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How Two Community Partners Are Bold in the Face of Inequities

Posted by Social Venture Partners Portland
Bahia Overton & Ruth Shelly

These past few weeks, we have been reflecting on racial inequities that have been present for centuries, but have come to the forefront of public discourse due to the killing of George Floyd and others. The protests that erupted came at a time of anguish, as communities of color were—and continue to be—disproportionately devastated by COVID-19. 

Our Community Partners are on the front lines addressing these challenges, and earlier this month, we had the opportunity to hear directly from two of them: the Executive Directors of Portland Children’s Museum and Black Parent Initiative (BPI). Learning from the expertise and wisdom of community leaders was incredibly powerful.

As Lauren Johnson, our Executive Director, said, “Words cannot describe how difficult these past few weeks have been for black, indigenous, and people of color…. although it’s inaccurate to say ‘these past few weeks’ — rather, it’s just the latest reminder of the structural inequities and systemic racism that permeate all aspects of our country… Many of SVP’s Community Partners are working tirelessly to address these challenges, in addition to responding to the disproportionate health and economic impacts of COVID on people of color. Their strength and resilience in face of so many challenges, both long-standing and new, is not surprising, but it is inspiring to witness.

Bahia Overton, Executive Director of Black Parent Initiative (BPI), shared how she sees the Black community responding to current events, and what support BPI is offering. “The community is suffering,” she said. “Whatever we can do to make sure they are feeling supported and loved and connected makes a difference.” To do that, BPI staff have adapted their services to work with families remotely. Through Zoom, the Employment Program provides virtual coaching, doulas are training family members on questions to ask at medical appointments, and family support groups help keep the community connected. 

Ruth Shelly, Executive Director of Portland Children’s Museum, spoke about becoming an SVP Community Partner at such a challenging time. The initial vision for our partnership included supporting early childhood education in multiple communities. With the outbreak of COVID-19 and the subsequent economic downturn, the Children’s Museum was forced to lay off 70% of its staff. Despite the economic impact, Children’s Museum leadership remains committed to moving from a mainstream organization to a more culturally-responsive one. “How do we—as a 75-year-old institution—walk with community now?” asked Ruth, answering, “We look forward to deepening our engagement, learning from other Partners, and being part of the solution as we work together to build pillars of racial and social justice.” 

We invite you to join our Partnership in learning about the entrenched racism that so brutally affects our communities of color, and then taking action to dismantle inequitable systems and create a more just future. As Bahia said, “Racism is a pre-existing condition. Racism causes the most stress to any human being.And when asked by a Partner what we can do to support our black community, Bahia shared, what community needs right now is for people to take a look at their own humanity,  to be bold in pushing people’s thinking beyond a dominant-culture perspective—that’s what community needs. Long-term, that’s what’s going to make things change.


You can view the entire discussion on our YouTube channel. If you enjoyed these discussions, please consider attending a future event — visit our events calendar here. We will continue to share more of our discussions within the Partnership over the next few months. Follow us on social media through the links below to stay in the loop!

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