5 Questions with Restorative Justice Artist and Educator Vo (6/14/18)

Welcome back to 5 Questions, a series of enlightening profiles on exceptional people who are part of the Health Equity Partners’ team.

In our second installment, we introduce the very multi-faceted Vo. We met Vo late last year at a dinner party honoring local filmmaker Cassie Goodluck Johnson here in Portland. We immediately recognized their talents in teaching how inclusion, race, social justice and organizational change intersect. They have lived and worked across four continents, and in Oregon alone, Vo has trained staff from over 100 organizations in Trauma-Informed Care, Restorative Justice, Inter-cultural Communication, STEM and Art Practices. Vo is also a youth worker who advocates for putting power into the hearts, hands and minds of young people. Oh, and they’re an artist. And a musician. We weren’t kidding when we said they’re multi-faceted!


HEP: We met here in Portland at a small dinner for a local filmmaker initially. As an artist yourself, how do you bring this talent into the work you do around organizational and institutional change?

VO: I think most artists are lateral thinkers and if they are *good* artists then they have considered societal patterns, flaws, and strategically have worked to interrupt them or bring them to light. I can’t imagine being an artist and not considering and playing with institutional power.

HEP: Share with us your childhood. You’ve lived in many countries and cultures.

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VO: I am kid of refugees from the war in Vietnam, and my life up to the age of 25 was characterized by displacement and a promise of imminent immigration. We were on a waiting list to be reunited with family here in the States. I finally received my green card four years ago.

Through the “luck” or experience of having diasporic family members –in Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam and the US– meant I was accustomed to flitting between vastly different societies from the age of five. As an analytical kid, this allowed me to make observations of how westernization, capitalism and “Third World” racism directly resulted in certain types of economies and lifestyles/environments.

HEP: When you provide trainings in Intercultural Communication, what does that mean? Is it something that can applied in any workplace?

VO: This is one of almost 20 trainings I give, and this particular one brings to light that there is no cultural norm or default identity. As a result, one (anyone) might benefit from expanding their perspective enough to understand the different frameworks and cultural influences that each individual has that then results in their particular type of interaction and communication style. The training defines and contextualizes, and also offers strategies to bridge these gaps. It applies to any place or practice.

HEP: There’s a growing number of orgs and independents advising companies on equity and inclusion (also known as diversity and inclusion or D&I) across the country. Do you think overall it’s a good thing or that it may be perceived as a trend? What should business leaders be considering when finding the right equity and inclusion consultant to help them?

VO: The effort to create equity is a response to a society and system that continually creates conditions that are inequitable. Personally I am interested in not only lip service but shedding light on those systems, how not to perpetuate them, and strategies to institutionally and procedurally break down barriers for marginalized communities. My consultations are about pragmatically following through with rhetoric or dogma regarding “Diversity” or “Equity”.

HEP: Final question: who are some of your favorite local and/or non-local filmmakers and/or artists?

VO: Melanie Stevens and Tyler J White are two of my favorite local artists. My favorite filmmakers are [Andrei] Tarkovsky[Chris] Marker and early Polanski.