For more than three years, Metro's staff and councilors have been trying to draft a cohesive equity strategy, one that specifically focuses on improving racial equity around the metro area.
The Metro Council unanimously endorsed that proposal Thursday, approving the Metro Strategic Plan to Advance Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.
"It's a historic day for Metro," said chief operating officer Martha Bennett. "It's been a tremendous collaborative journey for councilors, staff, citizens and community-based organizations in creating this strategy."
The draft plan was released earlier this year after hours of community forums, and input from advocates representing dozens of culturally-specific organizations in greater Portland.
Metro's Equity Strategy Advisory Committee spent nearly three years studying the problem, and solutions. In the course of their work, one thing became clear: If the region makes an explicit effort to narrow the gap between whites and nonwhites, and address equity specifically from a perspective of race, all of greater Portland's residents will be better off.
"Our current system has social, financial and environmental costs that outweigh its benefits," said Desirée Williams-Rajee, an equity specialist with the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, at a public hearing last week. "When you give more people the opportunity to maximize their potential and participate in the economy, there is a broader tax base and economic engine."
The plan outlines a path for improving equity at Metro, and measuring whether the regional government is meeting its goals in its programs, services and policies.
Read the strategy
Coalition of Communities of Color director Julia Meier said her organization has done years of research showing the institutional and systemic barriers to equity that hold the region back. She said most equity strategies focus on behavioral changes – for example, she said, the idea that if governments provide communities of color with more information on how to participate in government, participation will increase.
"They fail to understand that institutions and systems were set up in a way to prevent the participation of communities of color," Meier said. "Addressing these barriers will help."
The June 16 public hearing on the equity strategy beings at approximately the 38:30 mark in the video below.
She lauded Metro's "compelling work plan for dismantling these barriers" for also including achievable goals.
Greater racial equity at Metro will support all people to fully enjoy the quality of life that this region is known for, to be prosperous and healthy," Meyer said.
In tearful testimony, Williams-Rajee talked about racism her children faced going to school in Washington County. She said the issue of equity is best suited for a regional government like Metro
"I've seen a changing of the winds, and the equity strategy comes at a critical time," Williams-Rajee said. "You all play a pivotal role to create solutions to some of our most pressing problems – transportation, housing and jobs. These are equity issues and these are everyone's issues."
Rekah Strong, chief of operations and equity at United Way of the Columbia-Willamette, complimented the process Metro used to develop the plan.
"One of the things that is most critical is that true change, especially in marginalized communities, it comes from those communities," she said. "You had an engaged process that brought community members to the table, as experts. It was not in a pejorative, paternalistic way. It wasn't 'Come to the table, I want to hear about what you're saying,' but seeing them as experts."
At Thursday's council meeting, Councilor Carlotta Collette said Metro has been thinking about this for a long time.
"We make it hard in our society to be a person of color or a person of Latino heritage or a Native American," Collette said, choking up. "This (strategy) is really important because it was created by those folks, and not us. It was created by our community – it was co-created."
Metro Council President Tom Hughes said the strategy will not only force Metro to recruit and promote a more diverse workforce, but will also help improve the region's education and workforce.
"We're not going to have a workforce capable of taking advantage of the economic opportunities that the other things we've got going for us are going to afford us, unless we make sure everyone gets an equal shot," Hughes said.
Councilor Sam Chase said he wants to see the strategy develop a more diverse economy.
"I think about my children, and how I want them to grow, and I want them to grow up in an inclusive community where everybody has an opportunity to succeed," Chase said.
The work, Collette said, begins immediately.
"When are we going to get to work on this? We're going to get to it now," she said. "We're going to get to it tomorrow. As long as there's a Metro Council, this work will be going."