Feb. 19, 2020 — “I’m someone who has been living in Oregon as a person of color and seeing the state and my area change over time,” said Alexis James, director of training and organization development for Cascade Employers Association.
She was speaking to approximately 60 people at “Unpacking Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, (DEI)” a workshop held at the Best Western Pier Point Inn on Feb. 12 and put on by The Nonprofit Association of Oregon (NAO) and Siuslaw Vision, with support from The Ford Family Foundation.
“I come to this work from a very personal level, but I also come to it with a lightness,” James continued. “Growing up black and growing up biracial, I really have had to navigate different conversations and find the joy in it all.”
For James, who grew up in Beaverton, one of her joys is teaching DEI education and helping others connect to broader conversations based on race, sexuality, religion, ability and any of the other markers that make a community diverse. She focused on intersectionality, or “the complex, cumulative manner in which the effects of different forms of discrimination combine, overlap or intersect,” according to Merriam-Webster.
The training was tailored to the nonprofit sector, with attendees from Florence Habitat for Humanity, Healthy Families Lane County, Mapleton and Siuslaw school districts, Siuslaw Outreach Services, Siuslaw Watershed Council, St. Vincent de Paul, United Way of Lane County and others from both the Siuslaw region and elsewhere in Lane County.
NAO Director of Learning and Resources Allison Adcox said, “We really appreciate the opportunity to work with rural communities and smaller communities across Oregon.”
There was enough interest in the workshop that the association elected to move the training from its initial location at Lane Community College Florence Center to the inn, which also catered lunch.
For the Siuslaw Vision, DEI training is a newer focus for the grassroots organization which seeks “to improve quality of life for the people in the Siuslaw region, which is basically everything in western Lane County,” said Vision Co-Chair Susy Lacer. “We work broadly on everything from jobs and economy to arts and culture, health and human services, recreation and infrastructure.”
The Vision’s coordinator, Stephanie Sarles, spoke afterward about the importance of last week’s training and its significance for the region.
“One of the community building principles we try to follow is to be profoundly inclusive. We’ve been focused on that since the Vision began, and it’s actually one of the principles of The Ford Family Foundation’s Institute for Community Building,” she said. “It’s challenging because we do want to make sure everyone’s voice is heard, but sometimes it’s hard to find all the voices.”
By partnering with NAO, the vision was able to access not only the resources available through the association but connect with James, who has “been doing the work” of DEI for 10 years.
“Ten years ago, we had 10 people in the room,” James said. “Today we have 60. I think it’s hard not to feel hopeful.”
The workshop involved conversations that challenged perceptions, decoded harmful or limiting language and created points of action for people to take DEI principles back to their nonprofits and workplaces. The dialogue was meant to be a little uncomfortable as people examined their experiences, related them to others in the room and acknowledged their places of privilege.
“Diversity is something that exists naturally,” James said. “We are a naturally diverse people, species and world. Equity is really removing barriers to ensure inclusion. They are linked. You can’t have one without the other. When you have diversity without equity and inclusion, then you have turnover. … If you have equity without diversity, you have a lack of perspectives. And if you don’t have inclusion, then you have a feeling of being left out.”
Throughout the workshop, James emphasized that training must be followed by action.
“We’ve been talking about if for too long and we’re ready to see change,” she said. “What excites me about this topic is the momentum that it’s gaining and the learner’s mindset that I feel people are coming to it with. We’re starting to realize there is no endpoint to this.”
For groups wishing to create diversity, equity and inclusion workplans, NAO offers an Equity & Inclusion Lens Guide that was initially adapted from the City of Ottawa, Canada.
“Through refining and piloting this lens in our work,” NAO’s website states, “we commit to: take positive steps to remove systemic barriers and promote inclusion; achieve improved satisfaction of our work and services; create a more positive and respectful work environment; and generate better solutions by incorporating diverse perspectives.”
Diverse perspectives are important in places like western Lane County, where voices closer to Florence’s urban growth boundary can be better linked into resources available on the coast.
“That’s part of being inclusive,” Sarles said. “I try to make sure the Upriver voices are heard, because they tend to be the ones we overlook in Florence. We do try to always include Upriver people in everything we do. Sometimes we don’t get anyone to show up, but at that point we try to go by what we’ve heard from the community.”
Siuslaw Vision seeks to support groups like the Siuslaw Regional Aquatics Center, which is working to connect people from all over the region to reopen Mapleton’s pool, and other efforts across the region.
“We try to follow the energy of the community in everything that we do,” Sarles said. “If there’s an interest, we would love to be involved and try to help facilitate some further discussion.”
This includes DEI training for both individual organizations and future workshops.
In an email to the Siuslaw News, Lacer said, “Siuslaw Vision was pleased to partner with the Nonprofit Association of Oregon to bring this training to Florence. If there is interest from local organizations, we’d love to continue this DEI conversation, whether that is by supporting future gatherings to discuss local efforts and progress on the issue, bringing in additional workshops, or something else that would be helpful for the community. Please contact Siuslaw Vision if you’re interested.”
People can email the Vision directly at [email protected]
In addition, NAO offers resources for nonprofits, including a Compensation & Benefits Survey that began distribution yesterday. For more information, visit nonprofitoregon.org.
For more information on local workshops and initiatives, visit the Siuslaw Vision at www.rivercal.org.