A Black History Month proclamation made by the Bend City Council has upset some people of color in Central Oregon, including the author of the proclamation, who says the council changed it so much the original message of the document was lost.
Last week, the City Council read a proclamation for Black History Month that outlined racist practices in Oregon’s history and called on the people of Bend to join the council “in honoring Black History Month, learning about the history of Black people in Oregon, and combating racism and white supremacy.”
But Josie Stanfield, the leader of the group Central Oregon Diversity Project and original author of the proclamation, was stunned to learn how the proclamation did not resemble what she submitted to the city months prior.
The original submission was a Black Lives Matter resolution, Stanfield said. It was written in a way to focus around Bend specifically, and to call on the Bend City Council to have a lifetime commitment to stand up for Black lives.
Stanfield was inspired to write the proclamation after Donald Trump supporters and racial justice activists clashed on Oct. 3 in Bend, an event that came on the heels of a summer full of local and nationwide protests against racial injustice after the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by Minneapolis police. His death brought much higher visibility and awareness to the inequities Black, Indigenous and people of color face.
Shortly after the event, Bend Police Chief Mike Krantz gave what Stanfield considers an inadequate statement, so she decided to write something for the whole city to acknowledge Black lives matter.
But it ended up just being focused more on history instead, Stanfield said.
“You can say all day Black lives matter … but if you are actively silencing and taking the work of Black women, do you really mean it?” Stanfield said Friday.
The altered proclamation drove Luke Richter, the leader of the activist group Central Oregon Peacekeepers, to announce his run for mayor next year, according to Richter’s Facebook page.
Kerstin Arias, a former leader of the diversity project, characterized the changes as a “watered down” version of what Stanfield wrote. Instead of standing with Black Bend residents, the city created a history forum, she said.
“That’s not what we asked you. That’s not what you were supposed to be held accountable for. You were supposed to be held accountable for actually representing the BIPOC and the Black people in this community that has been failed for many years,” Arias said, using an acronym for Black, Indigenous and people of color. “It is hurtful to be played, in a sense. For still not being seen as enough and still not being seen as we matter.”
On Monday, Councilor Gena Goodman-Campbell, who edited the proclamation into the version that was read last week, said the issues surrounding the document are a product of unfortunate miscommunication.
After receiving Stanfield’s proclamation in the fall, Goodman-Campbell said the plan was to present it sometime in January. But the council schedule got full, and it was moved to February, a month that Goodman-Campbell realized was Black History Month.
So Goodman-Campbell proposed to Stanfield to change it to be a more educational piece about Black history. Emails obtained by The Bulletin show Stanfield calling the idea “wonderful,” saying that her document was a framework from which to work.
But when Goodman-Campbell sent the edited copy to Stanfield, she never received it. Due to some internal conflict within the Central Oregon Diversity Project group, Stanfield said she was locked out of her group’s email account the days before the proclamation was read.
Goodman-Campbell said she didn’t realize she wasn’t receiving emails, and didn’t have Stanfield’s phone number to call, though she recognized she could have found someone to try to call Stanfield for her. She felt bad that Stanfield was excluded from the editing process and attending the meeting at which it was read.
“It wasn’t my intention in the editing process to change it so drastically so she wouldn’t see the main ideas she wanted conveyed,” Goodman-Campbell said.
She regrets changing the title of the proclamation from her original edit, which read “A resolution honoring Black History Month and declaring that Black Lives Matter in Bend, Oregon,” to just “Honoring Black History Month”. Goodman-Campbell said she only changed it to help fit words on a page and to make the heading make grammatical sense.
“I should have left it in the title and that was my mistake,” Goodman-Campbell said.
Goodman-Campbell said she thought it was important to include history about Oregon’s previous racist policies and laws, such as laws preventing Black people from owning real estate or voting, to provide context to white people who likely weren’t taught this history in school.
“But that’s what I thought was important,” said Goodman-Campbell, who is white. “I do feel badly that I missed what they felt was important in this. I definitely want to keep working with them to make sure we get it right next time.”
Both Goodman-Campbell and Councilor Megan Perkins, who was involved in initial discussions about the proclamation, said there were lessons learned about the situation, and emphasized the importance of committing to action, not just words, to make Bend a more equitable place.
“This is a prime example of … the intention was good but the impact was harmful to members of the community that this proclamation was intended to support,” Perkins said Tuesday. “The best thing we can do now is show our commitment by action, rather than continuing to talk about proclamations.”