LEADERSHIP TEAM

 

Our leadership team is made up of entirely non-binary femmes and womxn

who identify as BIPoC, Latina, LGBTQ, and/or low-income with 80% being BIPoC,

60% being Black, and 60% being mothers to young children.

BRENNA HESS

Communications Director

Pronouns: she/her

Sign: Virgo

Favorite Quote:

Though she be but little, she is fierce!

 

How did you get involved in equity work?

As a privileged white-passing gal I started to get truly involved in equity issues after George Floyd was murdered. I joined all the Black Lives Matter and protest groups I could find in my community. Through one of those threads, I saw Kayla's post stating that they were starting a group called Southern Oregon Coalition for Racial Equity. After being on the first zoom call, I knew that this was the spot for me, and I wanted to get even more involved. I applied to volunteer with the group as Secretary and, probably sensing my Virgo tendencies, I got the job!

What does equity mean to you?

Equity is currently an enigma. It is something that decent people everywhere are striving for daily. There is a big difference between equality and equity. To be honest, it makes my blood boil that folks still don't seem to understand the difference. Equality, to me, means that everyone gets the exact same thing--no exceptions, no considerations, just wholly equal. Equity, on the other hand, means making things even and fair. Just because something is equal does not necessarily mean that it is fair to everyone. To be equitable, though, means that varying circumstances are taken into account resulting in a more level playing field. It is not enough to just declare that we are a country where all citizens are equal...we must be equitable first to make things truly equal for our diverse nation. 

Why did you join SOEquity?

I joined SOEquity because I didn't want to continue to just be a pissed off white lady. I wanted to DO something about my anger and sorrow regarding systemic racism in our country. I have always been a progressive, liberal gal, and I have always gotten fired up about politics and injustices in the world. However, I have never really done a thing about it other than bitch, complain, and vote. At this point, I do not think that is even close to enough. I didn't want to just sit by anymore and be a couch warrior who just shouts obscenities at Donald Trump on the news. As many have been saying for a long time, Silence = Violence and I don't want to be silent anymore!   

How long have you lived in Southern Oregon? Where else have you lived?

I was born and raised in Applegate, Oregon to my hippy parents at a little community hospital. During college, I moved to Eugene Oregon where I got a Bachelor's Degree in Interior Architecture at the University of Oregon. There, I met my husband and then we moved to, of all places, Saint George, Utah. All I can say is, hell to the no!!! I wanted to leave that place the moment we arrived. I eventually got my wish, and a year later we moved back to Portland, Oregon where I was blissfully happy being back in a Blue state surrounded by Evergreen trees. After a few years in Portland, my husband's career path brought us back down to Southern Oregon, and we now call Medford home. Aside from the overt racism, too many Trump flags, and summer fires...I love this place to pieces and feel so lucky to call it home. 

What is your lived experience with racism and oppression?

I am fortunate to have a lot of privilege and very little personal experiences with racism. My grandmother is from Jalisco, Mexico, so I identify as Latinx. I have really only ever dealt with microagressions and nothing overtly opressive. I often get asked "What are you?" by strangers (I'm a badass bitch is what I am!). I have also had an interesting experience while living in St. George where a woman came up to me in a grocery store, thrust some queso fresco in my face, and said "You look like you speak Spanish--what does this mean?" 
She then wandered back over to her husband proclaiming that "that Mexican girl said it means fresh cheese." Basically what I have come to notice is that white folks don't think I look white enough and Latinx folks don't think I look or act Latinx enough. Such is life for a 5-foot tall, dark haired, brown eyed, olive skinned girl with a Gaelic name. 

What is one of your personal hobbies or passions?

Silently correcting people's grammar and spelling (just kidding...kinda!). When I have free time, which isn't often because I am a busy mama of two, I bury myself in interior design projects and make grandiose plans for redecorating our little 80's fixer-upper home. 

Community Outreach Director

Pronouns: she/her

Sign: Aries

Favorite Quote:

I'm big enough to admit I'm often

inspired by myself.

EMILY MANN

 

How did you get involved in equity work?

I've always been an advocate for equity--even before having the language for it. In my work, I've always fought for accessibility and equitable opportunity. I was introduced through SOEquity during an event in Rogue River. I was so happy to see folks interested in bringing equity and social justice to even the smallest corners of the Rogue Valley.

What does equity mean to you?

Equity means meeting people where they are at. It means providing services, aid, and opportunities that are accessible to a broad range of people whose differences come from a wide varieties of experiences, privileges, and situations.

What other organizations have you been involved with?

In the Midwest, I volunteered part time at the LGBTQ Center of South Bend. After spending two years as a member of the Rogue Farm Corps on a farm in Rogue River, I began my career in non-profit at ACCESS, Inc.

How long have you lived in Southern Oregon? Where else have you lived?

I was raised in Elkhart and South Bend, Indiana. I moved to Rogue River, Oregon in 2017, then relocated to Central Point in 2018.

What is your lived experience with racism and oppression?

I received my undergraduate degree in Physics from Indiana University in 2015. During my time in this program, I was consistently one of the few women in every upper-level course. My experiences with micro and macroaggressions from my male peers lead me to experience severe anxiety about the quality of my work and crippling imposter syndrome. Unfortunately, I also witnessed my queer and BIPOC classmates experiencing a lot of the same aggression. As a queer woman in the Midwest, I was not spared from the antiquated ideals of my hometown and had to work through years of internalized homophobia to be comfortable in my own skin.

What is one of your personal hobbies or passions?

Though I'm no longer farming full time, I'm still passionate about growing fresh, organic produce! I love finding new and interested vegan recipes that use a rainbow of ingredients.

LEASHELLE TALBERT

Education Inequity Director

Pronouns: she/her

Sign: Taurus

Favorite Quote:

The way you treat people says a lot about who you are. Be careful. Your actions are screaming over your words.

 

How did you get involved in equity work?

Kayla approached me and asked me if I wanted to join SOEquity Leadership, and I knew I wanted to find a long term way to bring change to our home. I have always had a passion for all things that affect Black lives, both positively and negatively, as they are things that impact me personally. After the murder of George Floyd, my passion was reignited.

What does equity mean to you?

Equity is bringing about changes in policy and community to have people's basic needs met without question. They will have no racial barriers, economic, religious, sexual orientation or identity barriers, or criminal barriers to have their needs met. 

What other organizations have you been involved with?

Amplifying Melanated Voices was the name of the group I was initially a part of. We started with a celebration of Blackness with our Juneteenth Events that happened over the entire Juneteenth weekend.

How long have you lived in Southern Oregon? Where else have you lived?

I have lived in Southern Oregon since 2002. I was born in San Diego California and adopted from there at 1 and half years old.

What is your lived experience with racism and oppression?

I was 12 years old when I had my first consciously aware experience with racism. The KKK came to my home and painted the KKK symbol with a burning cross on the ground in motor oil so that there was no way of washing it away. We drove over that anytime we came or went from our home. It was there as a constant reminder that we were not welcome here. As I got older, I noticed plenty of bullying and racism towards me for being Black. I was called a nigger at least once a day growing up. Most thought it was funny, but that's not something any Black child should have to hear directed at them. 

What is one of your personal hobbies or passions?

I love helping my community in any way that I can. I love listening to music and taking the time to dance and enjoy it anytime that I can. I like to keep busy. I am currently attending college to become an Elementary Educator. My goal is to change the curriculum for all ages to teach history equitably instead of only spending a week on Black history (which usually just covers slavery) or Mexican history. I think that the earlier we teach our kids the true unedited history, the earlier we can eliminate racism and white supremacist systems.

Research Director

Pronouns: she/her

Sign: Aquarius

Favorite Quote:

In this country American means white.
Everybody else has to hyphenate.

DOMINIQUE TOYER

 

How did you get involved in equity work?

I attended protests around Medford this past summer to see if I lived in a place that cared about injustice and abolishing it. When I saw the turn out, I noticed that people were wanting change, and I wanted to be a voice in the solution. I was happy to meet a group of like-minded individuals who wanted lasting positive change in a state that originally embraced racial exclusion.

What does equity mean to you?

Equity means understanding that the needs of people are different and that there is no correct "way of life." Equity means accomodating the cultural identities of everyone so that a high quality of life is achieved. Equity means recognizing how social issues affect ethnic groups differently and understanding that solutions will vary. 

How long have you lived in Southern Oregon? Where else have you lived?

I came to Southern Oregon when I was 13 years old from Baltimore City, MD.

What is your lived experience with racism and oppression?

In Baltimore, I was a part of a program for exceptionally smart children called Gifted And Talented Education, or G.A.T.E for short. When I came to Oregon, I was bullied for my skin and hair so I would fight constantly. School administrators did nothing about the harassment and labeled me a danger to myself and others because I defended myself. As a Black woman, they projected the stereotypes they saw on TV and saw me as less than. I graduated from college for Medical Coding, and it is still assumed that I'm a "welfare queen" or that I don't pay taxes. I am constantly under the scrutiny of taking advantage of a system that was set up for me to fail regardless of what progress I make. They see the color of my skin, not my struggles and triumphs, nor the systemic issues that plague the Black community today. 

What is one of your personal hobbies or passions?

I have a passion for spirituality and growth. I wanted to be an anthropologist because I loved the intricate design of humanity. I loved asking the big questions like "Who are we?" and analyzing what we have become. Recently, I have been studying a West African faith called Ifa, and it has brought me closer to my roots. I am also a proud mother of a young boy. I love my son and nothing is more important to me than securing a future that he can be proud of.

KAYLA WADE

Logistics Director

Pronouns: they/them

Sign: Capricorn

Favorite Quote:

Even if it makes others uncomfortable,
I will love who I am.

 

How did you get involved in equity work?

I first learned the terminology in college when I joined Students for Education Reform. I realized that a lot of the problems in my community I noticed growing up were a part of greater issues of inequity. While I gained a greater and broader understanding of systemic oppression in college, it was not until many years later, after living and working with radical folks who have a much deeper understanding of equity work, that I truly understood the meaning of working towards true justice and real change.

What does equity mean to you?

Equity means sacrifice for those in privilege. It means constantly working to identify ways in which you have privilege and advocating for those who do not have those same levels of access. It means understanding that so much of this world is built on inequity and that working towards a world that is just and equitable for everyone requires full-time dedication. It also means celebrating the radical and brilliant acts of diversity and justice that those without typical access have created. I revel in the work of my peers and my elders who have allowed for me to create this space today.

What other organizations have you been involved with?

I attended Dartmouth College and studied Cognitive Science and Public Policy. In that time, I was a member of Students For Education Reform and was the Event Chair of Relay For Life of Dartmouth-Lebanon-Hanover for 2 years where I developed much of my facilitation and leadership skills. In this time, I was also trained in the Motivational Interviewing counseling technique and served as an Events Programming Intern for the school. This combination of human development and logistical planning set my course once I moved back to Oregon. I initially landed in Portland, where I sought out roles on my local Neighborhood Association and on the Portland Citizen Review Committee, which served as an oversight committee for the Portland Police Bureau. I also started a local networking and social group for the Portland BIPoC community. Once I moved back to Southern Oregon, I pursued a career in marketing. That has since transitioned into helping run SOEquity full-time, and I am so incredibly thankful for that.

How long have you lived in Southern Oregon? Where else have you lived?

I am a born-and-raised Southern Oregonian. My parents moved to Hugo 40 years ago and raised my eight brothers and sisters here in the Rogue Valley. I graduated from North Valley High School and promptly left the valley to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. While I cherish the lessons I learned there, I quickly realized how much I took for granted the beauty of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. I moved to Portland after college, where I met incredible people who taught me how to determine my own values and understand what true community means. I took those important lessons with me when I returned home to Southern Oregon and am working to build the beautiful community I know this area is capable of.

What is your lived experience with racism and oppression?

I am a multiracial Black non-binary femme. My lived experience with racism has been one that is often subtle, one of microaggressions. They come in the form of being frequently told that my achievements are not mine--that they are a result of affirmative action. They come in the form of misinformed compliments--that I am "so well-spoken for a Black girl" or that I "don't sound Black." They come in the form of others constantly questioning my credentials or dismissing my day-to-day experiences. After writing down the multiple instances of discrimination at my last job, my former employer told me that he didn't believe I was ever treated differently because of the color of my skin. It's constant. It's exhausting. And it is very different from many of my Black brothers and sisters. As a light-skinned Black person, I rarely experience the level of racism that I call "hardcore racism." I have only been called a nigger a few times in my life and only been followed in stores when I am dressed in particularly baggy clothes. I still walk with a certain amount of privilege in this world. It is a devastating line to walk. And that is why organizations like SOEquity are so important.

What is one of your personal hobbies or passions?

I love making jewelry. It was one of the first creative hard skills I learned as a kid, and I still love making little things whenever I can. As a kid, I thought I wanted to own a jewelry shop. As an adult, I hope to get back into jewelry making for the pure joy of it and nothing else.

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