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My Personal Equity Journey

Posted by Social Venture Partners Portland

We are living in a time of outrage and unrest, as George Floyd’s murder reminds us of the deep and systemic racial inequities in our country. Our Board Chair, Kerry McClenahan and Equity Committee Chair, Bala Cadambi, issued a joint statement last week on the sadness and anger we collectively feel and how Partners can help. 

As the white stepmother of a mixed-race child, Sarah Cohen-Doherty, Community Impact Manager, reflects on her personal equity journey and how she is responding to the current tensions of today.

Let me start by saying, I am white. My skin color has afforded me privilege my entire life, as has my socio-economic class, coming from a two-parent home, and the opportunity for higher education. 

I have not always been aware of these privileges, and related opportunities, that others don’t experience. It wasn’t until my adulthood that I realized I had grown up in the same era when school bussing really began in the Midwest, when racial tensions were high, and when communities were screaming for social justice. 

I didn’t realize the historic significance of the Rodney King era, which I watched on TV growing up. It was a decade later before I started to comprehend the tapestry of complicated racial disparities. My equity journey was set in motion.  

I began connecting the pieces and revisiting history with the awareness of a broader perspective. I realized that my personal experience of feeling like an “outsider” due to being raised Jewish in the Midwest, while attending an Episcopalian school, did not compare with the fear, the injustice, and systemic racism that people of color faced daily. As a Jew, I have experienced generational trauma. I have seen swastikas painted on fences near my home. But, without realizing it, I was still “safe” in my white skin. 

When my mixed-race stepdaughter entered my life seven years ago, I began experiencing the world in a whole new way. Not only was I learning to become a mother, my eyes started to open to racial biases right here in our Portland community. The inequities had always been there but my blinders were finally coming off. Every day I continue to learn how little I know, and every day I strive to do better. 

Currently, our country faces more trauma as yet another Black life is lost needlessly at the hands of someone in power. And I am terrified. I am fearful at what could happen if someone in power, someone of privilege, were to act against my strong, amazing child simply because of the color of her skin. She could be jogging in our neighborhood, she could be birdwatching, and she could be questioned, attacked, or killed without justification and without justice.

I realize that what I feel is less than a drop in the bucket compared to generations of parents of color. What I know is that, if she was white, I would not be having these same emotions. Yes, I would still be outraged by the murder of George Floyd. Yes, I would still be angry at centuries of systemic injustice. And yes, I would still be an ally. But I would not be scared for my child’s safety every day. 

I end this with words of wisdom from my daughter’s peer, a young person of color, giving an eighth grade speech: “I think if you are not willing to acknowledge the past, the truth will always be obscured. That doesn’t mean you should dwell in the past endlessly, but instead remember and acknowledge that the past has shaped the present we live in today. I think in order to create a bright future it takes strength to forgive the past, but never forget it. For we are the product of the past. But more importantly, we are the producers of the future.” 

Let us not lose hope. Let us keep learning and growing, both individually and as a community. And, may we all be contributors to a more just future. 

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