Volume XVIII | Issue 2 | Fall 2018
The Malheur Equity Team chose “hope for all” as its theme.

Defining equity locally

Communities do their own exploring

When the Malheur Education Service District gathered a cross-section of the community together to explore the readiness for work around equity, organizers were surprised at the results. “More people showed up than we were prepared for and the energy in the air was just intense,” says Kelly Poe, the ESD’s director of Community Based Services. “We had discussions around racism, discrimination, hardships and people on the margins.”

Similar meetings were taking place in Baker and Wallowa counties, supported by a technical assistance grant from The Ford Family Foundation, and soon Eastern Oregon Equity for Common Good swung into action. The collaborative effort seeks to advance equity, values, the common good and gracious space (a welcoming place where everyone is invited to participate). 

The intent of the project is to allow local communities to do their own work in advancing equity, depending on where they are with the issue. Each county participated in at least four half-day workshops to increase community awareness around the issue of equity. 

“The dedication shown by participants demonstrates their commitment to building equity and caring leadership in their rural community and daily lives,” says Maurizio Valerio, the Foundation’s Eastern Oregon field coordinator. Valerio, a Malheur Equity Team member, participated in activities in all three counties.

Equal access to hope

Malheur County began its work with a retreat in December 2016, where, after in-depth dialog, participants identified a common thread: lack of hope. “If every person has equal access to hope, our communities would look much different,” says Peter Lawson, a member of the Malheur Equity Team. “This notion was pared down to simply, Hope for All.”

At the retreat, participants committed to attending monthly meetings for a full year. “There were 18 of us, and we didn’t lose anybody,” Poe says, reflecting on the importance of the issue to the community. “The thing that was so impressive about our first group was the differences in age, in gender, in economic status, in ethnicity.” The cohort’s monthly meetings were facilitated by consultant Bill Grace, author of Sharing the Rock: Shaping our Future through Leadership for the Common Good (available for free through Select Books).

The Malheur Equity Team decided in July 2017 to address the issue of the well-being of newcomers to the Ontario area, which has a substantial number of refugees and immigrants. The group developed a proposal for a welcome center, which has been submitted to the Oregon Refugee and Immigrant Funders Collaborative.

The Equity Team also held several community events, including a forum on immigration, and created an Equity Compact, inviting businesses and organizations to commit to advancing equity. Part of the commitment was dedicating a person to participate in the second cohort, which began in January.

Values-based leadership 

The initiative looked different in the other two counties, reflecting the specific issues relevant to each community. Baker County held a three-hour workshop in April 2017 which identified personal and group core values, how to create gracious space, and defined equity. The group met four more times, and 14 people have committed to a 2018 book club which meets monthly to dig deeper into values-based leadership and equity. 

In Wallowa County, four workshops occurred in Enterprise, with the group identifying positive ways to support groups who typically are not supported, such as people who identify as LGBTQ. Another effort, led by Northeastern Oregon Economic Development District, is sponsoring a series of roundtables about diversity.

“We built trust in Communities of Practice so people could get to know each other at a human level, and as they did, walls came down and bridges were built,” Poe says. “We created safe and courageous spaces where diverse people felt welcome and prepared to explore the complex issues of our day — like equity.”

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