability justice are some of the most vulnerable. One of the earliest things I worked on was the achievement gap between white students and students of color. I learned that when black boys do better, all students get better. When the most vulnerable are supported, everyone benefits.

Disability justice also affirms that all our bodies are unique, and all our bodies are essential. It welcomes people who haven’t been able to participate. It affirms that disabled bodies aren’t a detriment to the world. They’re an asset. The liberation of people with disabilities is crucial. The ADA and disability rights are also crucial, but DJ builds on that by transforming society to see people with disabilities as having inherent worth.

The movements I’ve been involved with – immigrant justice, anti-prison, environmental justice – some of the people most affected are people with disabilities, especially queer and trans people of color with disabilities. I see this as the last frontier in terms of my personal development.

Q. What do you hope to get out of being a part of the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative?

A. I’m hoping we can begin to make some noise around disability justice. We’re already starting. The people in the group are movers and shakers.

I want to see disability justice raised in the same way gender has been raised recently. We’ve realized men aren’t the only folks who can lead. Queer and trans folks need to be welcomed and centered. We’re dealing with double standards around sexual harassment. I’m hoping we can do the same thing with disability. For instance, access check-ins should be normalized. Aspects of disability justice are useful for everyone, especially people doing this strenuous, stressful, emotionally difficult work.

I also want to see us develop political power at a local and statewide level. 

Q. What is your vision for the future of our region?

A. I know it sounds cheesy, but life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. A lot of people don’t have these things. For many of us, life itself is difficult. I want to live in a time and place where everyone who lives here can pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Q. What is your favorite book, movie or song, and why?

A. The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I love those movies. When I was really sick in middle school, and I spent three months in a hospital up in Portland – which is part of the reason I became disabled – one of the things that got me through was Lord of the Rings. It still helps me feel better, when I’m sick or having a bad day. All things Tolkien, actually. *laughs* That’s my vision for the future of our region. Hobbiton.

Q&A with Disability Justice Visionary Myrlaviani Perez-Rivier

In 2017 and 2018, Northwest Health Foundation convened the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative – a group of fourteen disabled people of color interested in deepening their understanding of disability justice and discussing visions and strategies for ensuring the needs of people with disabilities are centered in decision-making. Myrlaviani is one of the leaders participating in the Collaborative.

photo portrait of Myrlaviani

What is your vision for the future of our region?

I envision Disabled People of Color winning political positions, influencing decisions, and deepening our overall capacity as a community.

What is most exciting to you about Disability Justice?

Disability Justice demands, by way of compassion and caring communities, systems change, institutional reform, and a new notion of private and public market performance defined, owned, operated, and valued by community members most impacted. Disability Justice is all about creativity and innovation. It’s invigorating and demanding. It means you have to show up and demonstrate radical self-love and compassion, which are founded on standards of quality caring and intimate connection. We account for the complex strata of universal access, intersectionality of race, disability, gender, and religion with the never-ending and always-loved question of “What am I missing here, right now? Do we have what we need?” We are the road builders and bridge architects we need. I feel we are ready for Us.

What do you hope to get out of being a part of the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative?

My goals include organizing a group of leaders holding conversations within and across urban-rural communities to discover and cultivate participants committed to policy and program change and implementation. Addressing current power dynamics will enhance collaboration across systems by way of generating ideas and building alternative solutions. Our community has the solutions and, through strategic partnerships, we can help lead and build the results we need.

For instance, this looks like rural and urban Oregon building relational bridges and, through a willingness to learn, adapt, and innovate, realizing opportunities for one another while addressing public problems. One which comes to mind is food deserts. We need effective policies whereby our Disabled community can readily access high-quality, nutritious food. There are solutions, but we need courage and support. At the same time, nothing happens without supportive housing, and who says passive-designed homes cannot also be designed within the universal design criteria? High-quality housing designed around collective access means building a new type of community—a community where people actively support one another. This is the vision I have of our reNew Oregon™—one where we support one another and build a meaningful future together. When enough of us make this decision, then we will see employment rates rising, especially for Disabled “People of Color.”

What leadership roles do you hope to take on in the future?

I am committed to becoming a better transformational leader: identifying, cultivating, and promoting leadership and leadership development in Disability communities. I am keen on improving the employment rates of individuals with disabilities and recognize this will require not only policy change but also changes in awareness and attitudes on the part of families, businesses, and civic leaders.

What communities do you consider yourself a part of?

Disability foremost, and all else follows. I come from a multicultural background. I grew up dancing flamenco, listening to Tejano music, being friends with Latins from Central America to South America to Spain, marching with Chicano Agricultural Workers (Cesar Chavez), listening to my Mother’s stories of her ancestors and, on my Father’s side, learning about poverty and oppression, or how the Mexican-American wars impacted the trajectory of his family’s development. The cultural extremes from both families provided a rich and textured playground of possibilities from which my curiosity and drive still develop.

What leadership roles have you played?

I have participated in local advisory boards or commissions, as well as community engagement work across Disability lines, especially with “People of Color.” I also started a community restorative listening circle. I have been particularly enthusiastic in volunteering for positions that work towards criminal justice reform, racial justice, and disability justice, across government and community-based organizations.

What is your favorite book, movie or song, and why?

The book I’m enjoying the most right now compels me to wonder and enjoy breathing, reading, imagining impossibilities and living, again. It is Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. Artists lead the way for social change and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha is wonderfully and refreshingly uncompromising.

Is there anything else you want people to know?

When you love something or someone, including yourself, you make a stand, define your standards, live with integrity and a willingness to self-assess. With that in mind, I’m curious about what is important to my fellow Disabled community members. I want to know what satisfies and, equally, what leaves them with discontent within our current system. Further, what improvements are they willing to invest their talents, energy, and time in to create and operate? If you are interested in developing dialogue around these and other questions, please contact me through NWHF.

Somali Families Need Somali Teachers

A story with Healthy Beginnings+Healthy Communities Collaborative Immigrant and Refugee Engage Project.

Every family and community wants their children to succeed in school. Oregon’s Somali community is no different.

Three members of the Somali community sit on one side of a white tablecloth-covered table.

However, the Somali community faces some additional barriers to education in the United States. For one, there’s the language barrier. Even if a Somali student speaks English fluently, members of their family, including their parents, might not. That means it is challenging for parents to engage in their children’s school. (It’s been shown that parent involvement advances learning.) In addition, as Somali children lose their native language, it becomes harder and harder for them to communicate with older generations of their family and community.

There is also a cultural barrier to education for Somali families: most Somali Americans lived in refugee camps for years before they moved to the U.S., and the refugee camps did not have formal schools. Therefore, it’s no surprise that Somali children, youth and their families might have trouble understanding and navigating Oregon’s school system. As a result, many Somali students drop out.

Concerned Somali parents and community members met with Portland Public School District officials, hoping to solve these problems. At first, PPS offered money to the Somali community for afterschool problems. “Money is great,” said parent and community member Isgow Mohamed, “but that’s not the issue.” What they really needed was someone in the schools who spoke their language and understood their culture: a Somali teacher or administrator.

Thanks to the Somali community’s advocacy, PPS hired a Somali teacher to teach at Rosa Parks Elementary School, and occasionally visit other schools as well. And, they’re determined to place more Somali teachers in more schools across the district. That way, Somali children and youth will feel supported in the classroom. Parents will have someone they trust who they can bring questions to. Teachers will encourage students to speak Somali, as well as English. If all goes well, Somali students will thrive.

It is doubly difficult for immigrants and refugees from non-English speaking countries to advocate for themselves. They may not be comfortable speaking up for themselves in English. In addition, they may come from countries where civic and political engagement is discouraged, sometimes violently. The Immigrant and Refugee Engage Project, led by their Multiethnic Advisory Group, engages and supports immigrant and refugee community members to participate in storytelling and advocacy for systems change. Northwest Somali Community Organization is one of their core partners.

Q&A with Palestinian Rights Advocate and Basketball enthusiast Waddah Sofan

In 2017 and 2018, Northwest Health Foundation convened the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative – a group of fourteen disabled people of color interested in deepening their understanding of disability justice and discussing visions and strategies for ensuring the needs of people with disabilities are centered in decision-making. Waddah is one of the leaders participating in the Collaborative.

Waddah sits in a wheelchair in front of picnic table and smiles.

Q. What communities do you consider yourself a part of?

A. I am part of Palestinian/American, Muslim, Middle Eastern, people of color and disabled communities. I am a very diverse individual who is lucky to belong to all of the above communities.

Q. What leadership roles have you played?

A. I was highly involved as a student government leader at Portland State University and community leader, community organizer and disabled rights advocate. I've also been involved with the following agencies:

  • Advisory chair for Multicultural Student Center, Portland State University

  • Student government leader, Portland State University

  • Head of disability advocacy cultural association student group, Portland State University

  • Outreach coordinator for Arab Persian Student Organization

  • Board member for Center for Intercultural Organizing (now known as Unite Oregon)

  • Wheelchair youth basketball coach for Oregon Disability Sports

  • Co-founder of Palestinian Federation for Disabled for Sport

  • Member of national wheelchair basketball team

  • Co-founder of Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights, Portland State University

  • Member of Disability Power PDX, City of Portland

Q. What leadership roles do you hope to take on in the future?

A. I would like to improve my leadership skills to be able to serve the disabled community at large, to help create and change polices at the local and state level that impact disabled peoples' daily life. Also, I would like to share my experience and train disabled youth to become independent and take command of their lives.

Q. What is most exciting to you about disability justice?

A. Advocating for disabled individuals around the globe is something that excites me about disability justice. Also, what excites me is that we, the oppressed people, are uniting and moving together as one to bring justice and equity to those who seek it.

Q. What do you hope to get out of being a part of the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative?

A. I would like to be more familiar with policies and regulations that concern disability accessibility in our community, so I would be able to communicate them clearly to improve outcomes for people with disabilities.

Q. What is your vision for the future of our region?

A. In my simple opinion, I would like to see the disability rights and disability justice movements continue to grow and more people claim their own uniqueness or identity as people with disabilities or as an oppressed people. I would like for everyone to live in peace and harmony, and for our community to be very welcoming and understanding of those they don’t have common interested with.

Q. What is your favorite book, movie or song, and why?

A. My favorite movie is The Green Mile. It is a great story about forgiveness, kindness and love. The story was very uplifting and draws you into it most of the time. It was about an innocent man who has very soft heart on death row for a crime he did not commit. The man has nothing but hope and love for all people he came in touch with. He healed peoples' hurts on his own expense when either used his miracle of healing. He even healed those who were selfish and put him to death. It is a story of giving and making good in life despite knowing you won’t live long enough to see the goodness that impacted others.

Q&A with Healthcare and Housing Advocate Nico Serra

In 2017 and 2018, Northwest Health Foundation convened the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative – a group of fourteen disabled people of color interested in deepening their understanding of disability justice and discussing visions and strategies for ensuring the needs of people with disabilities are centered in decision-making. Nico is one of the leaders participating in the Collaborative.

Nico sits in their GRIT Freedom Chair in the middle of a street and smiles. Behind them people wear rainbow flag capes and a unicorn hoodie.

Q. What communities do you consider yourself a part of?

A. The transgender community and the queer community. The disability justice community. The Black community. The healthcare advocacy community.

Q. What leadership roles have you played?

A. I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of speaking at events and rallies, and to give testimony at hearings. I’m on the Board of Directors at Real Choice Initiative and Health Care for All Oregon, and I organize with several other groups focused on justice for vulnerable people.

I spend a lot of time advocating for myself and other folks with serious health concerns. Many have shared resources with me, and I enjoy passing that knowledge on to others. I’m mostly focused on housing and healthcare. I strongly believe that housing is healthcare, because no matter how good someone’s healthcare is or how good their nutrition is, if they don’t have housing it doesn’t matter.

The waitlist for accessible housing in the City of Portland is fifteen, eighteen years long. Folks are forced into nursing and group homes, where they control almost nothing about their lives. Recently, I heard a friend talking about how hard it is to be twenty years old and living in hospice care. They were trying to study for exams, but instead wound up hanging out with someone who was about to pass because that person’s family didn’t show up. People forced into these situations describe what sounds like imprisonment. They don’t get any privacy. They can’t choose what they want to eat or when to eat. They can’t come and go as they please. They don’t even get to choose when to bath or go to the bathroom. This and ending up on the street is everyone’s worst nightmare, and it's brought to you by your tax dollars. I’m doing my part and encouraging others to join in changing this problem.

Q. What leadership roles do you hope to take on in the future?

A. I want to organize with other People with Disabilities and serious health concerns, transgender people and people of color to find or create sustainable, accessible and affordable housing and healthcare.

I also want to focus on employment for the mentioned populations. Due to capitalism, eugenics and imperialism, I think people with health issues, transgender and non-binary people, and people of color have a harder time getting and keeping jobs. I want to organize folks struggling to find work to become personal care assistants. Then we’ll have someone who doesn’t just tolerate or respect our culture, but who are actual members of the same cultures and communities.

Q. What is most exciting to you about disability justice?

A. What’s most exciting to me is that it affects everybody. I agree with something a friend and fellow organizer said: “I’m less interested in breaking through the next glass ceiling and more interested in raising the floor.” With disability justice, everybody does better.

Q. What do you hope to get out of being a part of the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative?

A. I hope to have a more thorough understanding of where the disability justice movement came from and how I can continue the work. I’ve become disabled in my adult life, so I don’t have as deep of an understanding of it compared to folks that have had altered abilities since birth or childhood.

I’m excited about meeting more brown and Black people organizing around Disability Justice. These are all seriously resilient people who know how to survive almost impossible circumstances. These are people who get it and want to change the way things are, not just for us, but for elders and the people coming after us as well.

Q. What is your vision for the future of our region?

A. The system must undergo revolutionary reformation, because it’s not just a broken system, it’s a system that was built on the broken backs of brown and Black people and that continues to this day. 100 million indigenous people were killed when this land was colonized and 52 million people were killed in the TransAtlantic slave trade. Is it really any wonder why some people’s lives are more difficult than others? Being actively hunted in the streets and/or being thrown into institutions absolutely changes whether or not a person can reach self-actualization. I think We The People must throw capitalism out. In 2017, 82% of the wealth in the USA was in the hands of the top 1%. That means that the other 99% of us are expected to step on the throats of our loved ones and neighbors and fight over the leftover scraps. I, for one, am done with this dynamic, and I think many others are too.

I think unlearning the dangerous practice of consuming one thing or another to deal with big feelings is the place to start. Learning how to be in the center of our centers, in the eye of the storm, will help all of us emerge from our "trauma tunnels." From there, everyone learning how to think critically is a part of my vision. I think the Pacific Northwest and the West Coast are places where all this could actually change. I think there are enough people here who care and are actually doing real things to create these changes.

The way the Social Security Administration defines disability is all about functionality. If someone has an inability to hold down housing, that makes them functionally disabled, in my opinion. The folks stranded out on the street are on the front lines of a brutal class war, and We The People cannot wait for the State to solve this. We must create ways to meet our needs and the needs of those around us. If there is any place on this land where this could happen, it's Portland, the Pacific Northwest and the West Coast.

I envision everyone receiving holistic healthcare and being housed. Unfortunately, institutionalized oppression is real, and this crushes our bodies, minds and spirits. If we get locked out of healthcare and/or housing, it’s almost impossible to develop sustainable connections with those around you, get a job, and so many other things. When someone shows up and is deemed to have red flags – you’re a person of color, you don’t have insurance, you don’t have a place to live, you have depression, chronic pain, you’re trans, queer, you’ve been on opiates, you experience post-traumatic stress, etc. – unless you have a really good support network, advocates, and, in my case, help from my Congressional Representative, you get blown off and end up dead, on the streets or in prison. When I first sought treatment after being hit and dragged around a corner by a station wagon while riding my bicycle, I was blown off, yelled at, humiliated, among many other horrors. For example, it took three years to get a cast on my broken hand. So, it’s really important to me to pass Health Care for ALL Oregon and on the West Coast, while at the same time changing the way people think about healthcare. Many folks are taught to run to the doctor’s office for every piece of advice about how to take care of our bodies, but there’s so much people can do themselves just by changing what we put in our bodies and other daily habits.

Q. What is your favorite song, book or movie?

A. I’m really into this Beyonce song called “Freedom:” “Freedom! Freedom! I can’t move, freedom, cut me loose! Freedom! Freedom! Where are you? Cause I need freedom too! I break chains all by myself, won’t let my freedom rot in hell. Hey! Ima gonna keep running cause a winner don’t quit on themselves.”

Q. Is there anything else you want people to know?

A. Please join me in this work at RealChoiceOregon.com and HCAO.org (Health Care for ALL Oregon). Let go of the next glass ceiling, raise the floor and build from the ground up.

Q&A with Somali Refugee and Community Organizer Saara Hirsi

In 2017 and 2018, Northwest Health Foundation convened the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative – a group of fourteen disabled people of color interested in deepening their understanding of disability justice and discussing visions and strategies for ensuring the needs of people with disabilities are centered in decision-making. Saara is one of the leaders participating in the Collaborative.

Saara sits with other members of her African immigrant/refugee community.

Q. What communities do you consider yourself a part of?

A. I’m from a lot of communities. I’m originally from Somalia, which is located in East Africa. I consider myself part of the immigrant/refugee community. I’m also part of the advocacy and social justice communities and the disability community.

Q. What leadership roles have you played?

A. I’m an activist and community organizer. I created a program called Health Care and People with Disabilities within the African Youth and Community Organization (AYCO). This program empowers individuals with disabilities to get education and employment when they are ready. This program gives resources and information to family, adults and parents who have children with disabilities. We have English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes, Personal Support Worker training and community education about disabilities. I introduced the AYCO organization to what people with disabilities can do and how they can get resources in this country. Refugees with disabilities are often socially isolated their home. This project is about educating the community to change beliefs and attitudes about disabilities.

I’m also part of REAL: Reject Economic Ablest Limits. REAL is about understanding leadership, systems change, and learning and working on employment. We advocated for two positions with the City of Portland. We've also done leadership trainings, and we used the ten principles of disability justice.

Q. What leadership roles do you hope to take on in the future?

A. I want to be a part of policymaking. I am interested in participating in advocacy and policy change, because our voice is not there. When we put more people who experience the problem in decision-making positions, we’ll get more solutions to fix the problem.

Q. What is most exciting to you about disability justice?

A. I really appreciate this opportunity, because I was fighting for this on my own. Disability justice gives me the opportunity to learn social justice language, build confidence and give me hope to make change. Before disability justice training, I thought no one understood my challenges. I learned that there are activists who are working to change these problems. I appreciate seeing other people working on these issues. I look forward to becoming a better leader and learning more, so I can help more people to become leaders in the future.

Q. What is your vision for the future of our region?

A. I would like to see the people affected by problems in leadership role: young people with disabilities, immigrants, refugees and people of color. When these people become leaders everyone will benefit. We will all walk together and achieve our goals.

Q. What is your favorite song, book or movie?

A. Actually, I love poetry, because I love the idea behind it. I come from a poetry culture.

Q. Is there anything else you want people to know?

A. I am a good listener and love to learn. I love meeting new people and learning something different. And I’m open-minded to learn about other people. I would like to travel if I could.

Q&A with PSU Student and Advocate Arlene Amaya

In 2017 and 2018, Northwest Health Foundation convened the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative – a group of fourteen disabled people of color interested in deepening their understanding of disability justice and discussing visions and strategies for ensuring the needs of people with disabilities are centered in decision-making. Arlene is one of the leaders participating in the Collaborative.

Arlene smiles, standing in front of an industrial background.

Q. What leadership roles have you played?

A. Currently, I'm the cultural sustainability coordinator for Portland State University’s Student Sustainability Center and the community engagement coordinator for Green Lents. I also hold leadership positions through PSU’s accessibility committee, universal design subcommittee and environmental club.

Q. What leadership roles do you hope to take on in the future?

A. I’m not entirely sure what my future leadership roles will look like, but I'll be graduating from Portland State in Spring 2018, so they'll likely be significantly different.  Right now I'm more focused on the process of shaping what principles I want to apply to my current and future work. 

Q. What is most exciting to you about disability justice?

A. I think it’s another opportunity to recognize the inherent value and dignity of everyone, which conflicts with the ways many of our systems and institutions currently operate. It’s also a chance to recognize the strength in our differences. Validating one another’s accessibility needs is crucial, and it requires that we are part of a community that holds itself accountable to a dynamic learning process. In these ways, disability justice feels like truly exciting and revolutionary work to me.

Q. What do you hope to get out of being a part of the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative?

A. I decided to apply for the DJLC, because I wanted to gain a better understanding of ableism, my own accessibility needs and how to apply these principles to my work. I wanted to do so as part of a community, and then work within that community to build collective power. 

Additionally, my identity as someone who's disabled doesn't exist separately from my identities as a queer, working-class Latina (from Salvadoran parents). In many spaces that focus on disability rights, we're not able to explore the significance and influence of our other identities and that comes at a huge cost. The DJLC is a unique and special space, because it really mobilizes those important conversations. Its leading principles should be part of all justice movements. 

Q. What is your favorite book, movie or song, and why?

A. I have many favorites in each category, but the last book I read was Corazón by Yesika Salgado, the last movie I watched was Black Panther, and the last song I listened to was "Sound & Color" by Alabama Shakes. 

Western States Center & CAPACES Network: Winning with Reproductive Justice

A woman sits on the floor holding her child. He looks over her shoulder, smiling. She is laughing. 

According to Western States Center’s Gender Justice Program Director Amy Casso, when you lead with Reproductive Justice you can win. Why? Because Reproductive Justice is intersectional and inclusive; everyone can see themselves in it. It also has the ability to shift narrative and culture in communities.

The CAPACES Network organizations, a group of primarily Latino-led and serving organizations in Oregon, saw an opportunity in Reproductive Justice. After participating in Western States Center’s We are BRAVE Cohort, CAPACES Network staff wanted to bring a Gender Justice and Reproductive Justice lens to all their work. They partnered with Western States Center to guide them through the process.

Over the last year, CAPACES Network executive directors and staff participated in monthly trainings and discussions around building and integrating a Gender and Reproductive Justice lens into their organizations’ program work. A pivotal moment came in August when many of them participated in Activists Mobilizing for Power 2017 workshops like “Talking About Abortion in the Latinx Community” and “Over-policed and Undervalued: reproductive justice, prison-abolition and birthing” to deepen their understanding.

A person stands in front of a row of gray boxes, visible from the waist down. Each box has a  statistic painted on it. The closest one reads, "In 2011, 1 in 13 white Oregonians were uninsured and 1 in 6 people of color were uninsured."

CAPACES Network members also participated in the campaign to pass the Reproductive Health Equity Act, advocating for all Oregonians, regardless of income, citizenship status, gender identity or type of insurance, to have access to the full range of preventative reproductive health services.

Over the next year, Western States Center and CAPACES Network will conduct a community assessment in order to better understand the community’s concerns and needs, as well as identify opportunities for policy shifts. They’re working closely with several organizations, including both of the Network’s youth organizations, Latinos Unidos Siempre (LUS) and Talento Universitario Regresando a Nuestros Orígenes (TURNO).

It’s clear the partnership is already impacting community members. Western States Center recently hosted an event with Mujeres Luchadoras Progresistas, unrelated to their partnership with CAPACES Network. At the event, Amy Casso asked community members if they’d heard about the Reproductive Health Equity Act and what it could do for them. All of them had.

Ultimately, CAPACES Network hopes this partnership will result in a healthier community and healthier families.

Oregon Renters Lead the Way to Safe, Stable and Healthy Homes

A crowd, led by children holding a Community Alliance of Tenants banner, marches in support of tenant protections. Many people hold signs with messages promoting stable housing.

Change should always be led by the people who will be most impacted by it. Solutions work better for everyone when they are created by the communities that need them the most. It’s the curb-cut effect.

For example, everyone in our region — Oregon and Southwest Washington — has been affected by the affordable housing crisis. Even homeowners feel the impact when neighbors, coworkers and employees, their children’s classmates, teachers, caregivers and countless other community members suffer the stress of housing instability. Housing instability impacts all of us. But who is most impacted? Who should lead the way in confronting this problem?

According to Community Alliance of Tenants (CAT), low-income tenants — mainly, people of color, families with children, low-wage workers, people with disabilities and seniors. Which is why CAT is partnering with a number of organizations to advance tenant protections this legislative session.

A woman holds a drooling toddler with curly black hair.

Across our region, increased demand for housing has led to rent hikes and no-cause evictions. Too many families find themselves houseless, priced out of their cities and towns, sleeping on friends’ couches, in cars and shelters, even on the street. Without a safe place to call home, they struggle to keep their jobs, feed their kids and get them to school.

Families who haven’t been evicted are too scared to ask their landlords for necessary repairs and improvements; they’re afraid of retaliation. Meanwhile, their children suffer from “slum housing disease” due to unhealthy living conditions.

Their fear is warranted. Families with small children, especially from immigrant and refugee communities face higher barriers to quality housing, and they’re more vulnerable to discrimination, retaliation and involuntary displacement.

A woman sits with three young children at a Stable Homes for Oregon Families listening session.

CAT members, as well as their majority-tenant board of directors, identified no-cause evictions and lifting the ban on rent-stabilization as their top priorities. So CAT responded by convening the Stable Homes for Oregon Families Coalition, a group of over 75 organizations advocating for the 40% of Oregonians who rent their homes. CAT also initiated the Tenant Leadership Council, composed of parents of color to lead the #JustCauseBecause campaign this legislative session.

The Tenant Leadership Council spent time helping shape House Bill 2004, vetting it against their experiences, and mobilizing their fellow tenants to participate in various actions, including phone banking, visiting their legislators, hosting rallies and supporting civic engagement opportunities for renters. They also coordinated lobby days at the Oregon State Capitol and developed and presented testimony in support of the bill. On February 4, they packed a listening session with 250 people, and 20 legislators and their staff attended to hear residents from all over Oregon share their stories. On April 30, they plan to pack another listening session in Eugene. 

Oregon tenants and legislators fill several round tables at a listening session for Stable Homes for Oregon Families.

Thanks to the leadership of low-income Oregon tenants, we trust #JustCauseBecause and #RentStabilization are the best choices for our state. We may not end the affordable housing crisis with these two bills, but we will reduce stress and fear, mitigate displacement and ensure renters feel supported enough to demand healthy living conditions. And everyone in our region will benefit because of it.

Community Alliance of Tenants is one of Northwest Health Foundation's Kaiser Permanente Community Fund funded partners.

Astoria Reaffirms its Compassion and Respect for All Residents

A story with Healthy Beginnings+Healthy Communities Collaborative La Voz de la Comunidad.

Astoria celebrates Día de los Muertos with face painting and more.

Astoria celebrates Día de los Muertos with face painting and more.

In America, all people have rights, no matter what they look like or where they come from. It’s not about where you were born; it’s how you live your life and what you do that defines you here in this country. Hardworking people, documented or not, make our communities stronger and deserve respect from all of us.

Sadly, many immigrant Americans have faced disrespect and worse, including threats to their freedom and opportunity. Since President Trump signed an executive order expanding the number of immigrants considered fair game for detainment and deportation, immigrants throughout our region and the U.S. have become increasingly fearful of ICE raids tearing their families (and our communities) apart.

An old cannery on Astoria's waterfront.

An old cannery on Astoria's waterfront.

However, rather than give up and give in to these destructive and unpatriotic federal policies, thousands of Americans have chosen to stand up and speak against them instead. In Astoria, Oregon, for instance, where Chinese and Latino immigrants have been the backbone of the canning industry for the last century, the Astoria City Council unanimously passed a resolution reaffirming the city’s policy of inclusivity.

Like the City of Astoria itself, Astoria’s inclusivity resolution depended on the voices and actions of diverse community members to succeed.

Originally, Astoria’s mayor and city councilors considered declaring Astoria a sanctuary city, but they changed their minds after the chief of police presented at a city council meeting. Members of La Voz de la Comunidad, an advisory group representing the Hispanic community living on Oregon’s north coast, attended that meeting and discussed the city’s decision.

In the end, they agreed. While immigrants in Astoria deserved to know whether the city respected and supported them, La Voz thought about the negatives associated with the word “sanctuary” – loss of federal funding, confrontations with government officials – and realized the label “sanctuary city” could be detrimental. There might be a better option: an inclusivity resolution.

Astoria's City Hall.

Astoria's City Hall.

Astoria’s city councilors and chief of police had already said they wouldn’t aid ICE. They’d said, if you haven’t broken any laws, you don’t have anything to fear from us. La Voz just wanted them to say it louder and make it official, so Astoria’s immigrants would know for sure the city stands behind them, and hopefully gain some peace of mind in the process.

With help from Causa Oregon’s Executive Director Andrea Miller and a template developed by the Innovation Law Lab, Lower Columbia Hispanic Council’s Executive Director Jorge Gutierrez introduced the resolution and helped craft some of the language. La Voz de la Comunidad, Astoria’s mayor and city council, and the city’s attorney and chief of police made edits, passing the document back and forth, until it was ready for a March 6, 2017 city council meeting.

On March 6, around 25 La Voz de la Comunidad members went straight from a La Voz meeting to the city council’s meeting. Only two of them had ever been to a city council meeting before. Although a letter to the editor published in The Daily Astorian encouraged people to show up and oppose the resolution, no one did. Instead, Jorge read testimony he had prepared with La Voz, a Hispanic community member and member of La Voz spontaneously gave his own testimony, and the Astoria City Council unanimously passed the resolution.

The resolution acknowledges the “vital contributions” made by Astorians from all nations and states “residents should be treated with compassion and respect regardless of national origin or citizenship status.” While, if required by federal law, Astoria’s city agencies and employees will still be expected to cooperate with federal agents, the resolution affirms that they won’t do so voluntarily. Most importantly, the resolution upholds American values of dignity and respect, freedom and opportunity for all people.

A New Narrative for Racial Equity in Oregon

A story with Healthy Beginnings+Healthy Communities Collaborative Racial Equity Agenda.

A child stands in a schoolyard, writing in a notebook.

Words are powerful. If you know how to be persuasive with language, you can get a lot done. However, your words can also work against you. If you don’t do the necessary preparation, your message could communicate something you never intended.

Racial Equity Agenda, a Healthy Beginnings+Healthy Communities Collaborative, is busy doing that necessary preparation, creating an effective racial equity narrative for Oregon that will help community organizations begin important conversations about race with voters and policymakers, and move Oregon closer to racial equity.

Amanda Manjarrez presenting at the Healthy Beginnings+Healthy Communities gathering of Community Collaboratives in Salem, Oregon.

Amanda Manjarrez presenting at the Healthy Beginnings+Healthy Communities gathering of Community Collaboratives in Salem, Oregon.

On February 7th, 2017, Amanda Manjarrez, Coalition of Communities of Color’s Advocacy Director, stood at the front of a small, windowless conference room in the Salem Convention Center and introduced the idea of a cohesive racial equity narrative to community members and organizers from across the state. She presented examples of how effective narratives and values-based language can be at triggering emotions. For instance, words like “illegal,” “violent criminal” and “radical” have been selected purposefully by politicians to invoke fear about specific races and religions. These words, part of carefully constructed narratives about undocumented immigrants, black men and Muslims, have been used, successfully, to advance policies and candidates. If community organizations in Oregon want to push back against these narratives and have positive conversations about race, we need to construct our own narrative that will spark other emotions that lead to more inclusive communities and shared prosperity.

Unfortunately, people aren’t as logical as they like to think they are. In reality, humans make quick, emotional judgments, then use reasoning to justify those judgments. People also hold contradictory, competing ideas in their heads at the same time. It falls to communicators to choose the right story that will produce the desired emotions and lead an audience to take a specific action, whether that’s voting a certain way, donating to cause or something else.

It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.
— Frank Luntz

Amanda invited EUVALCREE Executive Director Gustavo Morales and Southern Oregon Education Service District’s Migrant Education Program Parent Involvement Specialist Monserrat Alegria to share their experiences having conversations about race. Both Gustavo and Monse live in rural Oregon communities (Ontario and Medford, respectively). They’ve been part of meetings where participants will get up and leave if “race” or “equity” are mentioned. They’ve seen their community members homes vandalized, families afraid to go home. According to Gustavo and Monse, the best way to start a conversation about racial equity where they live isn’t by talking about racial equity; it’s by opening with shared values like opportunity, children and families, and community building. These are narratives that almost everyone can connect with.

Racial Equity Agenda’s goal is to find a narrative that will work for all Oregonians, a way to talk about racial equity that won’t cause people to shut down or leave the room, and will result in decision-making tables including more people of color. In order to accomplish this goal, Coalition of Communities of Color is partnering with several culturally-specific and mainstream organizations, including Native American Youth and Family Center, Latino Network, Unite Oregon, Urban League of Portland, KairosPDX, Causa Oregon, Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, Hacienda CDC, Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization and Self Enhancement, Inc. By coordinating to use a unifying narrative for their work, their impact will be great.

Youth Unite for Social Justice

A spotlight on Healthy Beginnings+Healthy Communities Collaborative Youth Equity Collaborative.

The Youth Equity Collaborative at the Oregon Students of Color Conference.

The Youth Equity Collaborative at the Oregon Students of Color Conference.

Youth voices often go unnoticed and unrecognized in social justice movements. Youth leaders are undervalued due to their "lack of experience." But, when it comes to youth, people are measuring experience the wrong way. Youth have plenty of experience – their own lived experience. Youth are their own experts.

The Youth Equity Collaborative, made up of youth-led social justice organizations, including Multnomah Youth Commission, Latino Unidos Siempre, CAPACES Leadership Institute, OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon's Youth Environmental Justice Alliance, Oregon Students of Color Coalition with Oregon Student Association and Momentum Alliance, values and prioritizes youth voices.

The Youth Equity Collaborative encourages collective youth action and including youth at decision making tables when the decisions will affect youth, because youth are capable of making change. 

Some of the challenges youth face are lack of affordable transportation, financial support and accommodations for their participation, as well as lack of opportunities. The Youth Equity Collaborative does its best to support our youth and aims to remove barriers by providing reimbursement for transportation, providing bust tickets and childcare as needed. They also provide opportunities for youth to explore, network and participate in leadership development by sending them to conferences, gatherings and lobby days.

Why did the organizations that are part of the Youth Equity Collaborative choose to join the Youth Equity Collaborative?

  • To build relationships and network across organizations.
  • To engage the community on a greater scale.
  • To create a coherent and unified youth voice across the state.
  • To learn and share effective organizational practices.
  • To foster a support network for youth involved in social justice movements.

What has the Youth Equity Collaborative been doing lately?

  • Building relationships, including meeting monthly, playing fun games and discussing what "our future looks like."
  • Participating in the Oregon Students of Color Conference and Communities Collaborate gatherings and traveling together.
  • Creating content for social media campaigns.
  • Creating a political agenda.