Allyship Tips – 3: Support and Advocate
By Barry Johnson-Smith, Washington County
Hello. My name is Barry Johnson-Smith. I am a 24-year-old Black male who has recently moved to Hillsboro, Oregon from Lawrenceville, Georgia. I desire to be more involved with the Washington County Democratic Party. Part of my contribution to the WashCo Dems is writing a three-part series about allyship with a focus on being allies for Black people, especially in the local area. In Part 1, we discussed how potential allies should educate themselves before supporting the Black community. In Part 2 discussed how allies can hold themselves and others accountable to their own racially charged unconscious bias. In today’s article, I explore how allies can support initiatives and organizations that are solving problems the Black Oregon Community is facing.
Allyship is using your privilege identity to advocate for and support members of a marginalized community.
Being an ally for Black people is helping us address the issues that have plagued us by a society designed to oppress us. However, I do know people have apprehension about practicing allyship. Some people do know not how to be allies and are afraid if they try to help they might do more harm than good. I totally understand.
That is why I am creating this blog series of tips – to help well-intentioned people support the Oregon Black Community in an actionable way.
Tip 3: Support and Advocate
Black History Month has arrived and left, but the fight for equity and justice still goes on for Black Oregonians. Allyship is not simply showing support during the month of February, it is being an ally every single moment of every day of the year. Allyship is a lifelong commitment to supporting the Black community in the fight for social and economic justice.
I am not saying you have to create any program or organization to resolve issues such as gentrification, income inequality, and lack of culturally appropriate healthcare services. There are already numerous organizations that exist in Oregon that support the Black community. You can volunteer with, or partner with them.
For those beginning their allyship activist journey, I recommend supporting these established programs instead of developing entirely new programs. These established local and national organizations have been around for years investing in the Black Oregonian community. They have expertise in addressing the community’s issues thus giving them your time, energy, and money can be more impactful than investing unnecessary time and effort into creating an organization on your own.
In your Allyship journey, you are essentially translating YOUR privilege into empowerment for the marginalized community.
When you want to start advocating for an organization, begin by researching the root causes of the social issues and understand how the different Oregon-based organizations have developed to address and solve them. During your research, search for organizations that are led by Black people. I was informed by a local Black nonprofit that there is a tendency for people to work more with well-meaning white organizations who support the Black Oregonians instead of ones that are led by Black people. It is important to support the Black-led organizations because they are most likely operated by local Black Oregonians who are deeply connected to the community. They will have a better understanding of the community’s issues and how to effectively resolve them.
Once you found these organizations, log onto the organization’s website, look up members and set time to talk to a member about ways you can get involved and support their mission. Make sure to choose an organization that resonates with you and one you can commit the time to support. Remember, although donating a certain amount of money or time to help an organization can demonstrate our support, our one-time actions do not buy us the “Ally Card”.
Have awareness of the time, resources, and skillsets you are willing to contribute and understand the benefits you can provide to an organization. You are not a savior. These deeply rooted community problems are tough and will take organizational structure, community-led efforts, and individual creativity to resolve. Your role is to enhance the organization’s efforts and remove roadblocks. If we go one step further and reframe Allyship in a servant leadership framework, our actions and impact change:
- Rather than only volunteering on a high profile event, you participate in consistent volunteering & support.
- Rather than starting your own nonprofit, you work with community partners to enhance their programming.
- Rather than always giving your perspective, you encourage others to share theirs.
Regardless of what activities you are supporting, showing up, especially when an organization needs you, is impactful. Your consistent support will provide cultural depth to your perspective, build your empathy and enable both incremental and large changes.
If you are a member of a political organization you have an optimal opportunity to share your political expertise and access with different organizations to help address political issues that the Black community faces. Looking internally at the WashCo Democratic Party, we could plan voter registration events, as well as political literacy classes, and debates?
When researching organizations, think about how your established political initiatives and programs (e.g. WashCo Dems Neighborhood Leader Program) could be leveraged to empower black communities. If you are collaborating with an organization on a program, make the effort to be intentional and compassionate. Though one-off events done with intentionality can be a catalyst, be cautious of implementing lackluster events that have minimal impact on the Black community and avoid overly self-promoting your organization.
As an ally, your responsibility is to always elevate the voice of others. Use your privilege to build an empowering platform for others.
To start building an empowering platform for others, here is a list of organizations that support the Black community in Oregon. Start by reviewing this list to find the organizations you want to support. Remember to understand your bandwidth and how you can be most beneficial. Your impact can be maximized by being consistently involved in one organization instead of unreliably supporting multiple organizations. It demonstrates to the Black community you truly care for them and want to actively advocate for them which is what allyship is all about.