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Tri-Met chief goes to bat for blacks

Racism is on my mind. And I am fighting back.

If you're not already aware, here's the story: At the stroke of midnight on Jan. 20, while much of the city slept, four young white males, ranging in age from 15 to 21, drove through Northeast Portland, shooting at random and presumably carrying racial hatred on their sleeves.

The news made headlines.

Local black leaders made their denouncements. Portland Police Chief Mark Kroeker brought out his trumpet.

But sometimes, I think our problem is not so much about the four bad boys with bigoted intentions Ñ but our prolonged silence about efforts of some courageous whites who are trying to extend a helping hand to blacks in the interest of racial reconciliation or out of other moral considerations.

I say this because, realistically, I don't believe that the evil of racism in this society can be exterminated by black people singing, 'Let my people go.'

Getting to that point is going to require the good will of white people leading the attack on racial hatred and clamoring for greater emphasis on civil rights.

With that in mind, I have decided to 'celebrate' every headline-grabbing racial incident with a story of genuine strides made in racial reconciliation.

So, here is the story of a white man Ñ Fred Hansen, president of Tri-Met Ñ who has made enormous strides on behalf of blacks.

When Hansen came to Tri-Met from the state Department of Environment Quality, he knew what he wanted: diversity and an agency that looks like the community it serves.

After 4 1/2 years, he has been successful. Even skeptics such as James Posey, longtime advocate for minority contractors and one of the city's harshest critics of white leaders, have come to recognize that this man means well.

Hansen's genuine gestures toward blacks, through employment and contracting opportunities with his agency, are not just tokens. He has initiated actions backed by long-term plans designed to break down systemic structures in a process that has limited blacks' competitive abilities.

So far, black contractors have pocketed more than $6.5 million in contract procurements since Hansen took over Tri-Met. As you might guess, that figure is unprecedented.

Hansen also recruited Bruce Watts, former executive director of the Coalition of Black Men, to manage Tri-Met's minority business participation on the agency's Interstate light-rail project.

He also recently recruited Michael Ford, a black man and transit expert from Washington, to direct the agency's transportation operations.

And to solidify his policies, Hansen recently created a Diversity Transit Equity Department. Amber Ontiveros, a former chief of staff for Sen. Margaret Carter, D-Portland, manages the new division's special projects.

Hopefully, his inclusive resolve would serve as an example to others as he teams with City Commissioner Jim Francesconi to encourage private employers to take proactive diversity steps in the city.

Now, cast aside your racial cynicism. Like Hansen, let your courage take you beyond your comfort zone. Do something.

Contact Promise King at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.