March 12, 2021

Courage and Compassion Awards: Pari Mazhar, Senior Director of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion

Pari Mazhar’s commitment to her community began when she worked for social justice in Iran at age 16. Mazhar was actively advocating for women’s rights and fighting for young people who were deprived of entering in university due to political screenings of the Islamic republic of Iran in 1987. After the Islamic revolution, the government became further established and there was a crackdown on all activists or anyone who advocated for social justice.

“Following the revolution, the Iran and Iraq war started and I saw the first hand destructive and traumatic impact of war on people’s lives,” said Mazhar. “As I was personally among many others who were banned from pursuing my educational dream as a young female, I witnessed how women’s rights were rapidly fading from society. The desperation and devastating effects of war gave me a purpose in life to fight for human rights, women’s rights, and the marginalized population in Iran.”

After few years of direct activism (and brush with the government’s secret police) Mazhar was forced to leave her country or face the serious risk to her life at the hands of government. After a long journey, she landed in Los Angeles, California where her two brothers had sought refuge from the war. After arriving and realizing she must make a new home in the United States, Mazhar was even more determined to continue her work advocating for social justice – this time more freely and without worry of life threatening risk and danger.

Mazhar’s goal upon arrival to the U.S. was to earn a degree in social work and pursue a career that has a direct impact on the health of communities of color, in particular the refugee community. The road to that goal was challenging, and Mazhar built resiliency along the way. During that time, she worked two different jobs in the day and then went to school at night. “I experienced first-hand the concept that resiliency for many women of color and refugees is a matter of survival,” said Mazhar. “The more challenges I faced, the more determined I become to make some meaning of my life. I believe in universal human right, as we all are connected in this world, and anywhere I make a difference is a good and just work to do.”

Mazhar says her calling was to become a social worker, serve the community, and challenge the establishment no matter where she lives. Today, Mazhar serves as the Senior Director of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion at Cascadia where she works to ensure equal access to health and housing resources, especially among marginalized and under-served communities.

Mazhar’s work within the community was especially important this past year, as we faced a global health crisis that disproportionately affected communities of color. She continues to connect with marginalized community groups despite the communication barriers brought on by the pandemic, and also leads weekly mindfulness practices, supports Cascadia’s POCaucus, and facilitates community action groups like STIRY and the Oregon Chapter of Building Community Resilience (BCR).

“Pari embodies the type of excellence that emanates from within an individual with an extraordinary story,” said Sandra Wilborn, Chief Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Officer at Cascadia. “In a time when a once in a century event threatened to fracture our communities, our services, and our lives, our connections to Portland’s Immigrant and Refugee communities has never been more important. Pari has helped to sculpt a model for expanding cultural connections in a new and complex atmosphere. Cascadia is fortunate to be a recipient of her courage and compassion.”

For Mazhar, the work is a blessing as well as a reminder of the struggles and triumphs of her own life journey. “I am grateful that I have been able to give back to the community, a community that has given me a lot and also taken away so much from me,” said Mazhar. “I live with this dichotomy and understand that one does not cancel out the other. I am happy and have so much gratitude that I can have a voice at Cascadia and be able to make a difference.”