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 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. 

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.

Six Years Later, Cully Park is Much More Than a Dream

Cully community members stand on a portion of Cully Park land that is ready for development.

Portland's Cully neighborhood is rich with racial and ethnic diversity. Unfortunately, the neighborhood itself is resource-poor. It has much less parkland, low access to transportation and few sidewalks compared to other parts of Portland. It also has an abundance of brownfields – contaminated, post-industrial land.

In 2002, Portland Parks Bureau bought one of those brownfields – a 25-acre landfill – with the intent of turning it into a park. After years of open houses and design meetings, the Portland City Council finally agreed on a master plan, featuring sports fields, walking trails and an estimated price tag of up to $18 million. Although the plans were approved, funding was not. 

That's when the Cully community took over. Living Cully, a collaboration made up of nonprofit partners Verde, Native American Youth and Family Center, Hacienda Community Development Corporation and Habitat for Humanity Portland Metro/East, led the community to seek funding and transform the former landfill into a welcoming and useful public space.

Two people in orange construction vests hang a tarp over a sign that reads "¡NUEVE PARQUE EN CAMINO!" with a map.

In 2010, a $150,000 Northwest Health Foundation/Convergence Partnership grant enabled Living Cully to develop the very first stages of Thomas Cully Park. Now, six years later, Living Cully has raised over $9.5 million, and only needs to raise $1 million more to meet the project's $10.6 million budget (down from the $18 million estimated by the City Council in 2002). Most recently, on Portland Parks Foundation's 15th Anniversary, Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz announced a $3 million allocation from the City.

Not only has Living Cully raised millions of dollars for the park. Since development began in 2012, Scott School students worked with an architect to design a community garden; Verde restored a section of the land too steep for park features to create a mixed deciduous-riparian habitat; Verde Nursery began growing plants in a 10,000 square foot staging area for distribution throughout the park; a group of Native and non-Native community members created an Inter-Tribal Gathering Garden; Cully neighborhood schools and students helped design a play area meeting the needs of young people in the neighborhood and youth with disabilities; and Living Cully transformed NE 72nd Avenue into a Greenstreet.

Thomas Cully Park is truly by and for the people, and we can't wait to see future transformations of the space!

This is an update on a past Partner Spotlight written a few years ago. Check out the original Partner Spotlight.

Environmental Justice, For Youth, By Youth

A snapshot from the first Youth Environmental Justice Alliance meeting.

A snapshot from the first Youth Environmental Justice Alliance meeting.

At Northwest Health Foundation, we believe change should be led by the people who are most affected by it. So when we found out about OPAL Environmental Justice's Youth Environmental Justice Alliance (YEJA), we were pretty excited. No one will be more affected by environmental changes than today's youth.

YEJA was created, and is led by, youth. It was created so that youth can learn about environmental justice issues and build power to do something about them. This includes, among other activities, political education workshops and campaign organizing.

Youth participating in a role playing activity on organizing.

Youth participating in a role playing activity on organizing.

Even better, the high-schoolers who created YEJA created it to be inclusive, and to develop low-income youth and youth of color in particular. These are groups that often experience worse health as a result of toxic environments.

"Environmental justice is about being involved in decisions that affect you and feeling comfortable and secure in any environment where we live, work or go to school," wrote Ailani Palacios, a 19-year-old OPAL intern and YEJA member, in a blog entry. She also wrote, "Youth are the most powerful tool in any movement."

We can't wait to see what this youth group accomplishes!

YEJA received a NWHF mini-grant in July 2015. OPAL Environmental Justice was one of our partners in the 2014-2015 Learning Together, Connecting Communities cohort.