The following story is an honest peak into what “doing the work” looks like inside OMPA. It can get messy, but it’s worth it! Here’s where we’re at in June 2021…
This “assignment” was originally to draft a formal statement recognizing the 1-year anniversary of George Floyd’s death and our subsequent Black Lives Matter (BLM) Statement. We were one of hundreds of other companies to publish one, of course. But we made promises, so now it must be time to show our work. Right?
I originally pushed back pretty hard on writing a George Floyd anniversary message. At the time I was supposed to be developing that statement, I was crying for Roland Greene and his family. The police had murdered him, too (WARNING: graphic photos). I wondered how we as a society could be so obsessed with this one moment—as representative as George Floyd’s death may be—when the sick culture that led to both these men’s murders is still alive and well today. It just didn’t sit right with me. I didn’t want to be a part of what I felt was trivializing or exploiting someone’s death.
Wasn’t as righteous as it sounds…
PLAY POORLY OR DON’T PLAY AT ALL?
I heard that recently—that out of fear people often decide it’s better to not try than to try and fail. We’re afraid we’ll do more harm than good because we’re unfamiliar. In our case, it’s often about balancing the unique needs of People of Color (POC) vs. requiring them to do the extra work to fulfill those needs. So, it wasn’t fair to cop out of writing based on White Guilt.
May 25, George Floyd’s death date, came and went without any public acknowledgement from OMPA. I’d be willing to bet that Black and Brown folx care much less, if at all, about this kind of statement from OMPA than they do about safety, security, happiness, family, etc. (Don’t we all prioritize those things?) But even with that particular date passed, doing nothing still didn’t feel right either.
The Good, The Bad, and The Industry
This July will be 1-year from when our Board of Directors voted to formally incorporate equity into OMPA’s mission. We want to be open and honest about our progress in this equity space. So, several weeks ago, we—or rather our Executive Committee & DEI Committee Co-Chair Annie Tonsiengsom—reached out to people of color on our board and committees to ask about the impact of George Floyd’s murder, and OMPA’s equity work. Their feedback was provided to the board anonymously. Here are some of their responses about OMPA and our DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) efforts.
As far as people’s general perceptions of OMPA… the reviews were mixed. People definitely said positive things said about how OMPA provides visibility and a platform, which can lead to opportunity.
“I arrived to Portland knowing not one single person. Through OMPA I’ve been able to meet people in this industry and little by little claw a small piece of the pie to be able to work and to generate opportunities for other people like me.”
“The biggest impact OMPA has had on me as a person of color is the ability to have a platform for speaking up about the issues that are important to me. Whether or not that will contribute to measurable results is yet to be seen. But at the very least, I am afforded the opportunity to speak, which is not nothing.”
But even that comes at an expense for some:
“It has given me a larger platform to affect change in the industry as well as a way to connect with others who feel the same way. It has also exposed me to a lot of toxic ideas and people in the community who are committed to upholding white supremacy (intentional or not) and so I have also experienced some triggering episodes as well as doubted my ability to remain committed to this journey.”
It’s heartbreaking to hear about the pain people face even within our own board and committee meetings. This one particular response really spoke to me because it sums up several common themes well. And it’s all behavior or culture that I can attest to.
“I think there is a problem with directness when it comes to addressing problematic behavior from white members and they are continually given a platform to air concerns about losing money or work at the expense of POC while POC members have to sit politely and listen to someone saying to a group of their peers they don’t care if we have careers or opportunities so long as it doesn’t affect white people negatively. There needs to be some type of moderation of these types of concerns that are not put on the POC who are in the meeting already giving their labor in other more constructive ways.”
Well, that’s a clear call to action. We need education and peer mediation for safe, productive meetings.
Was there consensus? No. But that’s okay.
So, how ‘bout that equity work? Let’s start light:
“OMPA is still learning the work, which is a part of doing the work. I think the organization is doing more than previous years. The ideas are in place and people are coming in behind those ideas.”
“I think OMPA is off to a good start. I really noticed the centering of events for POC in the community like COCO and that made me feel like tangible action was being taken to include POC and not just lean into the myth that POC creatives don’t exist in Oregon or there aren’t that many of us.”
“It’s so radically different (in a good way) than it was a couple years ago, it’s hard to call out a specific area of ‘playing it safe’.”
However, others are really not seeing significant changes:
“I think kind of at this point doing the bare minimum. Hiring a consultant to rectify years of colorblindness and making an effort to have more board members of color so the board better represents the community it serves.”
“OMPA is unwilling to dedicate time and resources to the initiatives that have the potential to make the most impact.”
Given that these responses are from board and committee members, hopefully that means they’re passionate enough to remain involved. Transforming the organization—and the industry—to advocate for more people’s interests will definitely take persistence!
PUSHING FORWARD ANYWAYS
Clearly, there was—or rather is—a lot to address. My immediate reaction to the responses was that we needed to pivot from concern for a public statement to the need for internal training and resolution. We eventually decided that this was a “both/and” scenario, so here we are.
As you may know, we’ve been working with a Strategist, Nina Byrd, for several months now. She’s helping us assess where we’re at and where we should go on our equity-centered mission, then shaping our business strategy around that.
Being the writer of this evolving post, I wanted more guidance. I talked with Nina about how much I was struggling with the competing goals of the push for this anniversary statement vs. doing something more meaningful for Black folx vs. keeping our community informed about our equity journey. Nina reassured me that the only “statement” like this she’d ever seen that really felt meaningful was the APA’s apology to BIPOC for racism in the psychiatric field.
After discussing a way forward on each of the three goals with Nina, I joined the Executive Committee meeting the next day to recap. That group includes Co-Chairs Annie Tonsiengsom and Patty Brebner, plus Jason Chau, RaShaunda Brooks, and Nisha Burton. After some healthy discussion, the team agreed to move forward with a progress post and Black Creators website takeover… but relax on hitting specific anniversary dates for George Floyd’s death and our BLM statement.
Be sure to check out our homepage from June 21-28 to discover local Black artists & creators!
LESSON LEARNED: JUST KEEP GOING
Nina has to tell us this one over and over again: “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of progress!” (Or don’t let perfect be the enemy of good,” whichever you prefer.) For example, we originally told Nina it would take two weeks to draft a follow-up Black Lives Matter statement. It’s been over a month now to get here, ready to publish to the world, “warts and all.”
Maybe this is a caveat to the first one: “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.“ Meaning, sometimes dates and deadlines are antithetical to the purpose of doing something. The point isn’t to get there first, it’s to all get there together. And then thrive, together. Regardless of identity, the ultimate goals for just about everyone in the world include safety, stability, and access to opportunity.
YOUR TURN: GET INVOLVED!
There’s so much more to do! But we’re committed to continuing down this path of supporting an equitable industry; engaging the community in this process; and learning, trying, failing, learning and then trying again. We welcome the community to be part of this work, especially to help relieve some of our Black and Brown members from bearing the burden. Head over to our Committees page to see how you can get involved in this work!
Graphics you can share on social
I turned some of my favorite “lessons in DEI” into graphics you can share on social. Share your story, show your support, and invite people to get involved! #OregonCreatesTogether
ABOUT THE AUTHOR (& ARTIST) | LILLY JOYNES
I’ve been OMPA’s Communications Manager for 3 years now (as of June 1!). Having moved to Oregon less than a year before, it’s been a huge privilege to get to know the state through the local production community.
I graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2015 with a BA in Communication & Rhetoric, a Public & Professional Writing Certificate, and a Gender, Sexuality, & Women’s Studies Certificate. Bringing that intersectional feminist approach to my writing and my work is a big part of who I am! I’m thrilled that OMPA supports me exploring that.
Advocacy in Action: June Update