West Linn aims to tackle discrimination
In 2011, former West Linn resident Melissa Lowery began working on her documentary, "Black Girl in Suburbia," hoping to spur the seldom-heard conversations about racism that exists in communities like West Linn.
Eight years later, West Linn, Wilsonville, Lake Oswego, Tigard and Tualatin will have these conversations together for the first time.
"There's a lot of people who feel that those subjects are very scary to talk about. And it's really not. I just want the film to kind of spark something in the people who watch it," Lowery told the Tidings before her film debuted in 2014.
The five cities that make up eastern Tualatin Valley will congregate at Lake Oswego High School Saturday, Oct. 19, for the Multi-City Equity Summit.
The event is sponsored and organized by the West Linn-Wilsonville School District, Lake Oswego School District, Tigard-Tualatin School District, the cities of West Linn, Wilsonville, Lake Oswego, Tigard and Tualatin, West Linn Police Department, Lake Oswego Police Department, West Linn Alliance for Inclusive Community, Respond to Racism and LO for Love.
The West Linn City Council contributed $5,000 for the event at its June 24 meeting, matching donations from the City of Lake Oswego, the WL-WV School District and the LO School District.
According to the event's website, the summit will consist of a keynote address from Marvin Lynn, a morning breakout session, lunch, another breakout session and closing remarks from Emmett Wheatfall.
Lynn is the dean of the College of Education at Portland State University and an expert on critical race theory and has spoken before at an event for Lake Oswego's Respond to Racism. Wheatfall is an assistant Clackamas County administrator who has spoken at the West Linn Public Library at the invitation of the WLAIC.
West Linn City Councilor Jules Walters said one of the main reasons an event like this is so important is because some people don't realize that discrimination exists in West Linn. Walters got involved with planning the summit when the WLAIC approached her.
"There is a conversation where some people are saying, 'No, there's no racism here. West Linn is great.' And then you have people who come from different cultures or different ethnicities saying, 'No, actually it (racism) does exist.'"
She pointed to a debate that broke out among high schoolers and WLHS alumni on Twitter earlier this year that followed along these lines, with some current and former students saying there is no racism at the school and others citing their own encounters with it.
Having conversations where people share real stories of discrimination is an important first step toward eradicating it, because nothing will get done if people don't realize discrimination exists, Walters said.
The need for conversations about diversity and equity is evident in the leadership of the five communities. On the five city councils and three school boards, racial diversity is almost nonexistent.
"That's when it gets hard, when you don't have a diversity of voices shaping and guiding your policies in your cities. Part of it here is (the) somewhat lack of diversity in our population, but that certainly doesn't mean there aren't people in the community who wouldn't be excellent leaders on our councils and school boards and commissions," Walters said about the lack of diversity among people in positions of power in the community.
Walters said keeping the conversation going after the summit will be key.
"We're striving to make sure this isn't just a one-off event, but a continuing conversation not just of one city, but a group of cities together, a group of school boards, different governmental agencies saying, 'What are we doing and not doing? What do we need to change? How do we best serve all of our citizenry?'" Walters said.
The event is free, but attendees should register right away because space is limited. Registration opens Aug. 1 at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/multi-city-equity-summit-tickets-61941054361.
More information on the summit can be found at https://multicityequity.org/.
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