Summer after summer, Portland employers have reported a trend. Young adults with diverse backgrounds and impressive resumes came to the Pacific Northwest for job or internship opportunities, and then, just as quickly, they 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 community. The idea was that if they had the opportunity to get to know the area and each other, “they would stay and fall in love,” said Tracey Lam, the company’s director of programs and communications.
This year, say Hey! for Interns offered interns from the Portland metro area the chance to meet each other, while learning about Portland-based organizations that aim to empower people of color through outdoor activities.
The Thursday evening sun cast a warm glow over Providence Park’s Duracell Terrace, 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, came over to say Hey! to “try to get to know more people of color,” Prentice said.
“Most of our university is white,” said Mares de Juan, who is interning at Lara Media Services. “And it’s different – the way we feel and the situations we’ve been through. 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 ‘professional’ in the traditional sense. So meeting people here helps me learn more about it.
Tables lined up on one side of the bridge, with representatives from Wild Diversity, BikePOC PNW, People of Color Outdoors and Sport Oregon.
“We wanted to focus on outdoor groups this year because outdoor recreation has traditionally not been very diverse,” Lam said. “The amazing bands here aim to change that and create a safe space for people to connect.”
Pam Slaughter was working for Outdoor Afro, which helps empower black people outdoors, when she started hearing from people who weren’t black but “didn’t feel very welcome outside either.” To fill the hole in the community, she founded people of color outdoors.
When people consider hiking or camping for the first time, Slaughter said, “it’s scary.” That’s why People of Color Outdoors takes “a kind of small-step approach” to outdoor adventure.
Slaughter describes the organization as “outside laid back and social”. Think trips at Oxbow Park, Smith and Bybee Lakes and Whitaker Ponds: “Beautiful and easy places, but still wild.”
At community gatherings, there are plenty of opportunities to hike or play chess, backgammon, bingo and hopscotch, Slaughter said. This means People of Color Outdoors events welcome people of all abilities and mobility levels.
Silas Sanderson, one of the founders of @BikePOCPNW, has a similar philosophy. He thinks the cycling world is dominated by white people and men because “there is no effort to meet people where they are”.
That’s what BikePOC PNW is. Sanderson works with people to take that “first step on the ladder”. We meet people wherever they are and take them with us.
wild diversity offers activities for people with varying interests and abilities. From Watercolors in the Wild to Hoh Rainforest Backpacking, the events “keep the black, brown and queer community feeling comfortable in the outdoors,” said Dani Truss, guide for Wild Diversity. To combat exclusivity, the nonprofit sets travel prices 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 ability levels on their travels.
Truss was delighted to see so many new faces. “I’ve 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 fun getting to know and recruit a lot of people who didn’t know we existed.”
Jaqueline Cuevas-Cuna, a From college to county Oregon State intern and student, said programs like these 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 area, “having this community with you that loves you gives you hope.”