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Rena Dunbar

Photo by Paul Neevel.
Photo by Paul Neevel.

“My mom is white and my dad is black,” says Rena Dunbar, who learned about racism first-hand, growing up along with her twin sister Leah in Fort Wayne, Ind., a segregated steel mill industrial town. “Seeing discrimination made us activists.” The twins won scholarships to DePauw University in southern Indiana. They majored in English, started a chapter of Amnesty International and protested the first Gulf War. After graduation in 1994, Rena followed the Grateful Dead on tour as far as Autzen Stadium shows in June, and decided to stay on in Eugene. She completed a masters in teaching program at Pacific University and spent nine years teaching language arts to at-risk kids at South Eugene High School. “I wanted them to have an experience that challenges the mainstream culture,” she says, “to hear and honor their own voices and stories.” Dunbar left South to help start Peace Village at Network Charter School, taught there for two years, then returned to the 4J District at Spencer Butte Middle School in 2009. Sister Leah teaches at Churchill High School. For nine years, the twins held a monthly last Thursday youth poetry open mic, “Weapon of Choice: Voice!” at the Morning Glory Café. “What ended that was me going to middle school,” says Rena. “Leah and I both teach a class called ‘Courageous Conversations.’ We examine how identity, culture and ethnicity shape our world view.”