Our staff enjoyed Ms. MaryEtta's dinámicas, which are intentional games developed by educators in Latin America.

We at United Way of the Columbia-Willamette believe Black History Month is every month (a helpful belief seeing as our All Staff event was canceled last month due to the snow!) Black Americans have had an indelible and beautiful impact on our nation throughout its history, despite the pains and prejudices they have endured. American history is Black history and the impacts Black Americans have had, through their resilience, curiosity, acumen and love, should be celebrated daily. As a staff, we are continuing on our journey of understanding in order to best implement our commitment to racial equity in every way we interface with the community.

"If we are going to be our best, we have to start here before we get out to the folks we serve," said Ms. MaryEtta Callier-Wells, pointing to her heart.

We invited Ms. Callier-Wells to our office downtown to speak with us about the impact Black Americans have had, and continue to have, on our nation, and to help continue and broaden our understanding of racial equity. She's a raucous and riveting speaker, drawing from her deep well of experience as a teacher, singer and storyteller. She's a New Orleans woman at heart, and she brings the soul of that city into every room she enters, lighting it up with grace and exuberance. She spoke to our team about staying calm in the face of chaos, bringing our authentic selves to every meeting, embracing the discomfort in addressing issues of racial equity and creating a collaborative community that can build a better world.

"Everyone in this room has got a pot of gumbo. Everyone has a situational pot of gumbo, but it's not my job to put the ingredients in it. Everyone here has something to teach their colleagues, without taking over."

Ms. MaryEtta Callier-Wells

She shared one story of her youth, emphasizing the confidence she had to stand up for what she new was right. As the youngest member of her family, she credited her self confidence to all the lessons she carries with her from her siblings and parents. When a teacher once tried to correct her on the spelling and pronunciation of her name, she stood strong, telling him they maybe should take this up with the principal of the school. Walking down the hall with the headstrong assertion that she KNEW she was right, the teacher and her met up with her parents and the principal. She politely described to them what had happened, and as her parents beamed in pride, the principal quickly set the matter straight, leaving her teacher humbled and her with a lesson for life.

This story, as well as a myriad of other nuggets of insight that came out of her talk with our staff, will now be carried forward as we continue to strive for a deeper, more loving connection to the communities we work alongside. Though our continued All Staff readings on racial equity, and many a discussion with each other and community members, are helpful in broadening our understanding, Ms. MaryEtta's presence brought a more concrete and beneficial connection to the work we do. Thank you Ms. MaryEtta Callier-Wells! And thanks to the talented caterers at Miss'ipi Chef for the bountiful spread post-discussion.

As enlightening as our discussion with Ms. MaryEtta was, the highlight may have been the delicious catering from Miss'ipi Chefs. Check 'em out! You won't be disappointed, nor will you go home hungry.