Dear friends and neighbors,
We’ve all been told that the secret to good communication is the ability to listen. Think of how many times you’ve heard that it’s not enough to ask the perfect question; you must also remember to listen to the answer. Whether you’ve heard this from a mother, a partner, a teacher, or a friend, we know what they’re saying: being heard, being genuinely heard, is powerful. It shows respect, empathy and a desire to work together.
It is no different in government. One of our highest responsibilities at Multnomah County is to listen to our communities, but to do it well we have to do it authentically.
This is why our first response to a community issue should never be “we’re going to fix this.” Instead, it should always be “we’re going to listen, learn and work together.” Not only is it the right thing to do, but we know that we have a stronger chance of solving issues when affected communities shape the solutions.
Recently, I had the honor of meeting with eight incredible women who are putting their lived experience into action. They are the staff at the new Diane Wade House, a first-of-its-kind transitional-housing program for women in the criminal justice system.
The mentoring and life-skills offered at Diane Wade were all shaped by these eight women – women-of-color who have experienced the criminal-justice system first-hand. As such, the services are afro-centric and trauma-informed, designed to address the unique traumas experienced by women-of-color in the criminal-justice system.
In 2016, a MacArthur Foundation report further confirmed what we already knew from hearing from community members. The report showed that jail use in Multnomah County disproportionately affected people-of-color.a
These kinds of disparities are unacceptable and are inconsistent with our community values. But they can only be reversed if we are committed to listening and working together with affected communities. The Diane Wade House, with its focus on lived experience, is a model for the kind of community-led efforts that will help us continue to address these disparities.
As our community remains challenged by institutional racism and a national economy that favors the wealthy, our policies will only able to support the people affected if they are actually shaped by the people affected. That means asking, listening, and working together.
We Need Your Input!
At the County, we’re working everyday to provide excellent, efficient and culturally responsive services. To truly make that happen, we need to have a committed staff that understands the diverse needs of our community. We also want to hear directly from community members themselves about what works, what needs improvement and who we’re missing.
Voters recognized this back in 1984, when they established the Office of Community Involvement (OCI) and directed the Board to create an advisory committee. The Community Involvement Committee (CIC) that evolved is one platform that creates opportunities for County staff and leadership to hear those voices.
My colleagues and I look to partner with the OCI and CIC for advice and guidance on civic involvement practices. The committee has the potential to improve County departments, programs and services in a meaningful way. Unfortunately that has not happened. As a result, earlier this summer, our Board hit “pause’’ so we could determine what structure and support is needed to build that two-way communication between the Board of Commissioners and the people we serve while ensuring we are reflecting our diverse community values and needs. It is time for the CIC to evolve and involve.
Please take a few minutes to complete this survey. We will use your feedback to guide us through the next phase of updating our outdated involvement practices and policies related to the CIC.