On Sunday, April 4, 2021, our Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce Board Chair, Asha Echeverria, shared the Chamber's vision of choosing civility over divisiveness and acknowledging the past while working together for a better future. Our organization is committed to advancing racial equity and justice. We pledge to continue to advocate for policies that make our city and our region more inclusive and more diverse – setting the Portland region on a path toward its best days.
You can find that op-ed in the Portland Press Herald HERE and below.
Originally published in "Maine Voices" in the Portland Press Herald on April 4th, 2021.
Commentary: Don’t use generations long gone to judge character of our neighbors today
If the Portland Regional Chamber of the 1920s colluded with the KKK, that was wrong. But today’s Chamber is committed to advancing racial equity and justice, its board chair says.
BY ASHA A. ECHEVERRIA SPECIAL TO THE TELEGRAM
Portland – this city that we love, that we want to make better, that pulls people here for its energy, openness and inclusivity – has grown and gotten better in the last 100 years.
Over the past century, our community has undertaken an arduous journey to become a better and more diverse place to live, work and raise a family. That progress has been painfully slow at times, and we remain a fair distance from the city that we can become.
But it is wrong to look back at generations long gone to judge the character of our neighbors today.
As a woman of color, I understand that it can sometimes be difficult and even stressful to live and work in this predominantly white city, in this predominantly white state, and that the legacy of the sins of the past can weigh heavily on our day-to-day lives.
At the Portland Regional Chamber, we know that we have a role to play in the process of advancing racial equity and justice, and we take this obligation seriously.
Let me be clear, if the Chamber of the 1920s ever colluded in any way with the Ku Klux Klan in an election 100 years ago or otherwise, I, along with our full board and our CEO, absolutely condemn that. It was wrong. There is no place for white supremacy, bigotry or racism in our city.
To suggest, as a guest columnist in these pages did, that today’s Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce and our over one thousand member businesses are today part of a racist political machine that marches in lockstep with white nationalism and the reprehensible crimes of the Ku Klux Klan is wrong and maligns our neighbors, small businesses, co-workers and friends who are working hard to move our city and the entire state forward.
Additionally, the suggestion that our current CEO is somehow on par with those who perpetrated lynchings, and that we, today, condone the violent crimes of the KKK, also is wrong.
We are resolute in our commitment to bring diverse stakeholders together to address issues of inequity in our community. It is our organization’s firm belief that the Chamber has a responsibility to support people of color and educate ourselves and the business community about privilege, race, gender and other statuses that divide us.
That is why, as the nation erupted in calls for justice and reconciliation, we decided to critically examine practices of the business community in Maine. We are proud of our Standing in Solidarity initiative and educational outreach, which continue to bring together the region’s business leaders for frank discussions on race and inequality to develop long-term strategies to attract, retain and grow a diverse workforce, and to play our part in righting the wrongs of the past.
For decades, the Chamber has fought for civic inclusivity, affordable housing, equitable and robust public transportation and skill training and workforce development policies that ensure no one is left behind. We will continue to advocate for policies that make our city and our entire region more inclusive, more diverse and better.
To continue this mission, we will not stand on the sidelines. We will engage, civilly and respectfully; we will review the past rigorously and honestly with a commitment to learn from it; and we will advocate for what we think is right through an open dialogue. The great marketplace of ideas is stronger when we all participate.
We believe more voices should be involved in the sphere of public debate, not fewer, and would never seek to silence groups with whom we disagree. Our arguments will be on the merits. We will not name call, and we will not back down from what we think is right. We will represent our 1,300 member businesses, and we will do so without apology, honestly, and with an eye on the future, but also conscious of the past.
The best outcomes in our city have resulted from inclusive community processes that seek positive solutions. We are dedicated to this work. The past is not prologue. We all have a place in setting Portland on a path toward its best days.