Jun 24, 2021 32 min read

Toward Equitable Community Services - with Judith Mowry

Quote from Transcript and Image of Corner Wall in Portland

Episode 13, 53 min listen

Across our country, many cities and counties are working to make their communities more inclusive and equitable—not just as a better place to work for their employees, but also leading the way to build a more inclusive and equitable community for their citizens. Portland, Oregon is one of those cities. In this episode, we interview Judith Mowry, Senior Policy Advisor on Equity Strategies and Initiatives for the City of Portland, in their Office of Equity and Human rights.

Image of guest, Judith Mowry, and quote from transcript


Listen on Apple Podcasts   or    Listen on Spotify


Portland Office of Equity and Human Rights

Other references from our discussion:

City of Portland Equity Goals

Links related to City of Portland Core Values:

Resolution on Core Values

Details on Core Values

Context and history of race in Portland

Learn more about the Portland Albina District

Governmental Alliance on Race and Equity

Race Forward

Othering and Belonging Institute, Berkeley CA

Dr. John A. Powell

Smart City PDX

Information on killing of Mulugeta Seraw


David Wiley Campt

White Ally Toolkit Workbook on Bookshop.org


Judith Mowry has over 25 years’ experience in conflict resolution, organization development, policy facilitation and  racial justice activism. Before coming to OEHR, Judith had worked as a consultant as a founding partner of Full Circle Consulting, director of mediation services for a non-profit providing a wide variety of mediation programing, including restorative justice programs, and for the  Office of Neighborhood Involvement as the Effective Engagement specialist.

Judith is also the co-founder of the Restorative Justice Project on Gentrification and partnered in developing the Community Residential Siting Program for the City of Portland.

Judith is closely involved with all OEHR programs, working with bureau staff and leadership on implementing equity and on developing policy to institutionalize effective equity practices.



Ame Sanders  00:00

This is the State of Inclusion podcast, where we explore topics at the intersection of equity, inclusion, and community. In each episode, we meet people who are changing their communities for the better and we discover actions that each of us can take to improve our own communities. I’m Ame Sanders. Welcome.

Across our country, many cities and counties are working to make their communities more inclusive and equitable—not just as a better place to work for their employees, but also leading the way to build a more inclusive and equitable community for their citizens. Portland, Oregon is one of those cities. Today, it’s a great pleasure to have Judith Mowry here with us on the State of Inclusion podcast. Judith is the Senior Policy Advisor on Equity Strategies and Initiatives for the City of Portland, in their Office of Equity and Human rights. Maybe you’re like me, and you wished your city had such an office, let alone a Senior Policy Advisor like Judith. So welcome, Judith. So happy to have you here.

Judith Mowry  01:02

Thank you, Ame. I’m really delighted to get to be here with you.

Ame Sanders  01:05

So, before we get started talking about the City of Portland, tell me a little bit about yourself. How did you get started doing equity and social justice work? What moves you and inspires you to do the work you do every day?

-An Organizer Becomes a Mediator for Justice

Judith Mowry  01:17

Thanks for that question, Ame. My journey has been a little off the beaten path in some places. But you know, my dad was a Presbyterian minister who got involved with the civil rights movement in the 60s. He went down to Mississippi for a week to register voters; he returned to march with Dr. King in Selma. We were living in a town outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and he came back and started looking around and recognizing that the same dynamics were going on in our community in the North in a much subtler way. There were the disparities in the institutions and that the work needed to be done there. I often tell people I don’t know how many people have grown up with a picture of Martin Luther King and Jesus in their dining room.

Fast forward to moving to Oregon, where I was really surprised by the lack of diversity. It was a shock. You know, I hadn’t realized how white Oregon was. I certainly didn’t realize that Oregon had had an exclusion clause. Black people were not legally allowed to be in the state until the 1920s. Removing that language from our state constitution did not happen until the early 2000s, and took two votes. And it had to be voted on statewide. Really, really hard stuff. It has always been a part of the consciousness I had.  I took a training on leadership and antiracism action when my kids were small and then there was an incident where Mulugeta Seraw–I don’t know if you know that story, but he was an Ethiopian student who was beaten to death in Portland by white racist skinheads. Well, Mulugeta Seraw was killed in my neighborhood. Then I had friends reaching out saying that white skinheads we’re moving into the neighborhood and renting houses near them. They were afraid.

So, we started something called the Anti-bigotry Coalition and did marches to city hall. A lot of times not knowing exactly what I was doing. When I look back, I was probably an incredibly obnoxious white person in how I approached things, but I was like, this is wrong. So, I’ve always felt the obligation to speak up and speak out when I see injustice and especially when I see injustice that had to do with race. I became a mediator and one of the areas that I specialized in were cases that had to do with race. I got a job as the Director of Mediation Services for a local nonprofit and one of the programs we had was a restorative justice project with non-adjudicated youth at the juvenile justice court. I began to really think about how to take restorative justice principles into the civic center-not just to apply it to criminal justice systems.

We had a neighborhood mediation program, so neighbors would call for neighbor to neighbor mediation. We were co-located in a building with the Northeast Coalition office. The director there was a Black man who had grown up in Portland and I was getting lots of calls at the mediation center. We they were basically the same theme: “I’m not a racist. I love diversity, but they…” And then you would hear a lot of stereotypical fears come out. “I see a lot of coming and going.” And then what you would discover that this was a family that had four teenagers. But there was the assumption of dealing drugs, the assumption of lack of safety. Meanwhile, my friend John, who was running the Coalition Office, was having people come in from the Black community stunned about the amount of change that was happening so quickly.  In Portland, the Black community been redlined into an area called the Albina District. When the city then decided to do urban renewal, suddenly things changed quite a bit, but it didn’t benefit the Black community folks that were already here. Lots of displacement. And as he said, suddenly all they’re seeing are white men with dogs. Dogs have often been used by oppressors in violence toward oppressed people. We began to think about how do we have conversations about this?

One of the things John and I did was we created a project called the Restorative Listening Project on gentrification. We asked restorative justice questions of what’s happened? Who’s been harmed? How have they been harmed? What should we do about the harm?  The project went on for five years. It was really phenomenal. Every month, we were gifted with the stories of Black Portlanders hearing their experience here and what had happened. We went on a big learning journey together. Now in Portland, and I think in many places in the country, you don’t have a conversation without talking about gentrification and the risk of displacement. I got invited into the Office of Neighborhood Involvement to work on the internal ways in which the government engaged conflict with neighbors. After almost five years, there was wonderful organizing by communities and a group formed called the Coalition of Communities of Color. They got money to do a report using community-verified census and survey techniques, and worked with PSU to find out how folks were doing. It was shattering. It was devastating. Every community of color was suffering great disparities in all of the areas that you would expect–education, health care outcomes, mortality rates, traffic deaths. It was everything.  So, there was a lot of organizing and going to the elected officials and saying, “Okay, so now what are you going to do? You’re supposed to serve us too.”

At the city, Sam Adams was the mayor, and we had Commissioner Amanda Fritz. She went to him and said, “We’re not gonna just let this sit, right?” In the meantime, there were people in the city that were really paying attention to what was happening in Seattle. The city of Seattle had a Race and Social Justice Initiative and it was the first one in a city. I always want to credit all the work that was done in county and public health departments, because they were way ahead of the curve in naming what was going on with the systemic racism and the terrible impacts on communities of color. So, they lobby for these things, the city looked at what we should do about it, and they decided we need to really have a dedicated effort. So, they started the Office of Equity and Human rights and transferred me into it. I think part of that was because I had a lot of experience working with the city as a contractor and mediator. I did a lot of long public policy issues in communities. My value around that has always been that those who are most impacted are at the table and lead the way in talking about what’s happening and what needs to be done. That was the beginning nine and a half years ago.

Ame Sanders  08:22

I’m going to unpack a few things out of that because it was a rich story. So, first thing is that your history is long and deep and wide in this work and you’ve demonstrated a long commitment to that. The city has clearly been at this for a while. The city of Portland, while you described a little bit of the context of Portland’s history and their unique challenges around race, they’re not such unique challenges: gentrification, displacement, etc. But Portland has some pretty unique aspects like exclusionary clauses that were unique to the area that you live in. Bring us forward to where you are today and talk about the organization you’re a part of and what kinds of things you guys have grown into doing.

-City of Portland's Journey to be Antiracist

Judith Mowry  09:15

I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished in nine years and what we’re doing at the city. Of course, the urgency has grown and the understanding of how much needs to be done. The city of Portland committed to having every employee go through Equity-101 training, and that’s where we set a common vocabulary and understanding. We review the history, we explain the disparity. So that’s the first part of the training. We then offer tools. So, the city adopted three goals for racial equity. That was early on. We have now adopted six values for the city, core values. When we began, having people understand what was different about what we were doing was important. People are like, “Well, ‘equity’ is just the new word for diversity and inclusion.” No, it’s something else. Equity is about really looking at the system and changing the system. We began to develop some tools to help us do that. They did a resolution around Juneteenth last year and adopted six core values for the city.

The first core value is striving to be an antiracist organization. When we started was hard to get people to say the word racism. Now we are able to say antiracist. That’s that takes us into deep action, deep reflection, and gives us more leverage in terms of really moving the work forward. Every bureau was required to do a five-year racial equity plan. They did a quick snapshot piece to look at where they were now, identify some areas where growth was needed, and made a plan to get there.  For me, I’ve realized it’s about creating containers for the conversation. As we’ve learned and grown, we have become much more able to understand what needs to shift.

At this point, I don’t even recommend five-year plans. We need to be able to be nimble. We need to be working with the community in such a way that they are guiding our work so that we are actually moving in ways that are in sync with the urgency of the situation. And, as we all know, the political situation has changed so much. Our city council put a lot of money into an effort called PUAH, which was Portlanders United Against Hate. Just yesterday, or the day before, was the anniversary of the killing of two men on our transit train who were interrupting racial aggression against two black teen girls on the train. Two men died, one of whom was a Portland city employee and another man was badly injured. It was another opportunity to recognize the danger of white nationalism, which has risen. This area, as you say, has commonalities and uniqueness. One of the things is it has its own flavor. I don’t think it’s any different than the kind of movements that happen in other parts of the country, but we are sort of in the midst of a lot of white nationalism in organizing.

Eric Ward, who is the director of the Western State Center and a nationally known expert on white nationalist movements was pointing out one of the reasons that white nationalists have zoned in on Portland–and I’m sure people are aware of all the news since we’ve had all the riots and the problems we’ve had with our police and with the Proud Boys and other folks– is that we are gentrifying. We’re one of the whitest large cities in the country and people are getting displaced. Eric posits that some of their organizing strategy is, “Look what Portland’s accomplishing. This liberal city is becoming whiter and whiter” That is just horrifying to me. But we are in a place of danger and risk. We have so many people in our communities of color. The Asian community is suffering from violence. Shattered windows and restaurants, a friend of mine who is walking down the street and the person passing her pulled down their mask and spit on her, everything from microaggressions to very violent actions are happening in our community. The impact of it is so horrible and the level of safety that people can feel.

So, the city responded with PUAH, which ended up seeding an organization in the community. People were afraid to report what was happening to them. We have great hate crime legislation, but it has to be a crime. And crime is defined essentially by the existing system. So, this was really an opportunity for people to report what was happening to them that may not meet the level of a hate crime in the legal system but was scary, inappropriate, intrusive, or harmful to them. It can also be an early warning of what is happening in the community. People do not feel comfortable or trust the government. A lot of people in BIPOC communities don’t trust the government. Well earned, right? I get it totally. So, we didn’t want the data to come directly into the government anyway, even if it was through another bureau.

So, one of our equity pieces is looking at how we can work with the community on data. The community controls the data. They do the intaking and then report back out to the city so the city can know what’s going on, but people don’t have to feel like they’ve exposed themselves and make themselves more vulnerable. Of course, we have communities with undocumented folks that aren’t going to tell the city here I am and this is my name and this is my address. We’ve made a lot of moves in that direction. Through the three mayor’s we’ve served under we’ve been really strong on moving in this direction. We now have the first majority people of color city council ever. The first ever Black woman was elected just three years ago. We are seeing people of color get elected all over the place in the state and local level. That is so exciting. The world has upped the ante on where we are. I see it as a battle for democracy, for a multicultural, multiracial, multiethnic democracy. I have always seen it as a moral cause. I worked toward the expression of a world that matches my values, which are about justice and a safe world that everyone can thrive in. Our demographics are changing, and if we live in a system where we oppress and hold down the ability for huge groups of our brothers and sisters in this country to thrive and get educated and have good health care, where do we land?

I really feel like there are strong arguments for what we’re doing on every level, and I’m hoping that other white people will educate themselves more and more about how to have those conversations. I feel so clear that my job as a white woman in this work is very specifically to work with other white people. I support people of color every way I can. I donate to candidates. I just try to be there as an ally and work on all those levels. But, the biggest thing for me is to be willing to have the conversations. There’s a huge bunch of folks who are really well intentioned who come up against their own discomfort and start to shut down and find themselves questioning what’s being asked or being demanded. I think this is a process of development.  Something I’ve really been reflecting on is it is very disorienting to have the whole narrative you’ve learned your whole life about the country you live in blown apart. My kids like to watch old TV shows and something came on and I was just thinking, “How inappropriate.” We would never air it now, but it was a show I loved growing up. I felt this real sadness. I lost something. I want to be really upfront about this, because I believe a lot of us go through feelings about the loss of a way of understanding ourselves, our place in the world, and our place with others. I think that is a part of where we are–finding ways to help people move more deeply into the work, to work on their own defensiveness, the things that come up for them, often through implicit bias.

Ame Sanders  18:28

Listening to you reminds me of your background as a mediator because in this way of thinking you’re looking at multiple sides of the situation and trying to put yourself in the place of all the people who are at the table and how they might view this, what they may be losing or gaining in the dialogue, in reorienting their thinking, and then in taking the action. It’s important to be able to create the kind of action that we want to see going forward. Because of the role you have, I’d like for you to take us into the insides of how a city works with this. What is your everyday like in trying to move this forward in the city? What are the things that go well and go smoothly? Things that you struggle with? Things that maybe you have to back up and try a different approach? The audience here is probably a lot of people who are interested in making this kind of change in their city.

-Serving All People Equitably

Judith Mowry  19:40

Thank you for that question, Ame. We have multiple approaches in our office. We have a Title VI program. Title VI is really about how we meet the legal requirements to serve all the people equitably. We use a proactive approach around that. It’s not a Civil Rights Office; it’s a program. We don’t really focus on complaints, we try to focus on helping our system be proactive in thinking about how they are including the community and thinking about the community every step of the way in what they do. There’s sort of that legal piece, you might consider it a stick. Then we have a training piece. We do the Equity-101. It’s a very small team, and so we work with HR to go through their trainings to see where we can help. If you think about the last 10 years we were at a place where cultural competency was the big word of the day, right? Here’s one of those places where we made a turn. We had a director who said, “I’m not competent in my own culture. I don’t even know what that means. You can’t be culturally competent, right? We have to think differently about what we’re what we’re asking of each other.”

So, we really started talking about accessibility and being culturally inclusive. What does that mean? We’re working on training on microaggression right now. We’re asking, “Where are we trying to go with this? What is that we want people to know?” When we have those kind of conversations on something like microaggressions, we’re looking to figure out what makes an inclusive environment. In terms of my workplace, what creates a space for people to do the best work of their lives? I think that’s what we’d all like. I think that’s what we’d like for our employees. We certainly what we’d like of our civil servants.

We’ve had efforts where we work to change policy, like adopting the requirements for the five-year plans. We have a budget tool. That’s been a big shifter in the conversation. Every year when we do our budget, every bureau has to turn in a budget equity tool with their budget asks or cuts. They have to explain how those things impact communities of color. We also talk about disability in our office. So, we also ask, how is this going to impact Portlanders who live with disabilities? Or how does it move equity forward? Where are opportunities to make investments so we can move closer to equity? I’m assuming people that listen to this podcast know the difference between equity and equality, but I see equity as the vehicle to reach equality. Equity says we can’t just assume giving everybody the same thing gets people to the same outcome when they’re not starting from the same place. So, equity is really about giving people the tools they need to reach those outcomes. The budget equity tools, we revise it every year we grow. People think about how it works, but it also starts to track where our money is going. Who is it serving? What communities are being served? Which communities might be being harmed? Or, where are we holding privilege in place? So that’s been an important tool.

In the last few years, we’ve brought in some fantastic trainers who work on results-based accountability using an antiracist lens. That has been really profound. Now, results-based accountability is not anything new, but thinking about what it means to do that with an antiracist understanding of what you want your outcomes to be has been a great vehicle for the conversation. It asks you to look at the root cause of the problem. Let’s work back to the root cause. I work on special projects. I am part of the training team, but I’m the liaison to the Police Bureau in our jurisdiction. Also, the bureaus began hiring equity managers. We have 26 bureaus, and I think we have 15 equity managers. So, 15 of the largest bureaus have that. Those are folks who are focused on how their bureau operates, both as an employer but also everything goes back to the community. So, if we do more equitable hiring, what that means is that we’re employing more people from the community and we’re creating more wealth development opportunities.

I work on a special project to look at the ways we do contracting and construction and how we need to think about changing that. So, we meet the outcomes where we can have more people of color (and women, who were identified in our disparity study) have opportunities in the construction industry. That really means looking at our procurement processes through a microscope. We actually did one of our deep dives to the root causes and asked, “Where are the barriers? Why are we here?” Well, unions didn’t allow people of color to be part of the membership. People couldn’t get loans to start their companies. All these things that have contributed to the disparity. How do we solve for that in a meaningful way? We’re going to have to transform, Ame. It’s not transactional. It’s a transformation we’re going through. All transformation requires transaction, but not all transaction is transformational. This is why I think it’s very important for jurisdictions to create a vision of where they want to go and then be able to use all these different kinds of tools to measure their progress. Finding ways to have accountability in new ways, shifting power, putting the community in the center of the conversation, shifting the way we think about who gets to make decisions and how they’re made. It’s hard. A lot of times people say the system isn’t broken. It does exactly what it was designed to do.

If you grew up in this country, there’s no way that you haven’t been socialized around these ideas around the way the world should be, the hierarchy of it, all the ways in which we operate that consolidate power for certain people and take away power from other people, for communities to be what they call white adjacent in their practices and their cultural adaptations living in this country. So those levels of change, we are at a point where we’re starting to really get to that deep level. And I will say that I find the mediation skills very helpful for that. I’ve got to have the deeper conversations. We do that we do. We’re working. We work with every bureau on some level, our director, Dr. Markisha Webster, is just brilliant. Just this year she was made the mayor’s official advisor on race and equity.

We’re working really working hard on the police stuff. And I think like every community, their struggle there is that it’s a lot of us vs them, and that isn’t helpful. Police work in a system where they’ve been told, “This is your job.” So, it’s very hard when we have some strong voices who put out a very anti-cop individual message. I think anytime we begin to ignore someone else’s humanity, we’re recreating the same problem. Dr. John Powell–I’m sure you’re probably familiar with him–does brilliant work at the Othering and Belonging Institute at Berkeley. He really has helped me reflect on how do I other and what does it look like if we all belong. There’s a movement with Black science fiction writers who are working on writing the vision of worlds that could exist where racism didn’t exist, starting to really move toward that collectively to think about what that vision is as we continue to make this movement and continue to think about what the transformation is.

Ame Sanders  28:32

So, there’s a couple of things I want to go back to from what you just told us. I want to make sure that people have some of the spirit of what you’re saying and the heart of what you’re saying, but also some of the practical elements of it. I heard you say first that your city made a statement or a legislative change that instantiated this work? That’s important, because the city made a declaration and made a conscious statement. That has helped to guide it across multiple administrations, I would imagine, because you’ve now been at this for a while. As we all know, politics change. The next people that are elected are different from the previous people. This helps to give some constancy of purpose to what’s going on. Then you’ve created an organization and staffed it, but not only in your central organization. What I just heard you say is that you have 15 equity managers embedded into the different bureaus, which is very important to get engaged in the everyday work of delivering the service or the support that that part of the city provides. So that’s important. Then, each one of those organizations has a five-year plan and they also have a budget tool. We all know following the money is an important part of this, right? Having a budget tool helps hold them accountable to how they spend their money, not just what they put on spreadsheets or paper. That’s very important. I also heard you say that you have training so that people don’t enter into this without knowing what’s going on. Then there are other programs or projects that you guys take on that act like a container for these conversations, whether that’s about suppliers and vendors that you might want to use, or perhaps accountability. You create these programs that provide containers for discussion that help you to move the culture of the city forward. Am I getting what you’re telling me?

-Equity in Smart City Growth

Judith Mowry  31:02

Absolutely. When you were looking for examples, one of my other projects involves work with Smart Cities PDX. There was a challenge put out by the Bloomberg Foundation. You got a big award and a bunch of money and help if you came up with a way to use data to better serve your city. We put one in and we didn’t win, but people were excited about the conversation and thinking about how we could do it. I was invited to sit on the steering committee for the Smart Cities PDX. As we began to talk about that, we began to talk about data and other ways we could use it and how we can think about what we can do for our community. It occurred to some of us: what about privacy? We should really be thinking about what we collect about people and why and how vulnerable is. We had no privacy values at all, so we had no policy. We ended up getting privacy guidance adopted by city council. The whole thing about facial recognition technology was very big in the news and we had a commissioner who really wanted to work on that issue. We were able to pass an ordinance that barred the city from using facial recognition technology. How this is an equity piece is that there has been a high rate of error using facial recognition technology on women. And, the darker your skin is the higher the rate of error.

We also know surveillance has been used in ways that is harmful to communities of color throughout our history, and so maybe we shouldn’t even be collecting something that could be weaponized. So, we passed an ordinance that banned the city from using facial recognition technology, but also banned private entities for using it in public spaces. That is the first in the country that has been able to ban facial recognition at that level. We were able to add a piece to our code that is a title that is about digital justice. We’re in the process of defining digital justice. And we’re in the process now of working on a surveillance policy. So that’s the kind of thing where you begin to look, you begin to see the root cause and you take an issue, and you think about how to move it forward.  This is the other thing about working in a bureaucracy: you don’t always get exactly where you need to go right away. Sometimes you need to think strategically about what you’re doing and you have to think about making sure it’s a real commitment. We have a tool to identify a way to think about outcomes that makes us accountable. That helps us actually measure the key question: who’s better off? Not how many people showed up to your meeting? How are those people better off for having come?

Ame Sanders  33:58

So that’s your point of transformation versus transactional?

-Partnership with Government Alliance on Racial Equity

Judith Mowry  34:02

Yes. I will point out every city has its own. When GARE, which is the Government Alliance on Racial Equity, first came together as a network, we started going up to Seattle. They were the only one. We were the second office in a city. We started going to some conferences up there. Then, Glenn Harris and Julie Nelson said, “We think there should be a network.” For the very first GARE conference, there were five jurisdictions involved. That was King County and Multnomah County (which is our county), the city of Portland, the city of Seattle, and the San Francisco Human Rights Commission. Now, I think at last count, I know there were over 100 jurisdictions in over 30 states and we had the province of Ontario working with us at some point. This is so exciting because we have created a network and a pool of tools that can be used so that everybody doesn’t have to go in and reinvent the wheel for every way they go.

Ame Sanders  35:12

What many of us find is that our governments, as they work, neither look like the people they serve nor are necessarily responsive to the people they serve, and there’s no diversity initiatives around either their own internal practices or how they’re serving their community. So, GARE is an organization that helps a city or a county figure out how to implement those kinds of things.

Judith Mowry  35:44

Absolutely. GARE has grown so much and become a part of Race Forward, which is a very large, if not the largest racial justice organization in the country. Actually, the exact people who started GARE are in the leadership–Glenn Harris and Julie Nelson are both brilliant thinkers about this stuff. GARE can come in–there are regional GARE staff–and do training. There are also different ways to engage with people you elected and engage with your jurisdiction. They help you think about how to move these things forward. They also work in building partnerships with some philanthropic efforts in California. They’ve had a lot of success there working with some of the larger philanthropic organizations to work in broad areas.  In Portland, we’re very lucky. Our city’s a member of GARE, the county’s a member of GARE, the regional government (which we call Metro) is a member of GARE and our port of Portland is a member of GARE. So, we really can be working at this. We have our different lanes, but we’re all trying to move in the same direction. GARE has been a phenomenal resource.

When I began working with our procurement group at the city, I encouraged them to take advantage of our membership with GARE and several of the staff are now part of teams from across the country of procurement groups. These are the departments that are working to truly figure out how, in their area of responsibility, do they really transform their communities so that they are just? How do we transform our government? I know for some people that feels scary, but if you really think about the vision of where we could be together, then to me, it’s just exciting. But that’s a great resource. GARE, before the pandemic, was having conferences. That’s been a great place to learn. Other organizations that are phenomenally helpful to this work are PolicyLink. Their headquarters are in Southern California. They do incredible work and they have an Equity Atlas. They’ve done a lot of place-based thinking about equity. There are opportunities to engage around how to move the work forward, and I think thinking about policy, working with people who’ve already made some progress on that can be very helpful as a tool.

-Crisis Management and Equity in Policing

Ame Sanders  38:16

So, we’ve talked about values and motivation. We’ve talked about practical techniques. This one’s hard for me to talk about, so I don’t know if I’m going to ask these questions in the right way. Excuse me if I if I don’t. Obviously, we’ve had a lot go on in the last year. We’ve had a lot of conversation, which in many ways has moved us forward, but has created some challenges as well, particularly in cities. I know that you mentioned that you were the liaison to the police organization in Portland, and I know that they are one of your bureaus that would have a five-year equity plan. And yet, they’ve probably been struggling with some degree of crisis over the last year or so. I’d like to know a little bit more about how your organization gets involved in that kind of moment, if you will. Are you guys involved in crisis management? Do you help advise organizations when there are difficult situations that have to be addressed? How do you guys play a role in that?

Judith Mowry  39:32

Those are great questions. We’re really lucky that our Police Bureau has an equity manager, a small but really great team that works through their office. I liaise a lot with the equity manager to help support their needs, provide resources, tools, and be a thinking partner. They’re doing some short videos on equity and the language we use so that they could do some training that way and as a dialogue starter for different departments and different precincts. I help talk about what we mean when we talk about equity. My boss, as I said, is the advisor to the mayor, who was the police commissioner. I know a lot of the police officers myself, because throughout my history of doing mediation in the city, many times that involved the police. So, I have a lot of those built in relationships.

The city of Portland is under a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice. DOJ found a pattern of excessive use of force on people who were suffering a mental health crisis. A lot of change actually happened within the Bureau. We got a behavioral health unit, there’s more training. There was a lot of pain in the community–I just can’t call it anything else–that the DOJ did not go further to identify racial profiling issues. They definitely exist. We have had a long pattern of stuff that’s happened for particularly Black people in Portland. Through the settlement agreement, and my understanding was that this was the first time they’ve done it this way, the DOJ created a community body. That community body was part of the agreement, worked with police, worked as an advisory, and provided some oversight over the settlement agreement.

The first iteration of that fell apart and they’ve created another iteration called Portland Committee on Community Engaged Policing. We call it PCCEP. PCCEP’s role is to make sure the settlement is monitored and go beyond. The settlement is the floor, not the ceiling in terms of what we could change. There’s a full-time project manager and a full-time administrative staff on that project. I spend a couple days a week also supporting that project. The ways that liaison relationship works can be subtle or overt. We communicate a lot. My boss will work with the mayor, who is the police commissioner. Right now, we’re doing bargaining with the police union. So, the mayor is present at all the bargaining sessions advising the city on what is acceptable in terms of equity thinking. We have a lot of ways that we interact with folks.

At one point, we had really hoped to be able to have enough staff that every staff person could have a portfolio of bureaus they worked with. That didn’t work out that way. The equity managers started to come on board and the only remaining relationship like that that we have very strongly is with me and the Police Bureau. A lot of that is because it’s been really productive. So, I prioritize them if I can. We’re trying to hire a data analyst to work in the equity office at the Police Bureau. Their funding did not allow for it, so our office wants to fund a position that would work with their equity office. We launched a recruitment and were unable to find the right candidate. So, I’ll say this for anybody listening on your podcast: if you are someone who really cares about this kind of reform, who loves data, who wants to work within the structure. It’s a challenge. You have to go through a three-month background check. There’s a lot of things that might be problematic, but I just know there’s the right person out there who wants to contribute to this.

Ame Sanders  43:54

Yeah. I want to circle back to this discussion of working within the system and working outside the system. So, we know that change happens in a lot of ways. One of the reasons I was particularly excited to talk to you is that you have done a little bit of all of that. You’ve created things outside the system, systematized things outside the system. And you are now working inside the system. One of the things that’s important for our listeners to think about is that we need change in all of these places. We need people that you talked about who go to the street and who raise their voice and who bring attention to a problem. We need that. We need people who organize that who make that happen. But, we also need people who are willing to work and do some of the difficult work inside our systems. As you mentioned, equity is about our systems. It is about the systemic design that we have of how we are interact with one another and in a city, the people we serve and where the tax dollars flow. So, there’s a need to bring accountability and an equity lens to that work as well. So, it’s really important, as you said, to find people–just like you’re recruiting for your data person–who are able to work within the system with the pace that that takes. It takes a lot of patience. And a lot of “I’m going to go this way, and I’m going to try this. I was not successful here, or what I did didn’t stick. I’m going to try another path.” It requires a lot of creativity to move things forward within an existing system.

-Working with the Community

Judith Mowry  45:46

I agree. Something that we did not do as well in the beginning was that inside-outside organizing. A lot of places they get one equity person, right? I would recommend that you work with the community from the very beginning. What are the goals? What’s the vision? And I recommend that you have of well-established group of advisors that can help you move the work through the city. Sometimes we need people who keep the pressure up. Then you need people internally who know how to leverage that pressure to get results. One of the greatest threats we have is the way we use an “us and them” mentality. The way we “other.” John Powell talks about thinking about breaking and bridging. I’ve sort of taken that into a shorthand on my own as part of the lens. Is what I am doing bridging or breaking? I feel like I have to be willing to lose my job every day to do my job well, because I am there to disrupt the system. I do it with as much love as I can, but it’s disruptive. You need the support of your community, because sometimes things get rough. You do need the community to support you on those things.

There are times when things are hard because we are not in a position to impact the kind of change as quickly as we would like to do with the Police Bureau. But, we continue to work with folks and work in different ways. I know that there are people in the community who say the pace is not fast enough. I don’t know that there was some perfect way to get people’s rights that would avoid the kind of terrible blow we’re experiencing right now. The new thing is this attack on critical race theory. I have a friend, David Campt, who does a white ally toolkit training to help white people figure out how to have these conversations. David talks about getting over our, what he calls, language fetish. We get very caught in the correctness of our language, or what we’re going to say about things. We need to be willing to shift and modify. So yes, it might be white privilege, but there are also other ways of looking at it. You can talk about advantage. There are different ways to think about things. It’s really making sure the community is at the center of it, because that is what being antiracist is about. Making sure that you’re transparent, hanging in for the tough stuff, knowing it’s a long journey. While we’ve had so much difficulty the last year, this is also a year where our state legislature has been knocking it out of the park in changing some of the stuff at the state level around policing. We’re seeing the legislation happen. We’re seeing the change happen. So, you’re right. It’s a long haul. You hang in. We’ve seen so much change. I’m so heartened by where I see the dialogue going and the people that I work with every day, who have “ah-has.”

One of the other things I want to mention is that our office has something we call the “Equity Practitioners Meeting.” That’s for anybody who works in the city who considers themselves an equity champion but might not have it in the title of their name. You want to be bringing people along and building champions, and it can’t just be the people whose jobs it is. Being willing to and humble enough to recognize that we’re going to need each other. We need each other in this work and just holding on to that. We have a woman in our community, Dr. Renee Mitchell, who does the most incredible work on Black joy. She works with young people, she works with the community on celebrating their

Blackness. That’s important because the implicit bias has worked toward the communities of color in a way that has messages of inferiority, just like the white supremist messages of white superiority are things that have been kind of baked into our culture. Those are some of the things we need to root out. There has been amazing celebration in the Black community in the midst of this hard time, and watching people come in and recognize how to heal trauma. That heals trauma, to celebrate Black joy. So, there are wonderful ways in which you see communities feeling safer to express who they are. They’re going do it even if they’re not safer. It’s good to see. I hope we just continue to make the progress. There’s a lot of fear, but again, I feel like it’s really a benefit now to be at my age. I’m 64. I was six when I marched in my first Civil Rights march with my dad, and I know that we can make progress.

Ame Sanders  51:24

So, Ms. Judith Mowry, it’s been lovely to talk to you. It’s wonderful and inspiring to know that you are heartened as you’re out there every day on the frontlines working in a large city trying to move things forward, that you remain heartened and encouraged by the work that you guys are doing, and that you’re willing to share that with the listeners here so that we can see what’s possible in a city when the city makes a commitment to equity and inclusion. And then when they put their money where their mouth is, and they put their plans where their heart is, they can really make progress. It’s wonderful to hear you share that with us. Thank you so much.

Judith Mowry  52:06

Thank you so much for having me. Thank you for your work. This is really a wonderful podcast, and I’m really excited for what I’m going to learn as time goes on listening to it as well. Thank you so much.


Ame Sanders  52:17

For those of you who are on the journey to make your communities more inclusive and equitable, there’s a section of my website where I’ve mapped out a framework for change. The changes Judith, her colleagues, and her neighbors are making in Portland are wonderful examples of how a city can make a difference through delivering more equitable community services. It requires that they do several things: center the people they serve and ensure that those people are at the table and part of their decision process, clarify and align the city around publicly stated and shared values, put their budget or money where their mouth is, build accountability around equitable outcomes, work on projects and initiatives that build containers for strong and healing conversation, commit to this work for the long haul. We know the arc bends, but it takes commitment and time. This has been the State of Inclusion podcast. Join us again next time, and if you enjoyed this episode, the best compliment for our work is your willingness to share these ideas with others. Also, we’d love for you to let us know what you think about this episode and leave us a review. Thanks so much for listening.


Guest: Judith Mowry

Host: Ame Sanders

Social Media and Marketing Coordinator: Kayla Nelson

Podcast Coordinator: Emma Winiski

Sound: FAROUT Media

Ame Sanders
Founder of State of Inclusion. A seasoned leader & change-maker, she is focused on positive change within communities.
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