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Communities of Color Leader Fights for Progress

Updated: Aug 16, 2023

Marcus Mundy says King’s message more important than ever

Beverly Corbell

Marcus Mundy of the Coalition of Communities of Color works to advance racial justice by organizing collective, cross-culture allies. Pictured at his downtown office, Mundy says the messages of Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., America’s foremost civil rights leader, influences his life on a daily basis.PHOTO BYBEVERLY CORBELL

Editor’s Note: As we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the Portland Observer invited leaders of the African American community to reflect on the relevance of his message today. Marcus Mundy, president of the Coalition of Communities of Color, shared his thoughts about the civil rights leader:

Marcus Mundy was only 9 or 10 years old when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, but his parents made sure he knew what the great man stood for. Mundy’s father was from Alabama and his mother was from Louisiana, so they knew first-hand the injustices that King railed against.

“They knew of him, knew of his issues and imbued in us a sense of pride, of discipline, of working hard, all the things that he spoke about in his messaging for our families and our race, they taught us,” Mundy said. “He was peers with my parents. My dad is in Tuskegee, (Alabama) and he (King) did a lot of his work in Montgomery, (Ala.).”

Photo by Beverly Corbell

He said King’s pronouncement for equality became more significant to him as he grew older and he internalized King’s words to the point that he now often thinks of some of the civil rights leader’s more memorable passages in his day-to-day life.

“When you’re young, you don’t get into it as much, but over time you see the resonance of his message, you see how important it is,” he said. “I’m talking now to city leaders on a couple of civic ideas and quoting him from his letter from a Birmingham Jail, about how “wait” almost always means “never” and it’s like these are things you grow up with, and they just naturally flow off your tongue and in your thoughts.”

King was writing about things 50 years ago that resonant today, Mundy said.

“It’s just as real – that people in power don’t want to share power. They don’t think you’re as good as them, as smart as them, as capable as them, as strategic as them,” he said.

Mundy said King had such an influence on him that he often looks back at King’s language for inspiration.

“Whether I’m talking about the code change at city housing or homelessness issues or who gets to decide how a campaign is run in the city of Portland and the state of Oregon,” he said, “it’s beautiful that his words were so beautiful and striking, and it’s miserably sad that you’re still dealing with the same stuff today.”

Mundy said when he is disheartened by the futility of the struggle, he thinks of the necessity of the struggle and the relentless nature of the battle for full equality.

“You shouldn’t have to fight for those things,” he said. “You shouldn’t ever have to fight for what should be a basic human right, and certainly shouldn’t have to still be fighting for the same things that were exposed decades ago.”

The Coalition of Communities of Color, of which Mundy is president, is an alliance of 19 culturally-specific community based organizations with representation from communities of color, with a mission “to address the socioeconomic disparities, institutional racism, and inequity of services experienced by our families, children and communities, and to organize our communities for collective action resulting in social change to obtain self-determination, wellness, justice and prosperity.”

Mundy said each organization in the Coalition was founded to provide a social service, including housing, education and health care.

“Each one of our members was founded on principles of service to others, which is a lot of what Dr. King stood for, and fairness,” he said. “Fairness in contracting, fairness in access to public funds, and fairness in funds for services that can be delivered in a culturally specific way.”

About a third of the Coalition’s members are black-led and black-run organizations, including Self-Enhancement Inc., Africa House, KairosPDX, the Portland African American Leadership Forum and Unite Oregon, but other member organizations are geared toward other culturally-specific groups such as Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, Middle Eastern and even the Slavic community.

And even though Mundy is leading an organization that represents “different, disparate communities,” he can’t help but see the world through the eyes of a black man.

“I view the world, yes, through an equity lens, but there’s another lens – the lens of a black man having gone through for decades and decades – American stuff,” he said. “And I can’t ever leave that behind when I’m making decisions or interacting with people or understanding how to get myself and our organization a place in this city, this world. How you see things affects everything.”

Mundy agrees that there is a lot of attention being given to diversity and equity by government and other organizations, which have expressed regret for the gentrification of Northeast Portland and unfair treatment of the African American community in the past, but he wants to see results, not just more words.

“That’s crocodile tears. I don’t need that,” he said. “If you don’t make policies that are inclusive and have some teeth and that there’s penalties if people don’t adhere to them, I don’t want to see your tears or hear your laments. It doesn’t mean anything.”

He said rosy statistics by some major companies to show their diversity and inclusiveness are often deceptive.

“Nike likes touting itself, but whenever there’s layoffs, a lot of blacks lose their jobs,” he said. “It’s a national company and they use national numbers, but most of their employees are lower paid employees at their Memphis distribution center, their hub for distributing all their stuff. And so the people in Memphis – that’s a lot of black employees.”

But the highest paying jobs at Nike are all in Beaverton, at the company’s world headquarters, and those employees are mostly white, he said.

“You can find black people everywhere, but the people at the top making the big, big bucks, they don’t look like people of color,” he said. “But they (Nike) still get to report decent numbers (for diversity) because they have a flood of lower income (black) employees they can count in Memphis.”

Mundy said he is always suspicious of glowing reports on employee diversity.

“You can play with stats, but you need to get underneath them,” he said. “Is it anybody who ever worked on the job? Is it permanent employees? Sometimes you can get a flood of employees but they’re only in there for a week’s worth of work. You have to get underneath how they count.”

One wonders how Dr. King would see progress in race relations today – or the lack thereof – but although he’s relentless in his goal of ensuring Portland’s communities of color have a place at the table, Mundy was realistic when asked if some people are “cooking the books” in reporting diversity in their organizations.

“Always. Always,” he said. “There’s nothing new under the sun.”


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