Portland employers reported a pattern summer after summer. Young adults with diverse backgrounds and impressive resumes came to the Pacific Northwest for job or internship opportunities—and then, just as quickly, left.
So Partners in Diversity, an Oregon-based nonprofit that helps employers promote diversity, equity, and inclusion, created Say Hey! Networking events to help color professionals build a community. The idea was that if they had the opportunity to get to know the region and each other, they would “stay and fall in love,” said Tracey Lam, the company’s director of programs and communications.
This year’s Say Hey! for Interns provided interns from the Portland area with a chance to meet while also learning about Portland-based organizations dedicated to empowering people of color through outdoor activities.
The Thursday evening sun cast a warm glow on Providence Park’s Duracell Deck, where interns chatted and munched hors d’oeuvres while DJ HNST played everything from hip hop to reggaeton.
Kristell Mares de Juan and Makayla Prentice, friends at Willamette University, joined Say Hey! “Trying to meet more people of color,” Prentice said.
“Most of our university is white,” said Mares de Juan, who interns at Lara Media Services. “And it’s different – the way we feel and situations that we’ve experienced. It’s harder, but programs that bring people of color together help.”
Prentice, an intern at The Dyrt, agreed. “I don’t really know what it’s like to be in the ‘professional world’ because nobody around me is ‘a professional’ in the traditional sense. Meeting people here helps me learn more about them.”
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To one side of the deck were tables with representatives from Wild Diversity, BikePOC PNW, People of Color Outdoors and Sport Oregon.
“We wanted to focus on outdoor groups this year because traditionally outdoor recreation hasn’t been very diverse,” Lam said. “The amazing groups here want to change that and create a safe space for people to connect.”
Pam Slaughter was working for Outdoor Afro, which helps empower black people in nature, when she started hearing from people who weren’t black but “also didn’t feel very welcome out there.” To fill the hole in the community, she founded People of Color Outdoors.
When people first think of hiking or camping, Slaughter says, “It’s scary.” Because of this, People of Color Outdoors takes “a kind of baby steps approach” to outdoor adventures.
Slaughter describes the organization as “chill, social outdoors”. Think trips to Oxbow Park, Smith and Bybee Lakes and Whitaker Ponds: “Places that are nice and simple but still wild.”
At community gatherings, there are opportunities to do a lot of hiking — or play chess, backgammon, bingo and hopscotch, Slaughter said. This means that People of Color Outdoors events are suitable for people of all ability and mobility levels.
Silas Sanderson, one of the founders of @BikePOCPNW, has a similar philosophy. He believes the cycling world is white and male dominated because “there’s no effort to pick people up where they are”.
That’s what BikePOC PNW is all about. Sanderson works with people to take “the first step up the ladder.” We pick people up where they are and bring them with us.”
Wild Diversity offers activities for people with different interests and abilities. From Watercolors in the Wild to Hoh Rainforest Backpacking, events “make it easier for the Black, Brown and queer community to feel comfortable in nature,” said Dani Truss, a leader for Wild Diversity. To combat exclusivity, the nonprofit rates trips on a “pay what you can” basis, offers a gear library where people can rent gear they don’t have, and takes care to accommodate all skill levels in their trips .
Truss was thrilled to see so many new faces. “I met so many people today who are interested in the outdoors but don’t feel welcome because Portland is very white and cis[gender] when it comes to outdoor events,” they said. “It was so much fun getting to know and recruiting a lot of people who didn’t know we existed.”
Jaqueline Cuevas-Cuna, a College to County intern and Oregon state student, said programs like this are “opportunities I wouldn’t have found if I hadn’t come.”
She said events like Say Hey! are important because when you’re underrepresented in a predominantly white neighborhood, “it gives you hope to have this community that loves you with you.”