By: Molly Mayo, SE Uplift Executive Director
What an exciting two years it has been here at SE Uplift! I began leadership here exactly two years ago and wanted to reflect on the journey thus far.
A significant part of our work at SE Uplift has been deepening relationships with community organizations, especially those that have been underserved by the City government and SEUL in our 50-year history. SE Uplift is very happy to now be sharing our building with folks from diverse organizations. Over the past year, we have welcomed Disability Art and Culture Project and Portland Refugee Support Organization to our building, and new tenants Portland United Against Hate and Sankofa Collective NW join us this month! Oregon Prison Project continues as a long-time tenant. Please join SE Uplift staff in ensuring that the building is an active anti-racist, anti-ableist, inclusive space that welcomes all gender identities, all folks regardless of country of origin, immigrant status, those who are housed or unhoused, all sexual orientations, and all races and ethnicities. SE Uplift is a hate-free zone. It is imperative that our organizational culture evolve and adapt to accurately reflect our stated values. This means we commit to constantly learning and deepening our understanding of systems of oppression and privilege, and work towards greater justice and inclusivity.
As part of this journey towards a more just and inclusive community, over the past two years, SE Uplift has taken many steps— from building relationships to offering social justice trainings to revamping our mission statement. Events that SE Uplift has hosted to enrich community knowledge and skills in inclusive practices include White Ally Toolkit, Disability Justice, Everyone Can Be A Leader: Exploring Non-Traditional Community Leadership, and many others. Under my leadership, SE Uplift developed a new mission statement, with updated language that removed exclusive phrasing, and we celebrated its one year anniversary this past May!
The SEUL board of directors has undergone a series of trainings in social and racial justice from Momentum Alliance over the past year, and I’m proud of forming a DEI leadership team that is facilitated by the renowned Cliff Jones. I’m grateful for the support of our board— especially chair Reuben Deumling and past chair Terry Dublinski-Milton— in agreeing that re-examining SE Uplift through a DEI lens is a priority for our organization. This important work will continue and there is much that lies ahead of us.
When I started at SE Uplift the demographics of our executive committee (the functional SEUL leadership body) was 86% white male and 100% male, and as of July 2 I’m thrilled to report that our executive body is now 50% female-identified, with gay, queer, non-gender conforming, immigrant, native, and POC representation. I want to deeply thank these new SEUL leaders who have stepped forward.
Our staff at SE Uplift have always been incredible. When I arrived at SE Uplift only one staff member identified as POC, and now our staff reflects a demographic of 67% People of Color. Our staff has the lived experience, intelligence, compassion, and equity analysis needed to carry this organization into the future. Collectively we speak English, Spanish, French, Creole, Urdu, Punjabi, and Hindi with a bit of Portuguese, and Arabic. We reflect different gender identities, religions, sexual orientations, cultures, ethnicities, and countries of origin. Our diversity makes us so much stronger! We are building authentic relationships with communities that have been unserved by our organization in the past and historically under-represented and marginalized in City processes. The brilliance our team has shown creating positive change working within a historically white organization, and plowing forward amidst a sea of change and uncertainty as well as widespread community controversy surrounding those changes, deserves profound acknowledgment, recognition and appreciation.
Some examples of the incredible work our team has accomplished over the past two years:
Mireaya Medina, Communications Manager and Community Clean-up Events Coordinator has extended the BPS CCE grant program to include innovative partnerships such as working with working Right 2 Survive, Beyond Black, Mudbone Grown and Rosewood Initiative on a Tiny Village event to raise awareness around waste reduction due to displacement while encouraging folks to recycle electronics and organized a POC Earth Day event with black, brown, LGBTQIA, and undocumented day laborers clean up litter and sharps in partnership with Sankofa Northwest Collective, VOZ Worker Education Project, St. Francis and community volunteers.
Leah Fisher, Neighborhood Planning Program Manager, headed the SEUL partnership with Urban League to install sign-caps in Amharic and English to honor the 30 year anniversary of the racist murder of Mulugeta Seraw in the Kerns neighborhood.
Christina Estime, Operations and Events Manager, has filled our conference room schedule with diverse community groups and led the effort of having SE Uplift marching in the Portland Juneteenth parade for the first time. (see photo below of SEUL staff and friends)
Gaby Saldana-Lopez, Fiscal Planning Manager, opened up our fiscal sponsorship program to three new sponsorees: Portland United Against Hate (coalition of 70 community-based organizations addressing hate incidents that occur in Portland), Constructing the Present (gentrification healing circles, and community forums titled ‘Connecting Across Difference’) and Sankofa Collective NW (led and for Portland’s Black LGBTQ community).
Muz Azal, Small Grants Manager, has overseen two small grants cycles dedicated to supporting projects that empower and involve community members to shape and create their communities. Recent completed grants included a celebration for the new stage built at Portland Mercado by Benson High School (see photo of Aztec dancers at the Mercado celebration), unveiling of a Czech linden tree mosaic at the Brentwood Darlington Community Center, a political training workshop for Spanish speakers, a renters’ rights training, and workshops developed by PDX Through a Latinx Lens.
Intern Lashawn McCarthy is working on a project to acknowledge the native people and land that is now occupied by the SE Uplift building.
Over the past two years we’ve also made tons of improvements around our building, including covered bike parking, beautiful fencing, interior painting, new rain gardens and on-site stormwater management, new conference room furniture, and we even installed a smart tv in our basement conference room and wireless projector and speaker in our main conference room. These strides, along with upgrading our computers and technology, increase our ability to be an inclusive and welcoming community center. These major upgrades have been possible due to coming in under-budget every year!
If you’d like to read more about the past two years at SE Uplift, including celebrating our 50th birthday and honoring long-time leaders of the neighborhood association system, our extensive work with Portland United Against Hate, and the many additional accomplishments of our staff (see picture from Leah and Mireaya’s 3 year work anniversary party— they are wearing crowns) and board, feel free to browse through our 2017-2018 quarterly and annual reporting to Civic Life, our 2018-2019 6 month report to Civic Life, and please stay tuned for our 2018-2019 final grant report!
While we reflect on the past and plan for the future, let’s make sure to honor our mission of collaborating to build informed, inclusive and participatory communities that support our social and ecological well-being.
- Mulugeta Seraw Commemoration Conference, November 13, 2018. (Photo by Antonio Harris)