Article by Brittany Quick-Warner, Chamber CEO
When the new year kicked off, like many of you, our organization had big plans we were excited to execute in 2020. We had been working hard to recruit and hire for new positions on our growing team. We were finally ready to transition our members to a new membership model that was years in the making, and we were launching a new economic development nonprofit, Onward Eugene, to focus on creating inclusive prosperity for our region.
You know what they say about the best-laid plans... None of us could have imagined how quickly our worlds and our plans could turn upside down.
I vividly remember sitting in my office in early March reading article after article and the reality setting in that this coronavirus was coming to US soil whether we were ready or not. Within a matter of hours, we were shifting the way we executed every single thing we did from events to advocacy and business development. Our country and community began shutting down, and our economy took a nosedive into a recession that we thought may still be months if not a year or two away.
As if all of that wasn’t challenging enough, just as we were adjusting to a new normal and putting together a campaign to support our businesses as they reopened; our country witnessed the tragic death of George Floyd and the tipping point in a decades-long movement to bring light to the racial inequity plaguing our nation.
While the specific activities we planned to engage in this year were significantly altered, ironically, our strategic focus on business engagement and inclusive prosperity could not have been more timely.
Achieving inclusive prosperity requires us to support businesses small and large. It also requires us to address the institutional and systemic racism that is holding many members of our community back from real prosperity.
The work of course-correcting hundreds of years of oppression and racism feels impossibly hard and exhausting. As does the work of leading our community through an economic recovery that is sure to take a few years and hundreds of hours of work.
But the problem is, it is nowhere near as exhausting as it must be to personally experience racial oppression as a person of color in our society. I am not a person of color. I will never fully understand their pain. But I can make myself uncomfortable for as long as it takes to move us closer to a community that truly offers inclusive prosperity for all individuals living here.
The reality is, I am not exactly sure where to start. I am certain we will misstep and get some of this work wrong. But, I am also sure that using those things as an excuse for not starting is the worst possible thing we could do.
As a chamber one of our core values is “bold leadership” and that means we need to have the courage to go first, to push people (including ourselves) out of their comfort zones and to put our organization and community in new and uncomfortable situations—because it is the right thing to do. And so we are choosing to start by listening and by learning. We are reading to understand and listening to really hear people.
I believe all of these crises are colliding in our universe for a reason and we cannot miss our opportunity for improvement. We have a chance to rebuild. Rebuild our communities in a way that supports all of our citizens. We are pursuing inclusive prosperity for every single person in our community and it starts with stepping out of our comfort zone and doing better ourselves. I hope you will join me.
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