On Supporting Leaders of Color
Last Wednesday, Students for Education, Equity, and Direct Service (SEEDS) and the Office of Institutional Diversity (OID) held their very first Collective Voices: Solidarity series. The goal of the series is to bring what is happening in the greater Portland area to Reed and to help students make connections outside of the Reed bubble.
The first guest of the Collective Voices series was Ana Del Roció. Del Roció is the Executive Director of Color PAC and Oregon Futures Lab, an organization that is devoted to supporting leaders of color seeking to be appointed or elected to office in Oregon.
Del Roció’s background is in education and public policy. She was a public school teacher in the South Bronx before beginning to work with a nonprofit for educational justice. She discovered her passion for public policy when she moved to Oregon and began working for Jessica Vega Pederson in the Oregon House of Representatives. When Del Roció spoke about her time working in the State Legislature, she emphasized the importance of “access to democracy.” She found that people in her community had an ease of access to their legislator to discuss the issues that they cared about. With the way the state legislature allowed access to representatives’ time, Del Roció found that these representatives were “accountable to the communities on the ground.” The direct contact made sure that there were voices to the letters, and faces to the phone calls.
After finishing her work with Representative Pederson, Del Roció ran and won a seat on a district school board, as one of two people of color on the board in a district that was only 40% white. However, despite the important work she was doing, Del Roció stepped down. She, and other public officials like her, struggled to work a difficult job while also maintaining a household and raising kids.
That’s where Color PAC and Oregon Futures comes in. Their purpose is to support leaders of color. What’s interesting about the system of support that Color PAC and Orgon Futures Lab builds is that it generates fair accountability. Del Roció said that “accountability without support is simply a witch hunt.” She emphasized that in order to hold an official truly accountable, the “line in the sand” must be “crystal clear.”
Del Roció described how the system of support for leaders of color in public office relies on critical mass, training, and peer networking. It’s not simply about accountability from the outside in, but accountability from the inside out. Leaders need critical mass, a large enough support to be able to win battles, so Color PAC helps leaders know what battles to fight and when it’s necessary to maintain your position. Color PAC prepares good campaigners to be good officials. The transition from the campaign trail to office entails training in skills for working in the public sector and issue based trainings as well. It’s not enough to simply get a person into office, it’s about making sure these officials know what to do once they get there. And once they’re in office, it’s also important that they network. Peer networking makes it sustainable for an official to stay in office, providing them a network that ensures retention. Getting to critical mass, providing officials with training, and getting them a peer network all work hand in hand to dismantle generations of systems that were built to keep people of color out of office.
From the media to wages to the hostile working environments, Del Roció spoke about bringing humanity back into local public office. Del Roció’s work isn’t just about getting people of color elected into public office, it’s about making it the norm. Her goal is to be out of a job: to get to a place where the government and the system works on its own.