Keaton Ems is the vice president of government relations at Citizens for a Greater Idaho, and a representative of the Move Oregon’s Border for a Greater Idaho. He is a 2020 graduate of Portland State University and is working on a Master of Public Policy at Oregon State University.
It is a lifetime honor of mine to be the first former refugee, Black Muslim and Somali-American to serve in the Oregon State Senate. As your SD 24 Senator representing one of the most diverse districts in our state, I come to Salem with high hopes knowing that my lived experience and my two decades of advocacy and organizing skills needed to be translated into real policy change, particularly for Black, Indigenous, people of color, immigrants and refugees, low-income Oregonians and rural communities. I am committed to bringing all my years of deep, on the ground relationships and the voices of our entire community with me and working to pass policies aimed at changing all our lives for the better. Currently, I am serving as the Chair of the Senate Housing and Development Committee and members of the Senate Labor and Business Committee and the Joint Ways and Means Subcommittee on Transportation and Economic Development.
I was born into a nomad family in Somalia. To survive the harsh desert environment, interdependency was key to our survival – everyone in the family had a role to play and if one of us failed to do our job, the entire system would collapse. I carry this collective thinking with me until today and I believe that everyone’s unique skills, contributions and talents only make our communities stronger. It is what drives my passion to make a difference in my communities.
Just as the civil war erupted, I graduated from high school and lived as a refugee for many years before arriving in the Untied States and settled in Portland, Oregon in 1998. I began working at the Lutheran Community Services Northwest helping new refugees adapt to life in the United States, and in 2003, I co-founded the Center for Intercultural Organizing (now Unite Oregon) – a statewide nonprofit dedicated to uplifting all Oregonians. For many of us, the American Dream has been deferred from the begining because our policies have been designed to work only for those who wield money and power. The system has not worked for most of us and too many of our fellow communitit members have been left behind, struggling to make ends meet. As someone who has navigated innumerable challenges, I am dedicated to empowering our communities to build our shared vision the future.
I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology at Marylhurst University, and currently living with my wife Stephanie D. Stephens and my beautiful twins Sahan and Saharla in the Hazelwood neighborhood of East Portland. I look forward to continuing my years of advocacy and community work during the legislative session and beyond to position Oregon as a leader on economic, social, environment, and racial justice so that it can be a better place to live and work for everyone.