NCW Equity Alliance chooses to foster belonging and understanding, not division
In this era of bitter culture wars, polarization and acrimony, we could all benefit from getting out of our echo chambers and learning skills to have meaningful and respectful conversations about difficult community topics with those who have differing viewpoints.
Recently, I had the opportunity to visit with Oscar Licon, the executive director of the North Central Washington Equity Alliance, about the work that group is doing to develop our collective capacity to have challenging conversations. I have been favorably impressed by the thoughtful and constructive approach the alliance has adopted. The alliance is dedicated to calling people in to have conversations rather than calling people out in a blaming or shaming manner.
What they are hoping to do is foster a greater sense of belonging, a culture of intellectual curiosity and encourage the practice of self-reflection and personal growth. Creating opportunities for people to come face-to-face with people who have different life experiences, ideas and values is essential for developing a deeper appreciation for the views of others.
Licon, 28, grew up in Wenatchee and was part of Mariachi Huenachi under Ramon Rivera — a program which fosters a love for learning and higher education as much as music performance. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business and a masters’ in information technology administration management from Central Washington University, before taking a job as a technical support assistant with the Wenatchee School District in 2018.
When the Covid pandemic hit, he was thrust into the role of helping connect families to remote learning opportunities and he saw first-hand the unique challenges facing those with limited resources.
Licon was hired as an outreach coordinator at Wenatchee Valley College before taking the job with the Equity Alliance last fall. The alliance is dedicated to assisting individuals and organizations to achieve their diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) goals.
It is unfortunate that those three words have been weaponized as an evil ideology in some conservative circles, particularly in states like Florida.
It’s undeniable that in this society people get left behind and are not included in various aspects of life. Sometimes that’s due to race, other times it’s due to poverty and sometimes it’s because of physical or intellectual disability. Striving for a community and society that creates opportunities for all to be included in civic life is a moral imperative, in my view.
The NCW Equity Alliance is doing on-the-ground work to help open our eyes to some of those barriers so that we can include everyone. Recently, they hosted a workshop that explored what people with disabilities experience in the outdoors.
Our mission is to champion diversity, equity and inclusion through our three pillars — education, advocacy and reconciliation,” said Licon. “A lot of folks feel like they get called out or they’re getting shamed,” he told me. “But our organization is not trying to do that… we’re trying to learn from people’s experiences,” he added.
What he’s talking about is how we can grow as individuals, as a community and as a society by being open to learning to see the world from the viewpoints of people we don’t have much in common with. It’s not about everyone having the same view but about finding ways to disagree and still maintain respectful relationships.
The NCW Equity Alliance is holding learning sessions to help people learn and grow. This fall, they’ll launch a series teaching the skills of having difficult conversations in partnership with the Wenatchee Valley Dispute Resolution Center, leading to a webinar hosted by NorthCentral Regional Library, “I Never Thought Of It That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times” by Seattle journalist and author Monica Guzman.
What I appreciate about the Equity Alliance’s approach is that they’re not trying to tell people how to think or act. They’re modeling a way of being open and curious that helps us better understand those with different life experiences. This is foundational community building work.
To learn more, check out ncwequityalliance.org.