Privilege is synonymous with the saying, “it’s not what you know but who you know.” We’ve all heard these words and invariably, been on both sides of this coin. We live within the comforts of our privilege or on the outside looking anxiously in, perhaps enviously. Privilege is both earned and undeserved, inherited and bestowed, constant and permeable. I often reflect on my own personal and professional journey and its relationship with privilege to find there are important moments in time, people and places, toil and luck, that create my story, or at least the one I tell myself. Within this story is an archive of memories, individually unique, simply complex, and ever-changing. And while distinct, my story is intrinsically linked, inseparable to yours. We’re part of a unique group, a civic congregation bounded by common purpose. Together, we share Oregon’s diverse landscape, have an overlapping rolodex of memories and relationships, and together hold still-visceral reactions to having been called an ‘intern’ when we were most definitely something else, something more important. Our connection, of course, is none other than RARE.
The RARE Family, as commonly referred, is a hodgepodge collection of people and experiences to which we’re all privileged to participate. Each of us have earned our RARE credentials. We earned our membership through nights of solitude as we found ourselves in far-flung strange places far from the comforts we once knew. We earned it through our hours of service as we worked alongside the communities, organizations, and people we barely knew. We earned it through the connections we made, relationships kindled, and occasional late-night revelry during RARE trainings. And yet, we owe so much of our privilege to those that came before us.
Personally, I hold my privilege accountable to the legacy of folks like David Povey, the visionary with an idea to form a rural capacity building service corps. To Megan Smith, RARE alumnus and unabashed rural champion who raised RARE from the ground up, serving as our fearless leader for 24 years. And now, Titus Tomlinson, unequivocally the soul of our family leading us into our next storied chapter. And while not all of our experiences and memories are held in the same accord, we share a responsibility of service to not just the aforementioned leaders, but to ourselves, our peers, to those who come next and, perhaps more importantly, to the communities at the center of the RARE program. We share this responsibility and I’m honored to have the opportunity to keeping the RARE legacy alive by volunteering with the newly created RARE Alumni Association. Our goal, novel and still forming, is to create a platform for RARE members to formally connect with each other, deepen professional relationships, and mentor the next generation of leaders that come through the RARE program. We’re eager to grow the Association’s steering committee, need champions, and hope some of you will join this effort. Every contribution and ounce of volunteerism matters.
I love walking into every small town in Oregon knowing there’s chance I’ll find a fellow RARE or someone who’s been impacted by our reach. I love the curious amalgam of the past and present members of this network, 600 strong and counting. I relish the privilege of the RARE family. And while systems of entitlement aren’t typically revered, I’m honored to be part of this privileged lot and to having the chance to get to know so many of you over the years. It was great to see each of you, new and old friends, at the RARE 25th Anniversary Celebration.
Michael Held, Year 18