Many believe Office of Equity would help minorities

Many believe Office of Equity would help minorities »Play Video
Eliot Blue gets his haircut at Reggies Barber Shop on MLK Boulevard Thursday from Marcus Pack. Both men say they are interested in an idea of an Office of Equity.

PORTLAND, Ore. – Mayor Sam Adams wants to create a new city agency to provide more equity for minorities to the tune of a half-million dollars.

But the city already has an Office of Human Relations that works to eliminate discrimination and bigotry in the city. There is also a Diversity Development and Affirmative Action Office that works on equity issues in city employment. Even still, Adams says the city needs an Office of Equity.

Inside Reggie’s Barber Shop on MLK Boulevard black men say they’re interested in the idea of an Office of Equity.

Eliot Blue, who was getting his hair cut Thursday, is a line cook and has been for years. He said he still has to work two jobs just to get by.

“I’ve been there three years, and I still basically make a dollar more than when I (started there),” he said.

A recent study found minority groups are at a distinct disadvantage in Portland and the mayor said it’s been that way far too long.

“My goal is for Portland to be the city of the most equal opportunity, and we’re not providing that,” Adams said.

The Coalition of Communities of Color, which did the study, says whites, on average, made $33,095 last year and people of color made $16,636 in Multnomah County.

It also found only 7 percent of whites here don’t graduate high school compared to 30 percent of minorities.

But how will the mayor’s new Office of Equity help?

“Well, we don’t know,” Adams said.

But he said that is why he wants the new office.

“So in terms of what is the Office of Equity going to do? Fundamentally, is figure out why Portlanders of color are actually seeing an increasing gap between white Portlanders, why that is and what we can do about it,” Adams said.

City Commissioner Randy Leonard said he’s concerned about redundancy.

“But if the idea is to replace the Office of Human Rights with that and change the mission, I think we at least need to have a public discussion,” he said.

As far as the men at Reggies are concerned, spending a half-million dollars to take another look at Portland’s lack of equity may be worth it.

“It’s not a lot of money but obviously if you’re trying to make things more equitable that’s always a good thing,” said Marcus Pack with Reggie’s Barber Shop.

The money for an Office of Equity isn’t spent yet. The plan will be discussed by commissioners in a public forum. Adams says that’s been the plan all along, which is to work out the details before the City Council would vote to create it.