Organizers in Training is now the BRU Fellowship! This new, six-month cohort program will enable OPAL to have a more consistent presence organizing on Portland’s buses, while we deepen our investment in developing leadership in our communities. Last Saturday, we onboarded the five leaders who will propel BRU’s campaigns to victory in 2018 and beyond. We’ll share more of their stories over the course of the coming months, but please welcome the first cohort!
Corinne Montana is from Wrightwood, a small town in Southern California located 75 miles northeast of Los Angeles. “I first got involved with community organizing as a student at USC in Los Angeles.,” she says. “The local community was facing displacement and loss of jobs due to growth in the student population and new development led by the university.” Corinne moved to Portland in 2013 to join L’Arche, a community of people with and without disabilities. She has been a volunteer and member of Community Alliance of Tenants since 2015. In the summer and fall of 2017, Corinne worked with tenant leaders at CAT to do a community-based participatory research project to learn more about tenant experiences in the Black/African American, elder, and LGBTQ communities. Several years ago, Corinne worked in transportation planning and assisted with an environmental justice study for a proposed rail line in Los Angeles County. “I love learning about our transportation system here in Oregon, how it works and how it can better serve people.,” Corinne says. “I am excited and grateful to be a part of the Bus Riders Unite Fellowship to learn from and connect with folks who work for transit justice.”
Joanna Xing moved to Portland from the East Coast last summer. Prior to Portland, she was a public health graduate student in New York City and served as a fellow with WE ACT for Environmental Justice, a spiritual sister organization to OPAL. “I am passionate about supporting environments that foster our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being,” Joanna says, “especially for communities of color and historically disenfranchised groups.” Currently, she is serving as a Confluence AmeriCorps member at IRCO/Madison SUN High School in Madison’s food pantry and sustainable agriculture classroom. In her free time she loves being outside, dabbling in creative writing, and learning new Chinese recipes from her mom.
Claudia Gonzalez Valle was born in Cuautla Morelos, Mexico. “I lived in Portland for about 9 years, but now live in Vancouver. In my last job I was working with Verde doing landscaping, they later helped me connect with OPAL and encouraged me to apply for the Bus Riders Unite Fellowship.” Verde and Hacienda helped Claudia receive numerous job opportunities, including as a road flagger and in the construction of Cully Park. “During my time in the Portland area, I have been involved a lot with the Cully community and I am very proud to have seen and helped its growth. During this program I want to learn more about our transportation system and how we can shape it to fit the needs of our community.”
Giselle López Ixta was born in Michoacan, Mexico and moved to Woodburn, Oregon where she and her parents were farmworkers. Giselle attended Woodburn High school and became involved Lenguas Indigenas (Indigenous Languages student club) and Turno through Capaces Leadership Institute. Now Giselle attends Portland State University and is pursuing a degree in Community Health and Social Sciences. G, as she likes to go by, values transportation justice and sees how it intersects with racial, gender, economic, and immigration justice.
The final new recruit is actually a familiar face: it’s Tristan! Tristan was an Organizer-in-Training with the final 2017 cohort. “The most important thing I gained from my work with OPAL was a sense of community with other people of color I had long been without.” Growing up immersed in a culture of white supremacy, Tristan, “I did my best to fit in with my majority white peers. Still they never fully accepted me, a condition I attributed to every conceivable factor except the most obvious—I was a black boy in America.” Now Tristan is focused on reclaiming an afro-identity and decolonizing his mind. “The community I have found with and through OPAL looks brighter every day,” he says, “even as the world seems to grow darker. The strength I see throughout communities of color reminds me of my own latent power, and steels my resolve for the struggles ahead. Through community, love, and support we shall one day achieve the justice we have already paid for a thousandfold in blood, sweat and tears.”