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CEO of Meyer Memorial Trust encourages citizens to have compassionate conversations this holiday

For many of us, the approaching holidays will be charged with unease. We will step out of our echo chambers and find ourselves sitting down with family and friends we rarely talk to in person and who may have radically different views.

What if we could rethink how we start those conversations? What if there was a way to transcend party lines and listen to one another's real life experiences?

There's an app for that. Well, not an app, exactly.

Actually it's a short online quiz, designed to reveal an individual's "American Dream score." I took it myself and it's an interesting way to look at the factors that helped you move up or you worked to overcome. Try taking it yourself (my score was 51), and read others' stories, here: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/chasing-the-dream/your-american-dream-score. The test offers an empathetic way to navigate a conversation with people who may not recognize how the cards have been stacked in their favor — and why that matters.

And that's a fine framework through which to consider some of the harsh realities unmasked across the country, and here in Oregon, since the divisive presidential election.

Rather than avoiding talking politics this year, shouldn't we ask ourselves: "What is at stake if we don't begin talking?"

Since November 2016, more hate crimes per capita have been reported in Oregon than in any other state. That's worth talking about.

Some of these incidents might seem isolated: racist graffiti, intimidating fliers, harassment with racial slurs. But small acts are the stones that pave our society's path forward. When students at Silverton High School gathered in the parking lot shouting at their Hispanic classmates to "Pack your bags, you're leaving tomorrow," they sent a message that reverberated well beyond the school grounds.

In 2017, Oregon is still steeped in the racism and disparity that defined its past: white supremacists and hate groups, the displacement of indigenous people, Japanese-American internment and entrenched institutional discrimination against African-Americans.

Increasingly, this ugly legacy is showing up in our cities as well as rural communities, where demographics are shifting rapidly. Census data show the percentage of people of color in rural counties across Oregon is growing at a faster rate than the state overall. Across the board, the picture of what it means to be an Oregonian is changing, and that change reveals cultural and structural barriers we have yet to overcome.

How all of us, as Oregonians, handle this moment will define our state's future.

As a white, heterosexual, college-educated, urban American male, I'm aware of my position on the comfortable side of disparity. I know I have a responsibility to use my privilege to speak up and fight for positive change.

However you approach your own conversations, remember what's at stake. Have the courage to talk about what's happening across our state and why it needs to change. Move past discomfort by reminding yourself that the Oregon our children deserve is a place in which equality is real — not an ideal.

That is not a matter of opinion or politics. It's a matter of conscience.

Your voice matters.

Doug Stamm, a native Oregonian, has been the chief executive officer of Meyer Memorial Trust for 15 years, where he oversaw an organization-wide shift toward grantmaking focused on equity, diversity and inclusion.

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