Metro officials and community leaders say the regional government is making progress in its efforts to promote racial equity, but there's still a long way to go.
The council last December approved a 16-month agency-wide community partnership pilot program aimed at giving a voice to those who traditionally haven't had one in Metro's decision-making processes.
During a work session Oct. 17, councilors were given an update and learned that while there have been successes, its partnerships haven't been without its challenges.
The youth-led Momentum Alliance and the Coalition of Communities of Color's Bridges Alumni program are working across six Metro departments and divisions to help provide the agency with a diverse group of community voices: youth of color ages 14 to 29 from historically marginalized communities and community leaders of color who can bring culturally specific perspectives.
"It wasn't all rainbows and butterflies and one of the reasons why was because there was a lot of trust to build," Fatmah Worfeley, a 19-year-old with Momentum Alliance, said.
There were discussion groups, some of the youth recalled, when Metro staff never made eye contact with them, appeared to doze off or wasted their time by not talking about the topics they had requested.
"We've come far but we still recognize that we have a long way to go," said Llondyn Elliott, 20. "We will continue to put in the hours and the labor necessary to get this somewhere because we understand that this partnership … benefits all of the people in the Metro districts.
"Because ultimately, if we're trusting people of color and we're trusting young people to understand that they know what's best for themselves, then ultimately the whole system will be better," he continued. "I think the question needs to shift from 'Do we trust Metro?' to 'Does Metro trust young people, does Metro trust people of color?' And then once we can get that trust built within us, we can create a better system for all."
Coalition of Communities of Color
The Coalition of Communities of Color's Bridges program has graduated more than 400 people from its culturally specific leadership development programs and the central focus of the partnership is to get more alumni at the table of Metro's committees, boards and commissions.
Currently, there is one alumnus serving on the Southwest Corridor Equitable Development Strategy's project oversight committee and another on the business and workforce advisory group.
"We're not only about placing leaders of color in spaces, but we also want to emphasize that there needs to be support strategies for those leaders of color to continue to be at those tables and, along with Metro, see how to replicate this model in other places in the region," said Shweta Moorthy, a researcher with CCC.
The work session also highlighted other partnerships Metro has with community organizations to help it break down barriers and build a more equitable and inclusive region – one that's reflective of the population it serves.
Partners in Nature
Since 2013, Parks and Nature's Partners in Nature program has been working with Unite Oregon, a nonprofit made up of immigrants, refugees and people of color.
The partnership has given the region's newest residents an opportunity to connect with the natural environment and familiarize themselves with the public policy, legal structures, government agencies and volunteer community actions that help protect it. Activities have included presentations at Unite Oregon's leadership development retreats, family outings at Metro-managed parks and natural areas and a community member internship.
"It's not only to let them enjoy nature, but how do we become the fabric of what Metro does and encourage us to be part of the decision-making process," Unite Oregon's executive director Kayse Jama said.
Charissa Jones, an environmental educator for Tualatin Riverkeepers who is an alum of the Pan Immigrant Leadership and Training (PILOT) program and now works with the programs, said it's important for Metro to be authentic.
"We think about how institutions like Metro come to communities and ask for things and what's authentic and how that authentic relationship builds as opposed to just coming in at the seventh step of a proposal and saying, 'We need the Slavic or the Muslim voice on this,'" she said. "Are we co-creating plans together and are we thinking about the very first step with each community because if we're not, then it's not authentic."
Advancing equity in solid waste sector
Elsewhere, Metro's Property and Environmental Services department has begun working to advance racial, gender and economic equity in the region's solid waste sector by partnering with two organizations that offer pre-apprenticeship programs: Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc. and Constructing Hope.
The nonprofits say the tours of solid waste facilities and information sessions have provided a two-way education – program staff and participants have learned about job opportunities in the garbage and recycling industry and Metro staff have learned about the barriers facing women and people of color to get a foot in the door and move up the ladder.
'It's a long process'
The meeting concluded with small discussion groups, during which Metro councilors and staff sat with community members to talk about the successes and challenges of the different partnerships and where improvements can be made.
"I think our partners are reasonably pleased that we're having this conversation," said Councilor Bob Stacey, whose district includes most of the southern parts of Portland proper. "There's an A for effort so far, but we've got an incomplete because we haven't yet – to the public and to the partners – understood what our baseline is and what our measurable objectives are. So there's work to be done."
He said there needs to be articulated goals about what it means to have a diverse workforce and that those conversations should also include Metro's contractors.
Councilor Sam Chase, who represents north Portland, spoke about the importance of introducing diverse voices early on in the process and providing them with the support and knowledge they need to understand the issues.
Councilor Carlotta Collette, whose district includes much of urban Clackamas County, said the key is building trusting relationships.
"We have to recognize it's a long process," she said. "It's not a one-off 'Will you help us with this?' It's how do we have a long-term relationship and that's a very different thing. … We're asking people to contribute a ton of emotional labor and that emotional labor needs to be compensated."