PORTLAND, Ore.— An Oregon group that represents minorities plans to offer scholarships for White college students to study race relations and help champion issues important to minorities.
“I want to reach White students because I believe the more the majority is involved in our conversations and in our work, the more we are able to get to solutions,” said Promise King, executive director of the Oregon League of Minority Voters.
King told The Oregonian that details for the scholarships are being worked out, but the first are expected to be awarded this spring and will be about $2,000 over five years. Recipients must live in Oregon and can’t be of Asian, African, Latino or Native descent.
Whites far outnumber people of color in Oregon, who make up about 20 percent of the state’s population. Of the 90 members in the Oregon Legislature, all but three are White.
“The minorities we have in Oregon are not in a position to effect changes,” King said. “The ones in position to effect changes are White.”
Not all minority leaders are comfortable with the scholarships.
Nichole Maher, executive director of the Native American Youth Family Center in Portland, welcomes any move to get Whites involved in matters important to minorities, but doesn’t think Oregon lacks qualified people of color to serve in office or shape public policy. Members of minority groups need to lead discussions on poverty, discrimination and schools, she said.
“Promise’s group should not just focus on Whites being good allies but ensuring those people use their power and influence to give up their spot for a person of color,” she said.
King, a native of Nigeria, said he deliberately courted White leaders when he launched the group in 2007.
“I feel really disturbed when I go to these diversity meetings and they’re all brown or black people, they’re Asian or Hispanic,” King said.
“We preach to ourselves.”
Former state Rep. Jo Ann Bowman, who Is African-American, isn’t sure how she feels about spending cash on Whites. But, she readily agrees that diversity and equity matters shouldn’t be limited to people of color.
“It’s certainly thought provoking,” Bowman said.
Others are in favor.
“I love it,” said Kendall Clawson, a self-described middle-class African-American and executive director of Q Center, a North Portland nonprofit group that serves the gay, lesbian, and transgender communities.
“This is an interesting way of sort of taking the excuse away of ‘I didn’t know about that’ or ‘I’m not informed’ or ‘I’ve never experienced that,’” he said.