Equity Update – Juneteenth 2023

June 19, 2023

On June 19, 2023, AFO recognized Juneteenth as a staff holiday. As a white-majority organization, we held a lunch and learn meeting to discuss our interpretations of the holiday and how AFO can show up for our Black community members, and community members from marginalized communities more broadly. The following is a recap of this conversation and our continued efforts to learn and unlearn while being champions for equity, justice, and inclusion in the architecture, engineering, and construction fields in Oregon.

All staff members were prompted to listen to and explore resources related to the history of Juneteenth, contemporary practices, and the legacy of Black architect Phil Freelon.

Our discussion was led by the following prompts:

What did we know about Juneteenth prior to this year’s holiday, and what our key takeaways were from the podcasts and readings?

  • Very little exposure to the holiday before 2020 and have been learning more each year since
  • Interest in the balance between remembering past and current trauma that befalls Black communities while also using the holiday to celebrate culture and livelihoods
  • Once again reminded of the incredibly low numbers of registered Black architects nationwide and especially in Oregon, and how individuals like Phil Freelon have been trailblazers in the architecture field

What does Juneteenth mean to AFO?

  • Recognizing the whiteness of PDX/Oregon
  • The less you see yourself represented, the less you feel a part of something
  • Addressing our role in engaging people of color with Architects in Schools classrooms so that students of color can see themselves represented
  • Recognizing the need to feel a part of the design of your own community
  • Use the day to celebrate – do not focus on Black suffering (not our place, there are other opportunities to work on dismantling this)
  • What does the holiday mean for us as a non-Black organization?

How do we currently show up for Black community members?

  • Honoring Hermann Colas Jr. as Honored Citizen (first year to honor a Black individual)
  • Selecting Van Evera Bailey Fellows Kayin Talton Davis and Cleo Davis
  • Hart scholarship (and others)
  • Architects in Schools camps have included history of Black population in built environment (Vanport, Albina)
  • Trauma-Informed Workshops for Architects in Schools volunteers, board, and community members
  • Prioritizing participation from BIPOC individuals in volunteering
  • Promotion of and partnership with other inclusive programs and events (NAMC, DAO-G, NOMA)
  • Hiring non-white vendors
  • Sharing that we are taking this day as a holiday

How can we further our support for black community members?

  • Board representation, committee representation
  • Create a board seat/scholarship to minimize barriers
      • Recognize how much people want the time from Black board members
      • How do we lead with intention in this demand for the voices of folks of color?
  • Carry through scholars/fellows to be long-term AFO community members
  • Create an environment of inclusion for folks of all backgrounds to feel that they belong in
  • Talk to former Black board members that have cycled off to better understand why they left
  • Establish and widely share a non-discrimination policy
  • Ensure that our work/equity statement is broadly used so that people are aware of what we’re doing
  • Keeping statement about women and minorities not applying to jobs, encourage applications
  • Have conversations with staff members of color to think of what we can be doing better/more of to support everyone
  • Establish floating holidays to recognize the many cultures represented by staff
  • Recognizing some cultural “norms” that might make folks uncomfortable and create a safe space for people to share their needs and bring their whole selves to work
      • May or may not be cultural – could be mental or physical health related. How can we share the activities of events and make sure people feel comfortable with the premise?

How should we approach future days/months that celebrate marginalized communities in an authentic way?

  • Put the calendar of holidays together, look at it alongside our own calendar to identify ways that we can bring attention to things within our programming
  • Add to hubs and student opportunities calendars
  • Amplify people in the communities we are celebrating
  • Add in organizations that represent each group that we can support
  • If we show up for one group, we need to show up for all
  • Professional development goals: Days to do work to advance our understanding of marginalized community

How can we be transparent about our work and hold ourselves accountable to our commitments?

  • Sharing our Juneteenth conversation
  • Must be transparent to lead by example
  • Identify regular times to continue the conversation, make sure that it continues beyond Juneteenth to show our commitments
  • Focus on “I statements,” specific language about what we will do
  • Add to workplan every year (include aspirational and immediate goals)
  • Be intentional about how we talk and write about culturally-specific things
  • Report out to board from our Executive Director

How do we respond to criticism?

  • Have a process to support people when they bring up a concern or need
  • Recognize our imperfections and how we are learning
  • Encourage conversation and a sense of belonging among our staff, board, and volunteers
  • Identify a DEI expert consultant to ask questions of when they arise
  • Have a non-discrimination policy
  • Continue professional development in JEDI work
  • Be open to education and learning/unlearning
  • Be able to share our approaches to equity and inclusion
  • Add all equity and inclusion work to our documents and websites for transparency to share with people