Oregon is a place of optimists and activists, dreamers and doers. We don’t lack for good intention when it comes to making this the best possible place for all of us. We see that in our high levels of volunteerism, generous giving from people and companies and the passion with which we speak up for causes we care about.
But good intention isn’t enough. And it’s not working. On almost every measure – household income, high school graduation, affordable housing – low-income families in our region fare worse than in much of America. For kids and families of color it’s far worse.
Right now, nearly half of our kids in Multnomah County schools are kids of color, and they are our fastest growing population. If they and their families continue to be locked out of opportunity, if our schools continue to struggle to meet their needs, and if their parents can’t get jobs to support them, the human and economic cost in the decades ahead is dizzying and unsustainable.
Simply, despite our good intentions to date, another generation of kids and families is being left behind. Right here, in our own backyard.
That’s why I applaud the Multnomah County Chair and Commissioners for taking an important step forward in the way we invest resources in the SUN Service System – the program funding after-school education and enrichment programs for thousands of low-income kids. The three changes they’ve made will pay big dividends for kids and families all over Multnomah County:
- Targeting money to schools and communities with the most pronounced achievement disparities;
- Increasing investment in culturally-specific organizations with demonstrated track records of success to deliver more services to more kids; and
- Defining and investing in culturally-responsive organizations – those mainstream organizations that have modernized their practice, diversified their staff and boards and proven their effectiveness with our quickly-changing populations.
Nearly half of kids in Multnomah County schools are kids of color. Two thirds of poor kids are kids of color. We simply can’t continue to deliver public money and services for the community we used to be. We must embrace targeted, data-driven practices and investments for the region we are today. With these important changes to the SUN System, Multnomah County is doing just that.
Keith Thomajan is President and CEO of the United Way of the Columbia Willamette.