July 04, 2023

Opportunity for All, Affirmatively

By: Lisa Mensah
President and CEO

As the country celebrates Independence Day, we are reminded of America’s unique promise and foundational ideals of “liberty and justice for all” in a collective journey toward a more perfect union.

As a former USDA Undersecretary, I have had the great honor to swear an oath to serve and defend the Constitution of the United States.

The constitutional establishment of a Supreme Court is a proud cornerstone of a democracy that advances justice.

Last week’s Supreme Court decision striking down affirmative action in college admissions is not a call for justice. The court’s decision cannot write away racial discrimination and instead erects more barriers to opportunity.

As Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson notes in her dissent:

“…To demand that colleges ignore race in today’s admission practices — and thus disregard the fact that racial disparities may have mattered for where some applicants find themselves today — is not only an affront to the dignity of those students for whom race matters. It also condemns our society to never escape the past that explains how and why race matters to the very concept to who ‘merits’ admissions.”

Racial discrimination remains a pervasive, systemic reality, with behaviors that attempt to hold some separate and unequal.

As an African American Oregonian woman, I have experienced this behavior firsthand.

Yet, I can also joyfully attest to the benefits of a community’s embrace, encouraging me to succeed in higher education. I know how it feels when teachers protect, friends defend, and a community celebrates accomplishments.

The bridge building experience of public school encouraged learning with peers from different religions, households with far less, AND far more resources than mine.

Opportunities to excel were rich — not only for literature and math but for creative growth — from arts, to civic education, to student leadership. I was the young girl who won many scholarships — from the Elks Clubs to Tektronix — to the nationally recognized Hearst Senate Youth Program.  

Scholarship, community and opportunity propelled me to Harvard, opening not only a new path to thrive, but also fueling a desire to give back and serve.

As I step fully into leadership at Oregon Community Foundation, I see our role in advancing Oregon students of all races to their full potential.

The work to dismantle racial discrimination is hard and will take serious effort. Getting to the society we all want and deserve — one that provides true equality of opportunity — will take deliberate action.

This is the proud work of Oregon Community Foundation.

“In addition to paying for expenses, scholarships provide hope. They signal to students that others — sometimes strangers — believe in them.”

As the largest provider of scholarships to higher education in Oregon we are opening doors of opportunity to thousands of Oregonians every year — many of them the first generation to attend college.

These scholarships ensure that paying for a college education will not be a barrier to attendance.

Private scholarships such as those offered by many OCF donors often pay for expenses beyond tuition that make the difference in completing college — the softer costs of books, materials and living expenses that may impede completion.

In addition to paying for expenses, scholarships provide hope. They signal to students that others — sometimes strangers — believe in them. Scholarships to Oregon students signal that Oregon and the nation need our students to gain higher education and to contribute the fruits of this education to building the community we all need.

Not every student will want to pursue education beyond high school, yet opening the door to this possibility is a powerful accelerator for economic and social progress in our state.

It is now more important than ever to tell all our students that dreams of higher education are possible and worthy.

We will continue to fight for the resources that allow opportunity to reach all. That’s what opportunity means. Every student has doubts. Every family has worries about their child’s ability to succeed. Let us as a community fuel dreams and build hopes.

OCF scholarships Propel Students and the State to Success

More than $10 million in annual awards expand opportunity for individual students and help build a prepared, innovative workforce for Oregon.

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