President's Blog February 2022

President’s Blog: February 2022

Stony the road we trod, Bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat, Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered
Out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast

James Weldon Johnson, J. Rosamond Johnson
Lift Every Voice and Sing (1900 as a poem, then a song with music)

The blessing of this song is in its inspiration, candor, courage, and hope. This past first Sunday of national Black History Month, The Rev. Cecil Prescod, a member of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon’s (EMO) Board of Directors, preached the message of this iconic national anthem at Ainsworth United Church of Christ in Portland where he is the Minister of Faith Formation.

Rev. Prescod reminded us that while the first African Americans were given the Bible to placate them, they instead recognized themselves in the Old Testament stories. Enslaved, then liberated, and echoing the question the people cried out to Moses on the way to the promised land—Are we there yet?

The murder of George Floyd in 2020 unleashed a long overdue racial reckoning in this nation and in the world. Millions of people took to the streets, highways, public parks and to the bridges.

Organizations vowed to step up actions to undo racist social, economic, and political systems and become allies as well as anti-racist in all aspects of their own structures. EMO was among them.

Since its founding almost 50 years ago, EMO has sought clear actions and responses to affirm an inclusive community for nurturing the shared life of humankind. The racial reckoning advanced an urgent call from EMO’s board members and staff to explore the organization’s own responsibility and accountability in facing white privilege, implicit bias, even indirect culpability in supporting racist systems embedded for centuries in this nation’s social and political ethos.

In response, a cohort of 26 staff members was convened in 2020-2021 for an intensive yearlong Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) training with seasoned consultants. The EMO board participated in two sessions. By 2021-2022 these efforts evolved into EMO’s IDEAL principles—Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility for Life.

IDEAL is not a program, or a project housed in one section of the organization. IDEAL is a systemwide process engaging all governance and staff members with an ethical framework to assess and guide where new policies and protocols are necessary in EMO’s governance, administration, operations, personnel, and programs—as we uphold the public trust for the common good.

IDEAL offers a lens for each sector to evaluate relationships and ask questions, among them: Who is missing and why? What are the pipelines for personnel recruitment and hiring, contractors, consultants, vendors, and volunteers? How best to diversify the board and program committees? What cultural shifts are needed for how we gather and do business? What are the annual indicators we are succeeding in IDEAL? 

We have begun. We just elected the most diverse racial, ethnic, gender, age and regional representation on the EMO board of directors in the history of the organization. We can also claim the same for our 70-member staff. Our Common Table and Reckoning with Racism convenings are expanding our network of local congregations throughout the state committed to equity and racial justice.

In addition, the funds of EMO’s very first endowment are being managed by two companies—one owned by a woman and the other by a Latino professional. And a quiet decision in EMO’s Central Office brings in coffee roasted by a Portland company run by and for people with disabilities.

Are we there yet? Not when voter rights and registration processes are being denied primarily to African Americans. Not when African Americans continue to be victims of police shootings. Not when racist policies are emerging from state legislators.

Are we there yet? Not when climate resilience is not afforded to our most vulnerable communities. Not when a destructive nationalism cloaked in a type of Christianity validates racism and bigotry. Not when the basic tenets of our democracy are being threatened.

While a definitive claim of being an anti-racist organization is an ideal, through IDEAL, people who govern and the people who staff EMO will work hard to fulfill our obligations to all whom we are accountable, advocate and work for systems that uphold the dignity and well-being of every person, and in those and other ways marshal our faith understanding and resources to ensure a just society.

Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun, Let us march on till victory is won.

Blessings,Andrea Cano signatureThe Rev. Andrea R. Cano (she, her, ella)
Interim President

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