Portland nonprofit Brown Hope hires Marshawna Williams as COO

Brown Hope, a nonprofit, hires a COO to help build internal operations to support growth.

Portland nonprofit Brown Hope hires Marshawna Williams as COO

Brown Hope, a Portland-based nonprofit organization, has appointed Marshawna William to the newly created position of Chief Operating Office.

The third-generation Portlander, who will be working in this position with the staff to operationalize the processes within the five-year-old organization. Brown Hope offers programs that help Black, Brown and Indigenous Portlanders heal from racial traumatic experiences.

Williams joins the organization in its recovery from the controversy that erupted over the winter, which saw the removal and reinstatement of the founder and CEO Cameron Whitten and the board's former President Greg McKelvey.

Williams has experience in affordable housing and higher education. Joining Brown Hope brings together all her lived and professional experiences of how racial traumatic stress affects our systems.

Williams had worked with Whitten before and wanted to become a part of the organization he was building with Brown Hope. She also wanted to use her board and industry experience to build a sustainable organisation.

It was a perfect match because... She said, 'I love that Brown Hope has the courage to operationalize how racial healing and trauma looks through all of their different programs.

After a long delay, the group's Black Resilience Fund, which provides a $2,000 monthly stipend for eligible households, began in January. Williams stated that the group has provided checks to 25 Black Portlanders.

Williams was interviewed by The Business Journal to discuss her new role. This interview was edited to make it more concise and clear.

You use the term operationalize racial Trauma Healing. What does this mean in Brown Hope? We discuss it. How can we discuss healing in a community setting? How can we discuss the impact of racial trauma on us as a society, particularly in Portland? Portland has a very unique history of racial traumatic events, even when compared with other parts of the United States. As a team, we're learning what healing is and how to heal ourselves. Brown Hope is also really diverse. There are many different backgrounds and we can see the impact of racial justice and restorative justice.

The organization has seen a lot of change. As soon as the program was launched, there was a conflict between the founder Cameron Whitten and the board. What attracted you to the job in this context? I interviewed for this job by sitting down with the staff. We discussed and listened to their perspectives, what they think of Brown Hope, and what they hope and wish for Brown Hope. What is their journey of healing from all this chaos? This is what made me want to be part of it, part of the evolution, because we are at the very tip. It's a unique time after (the murder) of George Floyd and Covid. The people are trying to figure out what the new normal is. What is the impact of all this on us as a group, while there are still these systemic racialized things hanging over us?

What is your role as COO within the organization? It's time to clean up after all that happened during the winter and think about what systems we need to put in place to expand our business. What will that look like exactly? How can I help my staff? Are they supported by the resources they need? How can we ensure that people are properly onboarded (so we can) pass on information received from a previous employee? My passion lies in this area. I want to ensure that the work of anyone who comes through Brown Hope, and has contributed to this organization is carried on (if they leave), and we don't start from scratch.

What is Brown Hope's place in the community? We're getting to the personal. One thing about race, racial issues and equity is that you need to do a lot of personal work. We are trying to help people with this personal work. What impact does this have on how you present yourself every day in the workplace, your personal life, and with your family members? This is what I'm talking about, and it goes back to the original question you asked regarding how to operationalize healing. The first step is to open the dialogue, but we also need to practice it as an organization.