ashland.news
June 13, 2024

Building a BASE: Black Alliance & Social Empowerment works on community building

Sabrina Prud’homme, board president of BASE, a southern Oregon nonprofit, spoke at the Ashland AAUW Big Ideas session at the Ashland Public Library Tuesday. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini
February 9, 2024

‘Big Ideas’ discussion audience hears about what life’s like for a Black person in Southern Oregon 

By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news

From cookoffs to youth art classes to chances just to “say hey,” Black Alliance & Social Empowerment provides Black individuals in Southern Oregon with a sense of community and much more.

In honor of Black History Month, the Ashland branch of AAUW hosted its latest “Big Ideas” discussion at the Ashland Public Library on Tuesday afternoon to give the broader community a chance to learn more about the young nonprofit. Sabrina Prud’homme spoke to attendees about “Helping to Create a Welcoming Community: Get to know BASE.”

Prud’homme serves as the chair of the BASE Board of Directors and as a member of the organization’s Police Liaison Oversight Committee, a group dedicated to improving anti-bias efforts and community relations among the local Black residents in Jackson County. The group partners with police chiefs from Ashland, Medford, Phoenix, and Talent as well as Jackson County Sheriff Nate Sickler. Prud’homme also serves as the board secretary for Southern Oregon University and as a strategic advisor to the SOU Board of Trustees. She previously served two terms on the Ashland School Board.

BASE was founded by Vance Beach, who serves currently as the executive director of the nonprofit organization. The organization has a paid staff of three and numerous volunteers.

“Vance is a tireless advocate,” she said. “He moved here to attend SOU and was very active in the institution, so he has a little bit of Ashland roots as well.”

Envisioning a thriving Black community in Southern Oregon — that’s what BASE is about, according to Prud’homme.

“Oftentimes when people come here, Black people in particular, they may see people who 

look like me, I don’t feel welcome here,” Prud’homme said. “There are places in Oregon, in Southern Oregon, that we are not welcome and it is made clear to us. And so, to envision a thriving Black community is what we aspire toward.”

The organization provides an outlet for Black youth, families and individuals to find community and a sense of belonging right where they live.

BASE also organizes annual local events to celebrate the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Juneteenth, a relatively new federal holiday which celebrates the end of slavery.

Based in Southern Oregon, BASE also draws interest from individuals in Cave Junction, Roseburg, and elsewhere. The organization currently is planning to bring youth to Washington, D.C.

Sabrina Prud’homme, board president of BASE, a southern Oregon nonprofit, dedicated to the advancement of Black people in the valley, talked about the history of the group and the events they sponsor at the Ashland Public Library Tuesday. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini

“These values that guide our organization — unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith — you will see those in all that we do,” she added.

Prud’homme said the principles of the nonprofit were derived from the African-American holiday of Kwanzaa that takes place between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. 

“We didn’t see the need to invent any wheels here,” she said. “And we also participate in and put on a community-wide Kwanzaa event.”

BASE, which began in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, helps organize the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. event at the Historic Ashland Armory, as well as the Juneteenth celebration in Medford.

Beach has been a past speaker at the annual Black Youth Leadership Summit held each spring at Southern Oregon University, and Prud’homme said the youth inspired him to pursue forming the organization.

“We serve this Southern Oregon community, but we are getting attention and espousment from beyond the Rogue Valley,” she said.

When asked about new programming in the works, Prud’homme said the organization is developing a program that gives BASE members money to spend at Black businesses that have partnered with the BASE programming.

Audience members asked Sabrina Prud’homme, board president of BASE, questions at the Ashland AAUW Big Ideas session at the Ashland Public Library Tuesday. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini
Why is BASE needed?

Prud’homme emphasized she is not a representative for all Black people or for all people of color, but spoke from her own experiences as a Black woman living in Southern Oregon and how BASE aims to improve overall experiences.

“It is not an easy place to live in Southern Oregon if you are a Black person,” Prud’homme told dozens gathered downstairs in the library.

Conversely, Prud’homme has had “wonderful” experiences living as Black person in the Rogue Valley.

“I don’t want to make it sound like it’s a terrible place to be,” she said. “It’s a lovely place to live. That’s, I think, why we all live here.

“I enjoy living here very much, but I also cannot show up authentically and say that I do not experience racism on a day-to-day basis. And that can be anywhere on Main Street. That can be in the grocery store … There isn’t any place where racism hides unless you’re in the safety of your own home.”

Prud’homme said she experiences discrimination due to her skin color three to four times a week in the Rogue Valley and for her son does at least once a week.

“I think that’s not untrue for most people in this community who are Black,” she said later on in the presentation.

“I can’t go anywhere, and I mean anywhere, and not experience it unless I’m in the safety of 

my own home or that of someone who I know to be a friend. We’re talking the grocery stores, we’re talking schools.”

Prud’homme described a time recently where she brought her 11-year-old son into an Ashland store which she does not name, and both were swiftly accompanied about the store.

“I had to point out to him (later) that no one else who walked through the store had that kind of attention,” Prud’homme said.

“We got our own personal shop attendant for the whole time,” she added. “That is but one example … very common.”

Prud’homme notes that Black people must train their children to notice their surroundings in a way that may be different from others.

“My son, he is much more fair-skinned than I,” she said. “He can, what we call, pass (for a white person). If he’s got a hat on, you can’t see his curls. But the point is, it doesn’t matter 

because he’s still treated like he’s Black … he shows up as a Black person and he sees himself as Black.”

Two Black members of a BASE committee keep a running tally of the number of interactions with law enforcement officers.

“Living here a short period of time, I think one’s at 17 and the other’s at 37 and they probably have only had two tickets,” Prud’homme said. 

Often times when Prud’homme meets other people of color, “they will run to me, and often when I meet new white friends, they will run to me and say, ‘Where are the rest of your people?’” she added.

“And I say, ‘I thought you would tell me that, I don’t know. BASE is helping to change that.”

“We spend a lot of time developing programming,” Prud’homme said of BASE.

From her perspective, she shared that some Black people look around and not only don’t see people of color, but also don’t feel welcome.

“Those things don’t have to be mutually exclusive, right?” Prud’homme said. “You can live in a 

predominantly white city and still feel welcome and a sense of belonging and BASE is trying to help fill that gap.”

Sabrina Prud’homme, board president of BASE, talked Tuesday about the group’s work with local police departments at the Ashland Public Library. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini
Community shares experiences at discussion session

Prud’homme’s presentation drew some comments from those in attendance, including from those with direct experience with the topic of race. 

Marcus, who is Black and chose to only go by his first name, said he has lived in Jackson County for 15 years. He said he has lived in many other places in the United States as well, including in North Carolina in the South.

“I just want to kind of give another perspective,” he said. “When I first moved to Jackson County, I was working for the state. I was working for Oregon State University, but within three weeks, I had met every person associated with law enforcement … not that I was doing anything wrong.”

Marcus emphasized, in his opinion, it’s not about coming to events, but about connecting with others.

“The one thing I have found that I can do here is open up people by looking at people and hoping that they look at me,” he said.

He believes that “by opening your eyes to us and having a conversation,” people of other races can connect with neighbors who are Black.

“Don’t just feel as though as you’re supportive,” he said. “It happens on the street.”

Ashland resident Barbara Cervone’s son is married to an Ethopian woman, whom he met while living in East Africa.

“They moved to Brooklyn (New York) about 10 years ago,” Cervone said.

Cervone shared stories of her son and daughter-in-law and their family’s experiences while visiting in both Ashland and Sunriver. 

Several boys beat up her grandson in the pool at a Sunriver resort.

“They’re coming out here in two weeks to ski,” Cervone said. “There was a question whether 

he would be the only Black boy on the hill, but we’ll see. 

“Their experience here has been positive,” he added.

Another woman, who is white and whose name wasn’t readily available, urged those in attendance to be ready if they see someone of color being stopped by police.

“If you can, stop and pull out your phone and just be ready,” she said. “Just in case that goes sideways, because so many changes we see today started with a cellphone video that most of the people in this room would not have even known these things went on and now we do, and now we’re here.

“Sometimes even just being there, being a silent witness, with phone out, will change everything,” she added.

Geneva Craig also raised her hand to speak as well.

Craig, who marched with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in Selma, Alabama, told a story of a recent interaction with a woman in Grants Pass following a MLK Day event held there in January.

“These couple of women came up to me and they said, ‘We really need to ask you a question,’” Craig said.

“How do you greet … what do you do when you see a Black person and you haven’t seen one in a long time and they come by you,” she added.

Craig asked what the women would do in such a scenario.

Their reply surprised her.

“One said, ‘I turn my head, and I put my head down and I turn away,’” Craig said.

“And I said, ‘well, what kind of message do you want to send?’”

The woman said, “I want to greet them, and let them know I can bond with them.”

“I said, ‘what about eye contact? You see that person of color coming toward you and instead of glancing and looking away real fast … open your eyes as if you saw a friend coming your way. Your eyes can smile, your face can smile,’” she added.

“When people don’t know what to do or how to greet someone, remember, just pretend you’re meeting a friend.”

“If you let that smile reach your eyes, and then your face, and then a nod, you’ve sent a nice, strong warm message. I see you. I recognize. I’m grateful for you.”

Prud’homme thanked attendees for sharing their comments and shared that “There is such a need for larger and bigger community conversations.”

Sabrina Prud’homme talks with audience members after her presentation at the Ashland AAUW Big Ideas session Tuesday. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini
AAUW to hold one more discussion session in March, resume in September

The American Association of University Women (AAUW), founded in 1881, strives to advance gender equity for women and girls through research, advocacy and education.

The Ashland branch of AAUW has given more than $300,000 in scholarships to women who attend Southern Oregon University and Rogue Community College. 

This year, the branch has added an Ashland High School scholarship for young women who will be the first in their family to attend college.

Monthly branch meetings are held on the third Saturday morning of each month with feature speakers pertinent to AAUW’s mission. Meetings are held at the First United Methodist 

Church and are open to the public.

“We regularly sponsor non-partisan election forums for the Ashland City Council and school board races,” said Marilyn Hawkins. 

The next Big Idea series session will host a presentation by Ken Englunde, chair of the Ashland Public Arts Advisory Committee, on the power of public art, at 4 p.m. Tuesday, March 5, at the Ashland Public Library. 

“We’ll be back in September with a whole new lineup of interesting and lively topics to chew on,” Hawkins said.

The organization welcomes new members. There is an application to join.

For more information on the series, contact the library at 541-774-6996.

Reach Ashland.news reporter Holly Dillemuth at hollyd@ashland.news.

Feb. 9: Corrected Sabrina Prud’homme’s status on the Police Liaison Oversight Committee. She is a member, not chair.

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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