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Oakland woman's fight against racial profiling is growing in Bay Area, outside of California

Oakland woman's fight against racial profiling is growing in Bay Area, outside of California
Oakland woman's fight against racial profiling is growing in Bay Area, outside of California 03:23

Shikira Porter and her neighbors sparked a new conversation about safety after joining NextDoor several years ago.

Porter says she was horrified reading the warnings of suspicious activity on the social networking platform. 

"You would see posts like, 'Black man walking. Here's his picture. Watch out,'" she said.

She says the posts were examples of racial profiling that endanger innocent people of color.

"I was terrified for myself because oftentimes, some of the posts would be describing someone in such vague terms that it described me. It described my son. It described people visiting my house," Porter explained.

She got together with her neighbors in Oakland's Upper Dimond neighborhood and led the work to help NextDoor create guidelines to combat racial profiling. The new rules required people to give more details in suspected crimes.

But in the end, Porter felt the changes didn't go far enough: The posts were still too vague to protect the innocent.

"So how do we grow our thinking and not immediately think that Black and brown folks are a threat to your safety," she said.

The answer? Education.

Porter and her neighbors had co-founded the advocacy group, Neighbors for Racial Justice, 10 years ago. Most of its dozen or so volunteers have been white women, and Porter has helped them understand and examine their own racial bias.

They teach what they've learned to neighborhood councils and schools in the East Bay, and they train others to share the presentation.

Neighborhood Council chair Jenny Zilliac says Shikira helped her to set aside preconceived notions she's held as a white woman.

"We moved from a place of being critical of other people who hadn't learned those things to being empathetical and compassionte," Zilliac said.

The group has also held Black Lives Matter vigils every Saturday since a neighborhood watch volunteer was acquitted in the shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin a decade ago.

In fact, Neighbors for Racial Justice co-founder Ginny Berson says they're working on training neighborhood watch groups to reduce racial profiling and pass on what they've experienced under Shikira's leadership: people getting to know their neighbors to make their area safer.

"She understands we're all connected," said Berson. "She brought experience, intelligence and heart to all we've done."

Porter credits her neighbors.

"What Neighbors for Racial Justice shows is the magic that can happen when you work as a collective," she said.

So, for her work toward racial justice, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Shikira Porter.

In her day job, Porter is Chief Equity Officer at Homeward Bound of Marin. She's also served on the Neighborhood Council and two years on a panel that selects members of the Oakland Police Commission.

She has also worked with neighbors in Atlanta and Denver to start their own version of Neighbors for Racial Justice.

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