1994 Diversity Conference Program (courtesy Multnomah County Archives)

Multnomah County, like many organizations, has been working to build a more inclusive workplace since the mid 1960’s. Some of the early work was prompted by outside influences – most notably the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and resultant affirmative action policies.

In 2011, the County Archives accessioned a large collection of records from the county Diversity and Equity Office. This collection, much of it representing the long and distinguished career of Affirmative Action Officer Robert Phillips, documents the county’s long and uncompleted journey toward an inclusive workplace and community. It includes 75 cubic feet of records covering all aspects of workplace diversity and equity from 1968 until the present.

What the archives shows clearly is that for the last twenty years or so, Multnomah County has replaced external pressures with internal energy as the principal driver in making change -- both within the county organization and in the community at large.

Between 1992 and 1994, county employees formed two affinity groups – the Managers of Color and the Gay and  Lesbian Employees Everywhere, a Countywide Cultural Diversity Committee, the first Diversity Conference, and the first county proclamation of Black History Month (then African-American History Month).  This burst of activity, over a short period of time, was the foundation upon which many key county initiatives rests.

The journey to inclusion never ends. We are not a post-racial society. The existence of Black History Month is just one example that this conversation is still occurring and evolving and that we have so much work left to do. But we have a means to note our progress. The popularity and success of the Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration, the Northwest Public Employees Diversity Conference, the expanded role of affinity groups, the central role of inclusion and equity in county policies,  the growing cadre of leaders of color like the recently honored Patricia Welch – none of these occurred in a vacuum. They trace their roots to dedicated and enthusiastic county leaders who wanted to change their world.

Their stories sit in the archives just waiting to be heard. Come listen some time.