With hate violence and bias incidents spreading across the country, and bullying and intolerance having devastating consequences in local schools, residents of Central Oregon determined it was time to act.
Over 100 people attended a screening and discussion of the NIOT film When Hate Happens Here on March 5, and 50 diverse community members—a racially-diverse mix of city council members and city officials, law enforcement, educators, faith groups and activists—spent three hours together the next day to learn how to launch Not In Our Town and build a local movement.
“Not In Our Town has helped communities across the country,” explained Michael Funke, one of the organizers of the community events. “We felt their experience could help us organize here in Central Oregon.”
The film screening and community workshop were part of the 10th annual Season of Nonviolence organized by Karen Roth, director of the Multicultural Activities Center at Central Oregon Community College.
NIOT Founder and CEO Patrice O’Neill provided an introduction to the movement and key lessons from other communities who have been working to prevent hate and build inclusion over the past two decades. A screening of the NIOT film “When Hate Happens Here” about how four California communities stood together against hate violence, helped open up the discussion about issues facing Bend.
Local college and high school students jolted the audience with emotional testimony about how hate is happening here in Bend schools and in the community. Trentyn, a La Pine High School leader said that “racism has become the new normal” at his school. Sexist remarks and attitudes about how young women look are rampant, according to Sonya, a student at Bend High School.
“A man shoved a grocery cart at my little sister and said ‘go back to your country’ said Emily, a Summit High student who choked back tears as she spoke about what life has been like for her and her family in the past year. Bigotry by other Bend residents has brought pain and fear to her family.
“When I go into a school, I am the only teacher of color these students ever see in Bend schools,” said Marcus Le Grand, a student at COCC and a substitute teacher in local schools.
Rane Johnson-Stempson, who leads an online group of diverse local professionals, urged the crowd to acknowledge the “hate that has already happened” with the recent suicide of an African-American high school student who had been bullied. (Listen to a KPOV radio interview with the father of the student at kpov.org here.) Learn more about how to address bullying and suicide prevention.
When asked what they need from the community to support them, Emily said, “Representation.” Trentyn added, “Students need to know that if they are bullied or harassed, that the adults won’t just listen, they will do something.”
"The NIOT events brought people who might otherwise be divided together for a common goal. I hope that the Bend NIOT group continues to engage diverse voices in critical conversations about our town's values and identity."
The workshop on March 6 explored some of the challenges community members came ready to address.
“I am Vietnamese American,” said Rane Johnson-Stempson. “Usually I am safe because Asians are looked up to here. But sometimes people assume something else. I’ve been asked, ‘Are you on the wrong side of town?’ What can we do to make it a more accepting community? Bendites want that.”
“At the Latino Community Association, we had an increase in hate, bullying, and harassment calls,” said Oscar Gonzalez, Empowerment Programs Manager at LCA. “The day after the last election, someone showed us a video of students in the auditorium at Bend High chanting ‘Build the Wall.’ The Source did a story quoting us, and confirming the video. We were blasted, accused that ‘we made this up.’”
The schools were a focal point of the discussion, as workshop participants probed at how they could support the needs of the students who had revealed how hate, bias, and lack of diversity are playing out on school and campus grounds.
Referring to the student’s call for more diversity in schools, retired professor Dalton Miller-Jones said, “The problem [of racism] is generated from under-representation. White students need to see teachers and administrators of color just as badly as students of color do.”
In addition to racism, LGBT students are vulnerable, as well, said Karen Roth, director of COCC’s Multicultural Activities and one of the organizers of the event. “The numbers of teen suicides in Central Oregon have skyrocketed and 84% have been gay students. Not being accepted by peers is very difficult especially if the person doesn’t have support at home. Gay students don’t feel safe.”
Brainstorming sessions produced initial ideas for swift action.
Improving hate and bias reporting. At one small group table, leaders of Latino organizations joined representatives from Bend Police Department, the City of Bend and the Sheriff’s Office to come up with ways to improve online hate crime reporting. Oscar Gonzalez of LCA said his group would act as a liaison with community members who may be reticent to report crimes directly to law enforcement.
Training in How to Be an Ally. Open and honest remarks helped surface some ideas on how to address white blindness/white privilege. One community member said she didn’t know about what language may be harmful, and lacked understanding about micro-aggressions, for example. Kerani Mitchell suggested she could help lead a session on How to be an Ally. Liliana Cabrera often leads cultural competency workshops and volunteered to assist on this.
Not In Our Schools. Teachers and community activists, working with the teachers’ union, will continue to work with students in the Bend-La Pine School District to hold town hall symposiums on racism and organize Not In Our Schools clubs.
On the web. A Not in Bend webpage and Facebook page will soon be online.
Can 100 people who are ready to stand up to hate make a change in their town? Absolutely, yes they can! If this powerhouse group of leaders and active community members proceed with passion and leverage their networks, the movement can grow exponentially. Just think what a motivated group of people in a community can do to create a culture of inclusion. Bend, OR, we can’t wait to see what you do next.