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High school panel to focus on cultural diversity

Two LOHS students organize a community discussion about confronting racism

REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Andrea Velasquez and Camryn Leland want to help Latino and black students at Lake Oswego High School by promoting cultural diversity.For Lake Oswego High School student Camryn Leland, the breaking point came during a Friday-night football game during the 2015 season when the Kanye West song “Gold Digger” brought fans in the stands to their feet.

The student section was revved up and rowdy, and as the song’s most infamous line filled the air — “Now I ain’t sayin’ she a gold digger (when I’m in need), but she ain’t messin’ with no broke ...” — hundreds of white students enthusiastically joined in the chorus, finishing with the N-word.

“A sea of white faces was yelling (the N-word)” Leland says.

A black parent stood up and demanded that the music be shut off. It was. But nothing could be done about the anger and embarrassment felt by black fans. Leland responded by writing a column about the incident for the LOHS student newspaper. Called “My job is not to make you feel comfortable,” it was a stunning piece of journalism and fiery stuff, and it made a lot of students angry.

“But I have no regrets about it at all,” she says. “I wouldn’t change a word.”

Leland didn’t stop there. She soon started the first Black Student Union at Lake Oswego High. That was followed by the founding of the Latino Student Union by Presley Cable, which Leland’s friend, Andrea Velasquez, immediately joined.

And on May 3, Leland and Velasquez will take the next step by hosting a Racial and Cultural Panel in the school’s cafeteria to talk about the concerns faced by black and Latino students in what is an overwhelmingly white school.

The gathering, which is scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m., will include one representative from the Black Student Union, one from the Latino Student Union, parents of students in the two unions and two special guest speakers.

“Everyone in the community” is invited, Leland and Velasquez say, and they really do mean everyone. They especially hope to reach administrators and teachers, who they believe can make all the difference in establishing a new era of cultural diversity at LOHS.

“You don’t have a right to complain,” Leland says, “if you don’t do anything about it.”

Velasquez has lived in Lake Oswego her entire life. She has been active in student life and is an excellent student, but she says she has always felt like “the other” — someone outside the mainstream — because she is a Latino. That made her feel uncomfortable, inferior and afraid to speak out, she says.

“There has been a lot of history of racism passed on in Lake Oswego,” Velasquez says. “Some people look down on you because you’re Latino. They tell me things like, ‘You belong in the fields.’ You don’t see brown faces in the history books.

“At least they had Black History Month here,” she says. “Latinos had nothing.”

Velasquez praises her friend for her outspokenness about racism and the lack of cultural diversity at LOHS (and also for encouraging her to speak out on Latino issues). But it took a long time for Leland to reach this point.

“I moved to Lake Oswego when I was 7 years old,” Leland says. “It didn’t matter to me until I was in the eighth grade that people here were so comfortable with the N-word. It made me feel uncomfortable in my own skin.

“At this point in my life, I can say, ‘I can fight this.’ But I’m concerned about my younger sister,” she adds. “Feeling bad about her race should be the least of her concerns. In an environment where you don’t feel comfortable in your own skin, how can you learn?”

Students of color should feel more welcome in Lake Oswego, Velasquez and Leland say, and they hope their May 3 panel discussion makes it clear that black and Latino students want to not just be tolerated, but respected.

“There should be more diversity and more openness to other people,” Velasquez says.

Both of the girls are already planning for college and career. Velasquez wants to be a school teacher and an activist in Latino affairs. Leland is passionate about politics and wants to be a journalist. They also want to leave a legacy at their school by making current and future students realize that their voices matter.

“We want the next generation to pass on what we’re doing,” Velasquez said. Adds Leland, “We want to create a path where people feel they can speak out.”

Contact Cliff Newell at 503-636-1281 ext. 105 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..