My perspective on Portland has been in a constant state of change for the past 16 years. When I was younger, Portland felt like it was the size of the universe and there were infinite things to do. As I have gained more freedom Portland has become smaller and smaller. I feel confined yet comforted by the scenery both natural and man-made here in Portland. Although Portland has become smaller to me and easier to navigate, I still find that there are infinite things to do. Portland has to offer these beautiful scenes that are easily accessible by either walking, public transportation or biking. All these transportation options allow for numerous adventures among the city. I have found myself in places that I never knew existed. There have been 10 mile bike rides nearly straight up hill to reach a 105 year old house. There have been views from multiple sides of the valley and deep in the middle of it. I see dark scenes contrasted with Transcendentalist-like views of water and sunsets. The city of Portland to me is one of the most beautiful places on earth. The diversity of landscapes and backgrounds. One evening you may see the clearest sky you have ever seen and the next it will be gloomy and rainy. This is partially what I love about Portland. The North of Portland is perhaps the most boring part of town. The majority of the beauty of Portland hides in the center of town as well as the southern parts. Sellwood is a very calm and beautiful part of town that allows me to relax and feel the cool wind. The Alberta neighborhood as well as the Albina neighborhood give me a feeling of stress and high activity that takes away from the beauty. There are many beautiful shops around Portland that make the city much more exciting. There are record stores that smell like old paper. There are tiny coffee shops that look like rundown shacks. There are many diverse restaurants that expand your palate to the size of the world. Portland is one of the most wack yet beautiful towns I know.
What Now? 3.0 is an event that began in response to the 2016 presidential election. Natalie Sept who, like many others, was disappointed by the voter outcome and active participation in said election. She started this event with the intent of promoting people (now particularly youth) to become more involved in their communities and their democracy. The original event was held at Revolution Hall and hosted well over 2000 people from all around the Portland area. The event contained workshops, tabling organizations and a keynote event with amazing speakers from around Portland. The event was planned in eight days by Natalie as well as an amazing group of 20 people who worked tirelessly to plan this event. The event has changed quite a bit since then.
This years planning committee consists of Natalie Sept, and Sara Guest, the only two adults involved in planning, Carmen Vintro, Gabby Cosey, Karina Alcantara, Victoria (Tori) Siegel, Taji Chesimet, Fowzia Ibrahim, Jada Commodore and Thomas Cassidy who are all youth from various high schools around Portland.
On December 1st relatively early for a Saturday morning, the youth planning committee for this year’s event arrived at Wilson High School and began to set up for the event. The morning began with a plenary session created and presented by, Gabby, Jada, and Taji. This lovely group of people discussed the diaspora of African culture in America as well as violence and discrimination affecting black people. Our U.S. Senator Ron Wyden showed up during the plenary to see the kind of action and change youth are making. After the plenary session, the workshop portion began. There were four workshop slots with two workshop options per slot. Some of the workshops included Confronting Whiteness in Environmentalism, Queer is Color, Toxic Masculinity, Indigenous Rights, and Refugees & Immigration.
After the workshops there was time for organizations to table and give opportunity for youth. At the end of the night the keynote speakers had their chance to show their versions of activism. Our presenters were amazingly talented when it comes to art and activism. The night ended with clean-up and laughter and the planning committee went out for dinner and discussed their thoughts on the event.
At this point it has been just over a month since the 2018 rendition of What Now?. This means I as well as the other planning members have had a month to reflect on the negatives and positives surrounding the event. The planning took place nearly every Saturday morning at about noon for the better part of six months. Each one of us planners had different things going on in our lives during the planning. It has often been difficult to give up our Saturday for work, but working with some of the most amazing people in the Portland area makes it easy. Showing up for the months of planning compared to the 8 days of the original event have allowed for some serious bonding and friendship building. However there were downsides to the amount of time we had. We had the opportunity to develop very strong content for the event. Working this long however didn’t give us the sense of urgency we needed.
Securing a venue was one of the most stressful and difficult aspects of this planning for the adults especially. The original venue for this year’s event was supposed to be Benson High School. There were a few reasons why that fell through. The reason Benson would have been a good venue was because of the accessibility. Benson is right in the middle of Portland and many bus lines pass by. Wilson though was our last resort. The school is on the opposite side of town from Benson but we had to make do with what we had. Another speed bump we encountered during planning was related to the venue change. Because we didn’t have a venue secured in time we were forced to push the date back by two weeks. The date change was also because there were events related to ours that may have interfered with our target audience. Even though our numbers were comparatively low to previous years, the people who came were extremely interactive and provided many new ideas to the conversation. The event went exceedingly well and seemed to be a huge success.
Looking to the future the mission of What Now? will remain. The fate of the event itself is uncertain however. Empowering youth to be involved in our democracy is going to be a staple of my work and the work of many others. One of the most powerful tools of change is the right to vote. This is a privilege that not all people in the world have. Using this right to build positive change on all levels of society is going to be the future of What Now? The legacy will live on in all the people who planned and attended.
During the event I wanted to make sure everything was running smoothly and that everybody had the tools they needed to work their magic. I would run from the cafeteria to the check-in table in my socks to make sure that the people there were not overwhelmed and if they were, I helped. I assisted anybody and everybody with any task they needed done including switching slides for presentations and setting up chairs and tables for workshops.
When I wasn’t scrambling around, I was with Tori either working on our Toxic Masculinity workshop of presenting it. The workshop was on how toxic masculinity and gender norms affect men and women as well as non-binary people. I believe that the workshop shed light on ways to break down the system of gender expectations. What I got out of the workshop was many suggestions from the audience on how to break these down and make a change on all different levels of society. All in all I believe that What Now? 3.0 was a huge success. It allowed for the democratic dialog of change to continue in the up and coming generation.
If you would like to learn more about toxic masculinity:
If you would like to learn more about What Now?:
I fell under a spell for the past six years of living in this city, blind to what was occurring under my feet. I walked to school every day during junior high –same path, same neighbors, same life. One day, I noticed a peculiar sign hung from the gate outside a blue house on my route: “Intent to Demolish.” Months passed as the sign became nothing more than a familiar object to me, until out of nowhere, the house was gone. Then, for the next two years, I watched as two beautiful, but alien houses were erected — more manufactured than the clothes on my back. It never occurred to me that my part of the city, the landscape of my childhood, would fall victim to gentrification.
I was born at Legacy Meridian on December 12th, 2001. Sixteen years later, I have involuntary lived in eight different homes, from the coasts of Astoria to the more recently contentious lands of North Portland. From apartments, to a bed & breakfast, to a cookie-cutter house, my willingness to leave behind a history, a footprint, even a life, and migrating to a foreign home is now second nature.
When tackling displacement through the lens of Portland, a city often considered a liberal safe haven, we must recognize the steady foot of racist tendencies and practices. In writing this story, it became too suffocating to internalize my experience as I knew it could not be singular. The issue is past its infancy but still plagues us with its effects. Throughout this process, I have moved into a more developed understanding of how gentrification is an issue expanding past just race; welcoming new avenues of privilege, gender, and opportunity.
It all started in a conference room atop the Pioneer Place Mall in downtown Portland. I was surrounded by black men and other black business-owners, mentors, and role models. As we discussed the concept of “Black Owned-Businesses and Black Space” as a focal point for our summer project, we really delved into “What is a Black Space, why is it important, and how can we picture and create opportunities for such to occur?” There, I met a man by the name of Royal Harris, a second-generation Portland native who plays a crucial role in the story.
On Thursday afternoon, I sat down with Harris at Elevated Coffee, coincidentally, a black-owned business on MLK. We started the conversation by talking about his roots in Portland. When posed with the question of defining gentrification, he stated that we must look at gentrification as a tool; in order to remove the pathos from the dialogue.
“When looked at in a purely economic or business space, it is the ability to see opportunity in a neglected environment and change it around for the better. If black people could afford these neighborhoods, there would be no claim or uproar about the aesthetic or the changes. Portland has become a national city. Part of the growing pain is the highlighting of disparities and inequities.”
From that interview, I sat down with a young man by the name of Jaime Delara, a senior at Roosevelt High School, and a Portland native. However, his family comes with a history of migration to this country, one of desire for more opportunities for themselves and their families. In July of this year, Jaime underwent an experience that forced him into a cohort of many, including myself. His landlord was selling the house that he has lived in for the last 10 years of his life. Before that, he had moved in and out of Portland to Vancouver (WA). His story brings an aspect of living in the US that many can relate to. Jaime is a 17-year old Chicano boy who doesn’t want to be a statistic. Our discussion shifts onto the topic of adaptability: How have we, as humans, seen gentrification as something to conform to? How are we are not used to, or known to, new and changing environments? Therefore, we shed an identity or self to become what our social and emotional processes need.
“If you are not already in a good place, you are just going to keep going lower. Do you think that it is possible for those who are not economically advantaged to get up? There are no stepping stones in place. Landowners will just keep raising the prices because they can and that is what is so attractive and that is what brings people from California and other areas here by the thousands. Gentrification only makes the rich, richer. I have stayed here because of family and my roots to this city. I don’t know any other city.”
I never thought I could come to a consensus on the topic of gentrification. I participated in the PLACE summer program at The CENTER. PLACE is a summer program that consists of breaking down the history and narrative of urban renewal in Portland. Through such a program and my own research, I grasped the idea of gentrification and the physical effects it has. However, I needed to have these discussions to explore the nuisances of this tool. An understanding of wow we utilize it — and other capitalistic advantages. How can we be the benefactors of gentrification? Some people don’t even have the privilege to ponder such thoughts. America is my playground and I will continue to poke and prod at its’ systems.
I feel like it’s important, when introducing myself, to get all of the surface level aspects of my identity out into the open. I’m biracial. I was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. I’m a senior at Catlin Gabel. I have an intense love for reading and writing. These are the first things I tell people about myself, but just because they are the first doesn’t mean there isn’t an important story behind my connection to each of them. It’s funny, because I use these as an easy introduction to who I am, but they are far more complex than I present them. I am biracial. Three words that hold eighteen years worth of identity crises, a handful of people asking “what are you?”, and enough strangers feeling the need to touch my hair to make want to keep it up at all times. I tell people this because I feel like it’s something they need to know and to avoid inquisitive looks about how I identify when faced with the ambiguity of my skin color and hair. I’m biracial. My dad is Black and my mom’s white. Simple. I was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. Portland, the city I call home. The city that has given me everything but taken so much.
I say I love Portland like how I say I love the United States, only sometimes, but the feeling I get when returning to my city after being somewhere else is like breathing again. I’m from Portland, Oregon. When introducing myself to new people, all of these parts of my identity come out, but whether or not my story connected to those identifiers is visible depends on my comfort level.
As the CENTER Youth Advocate, I serve as the connection between the CENTER and Portland youth, to spread city-wide opportunities aimed for education and action and am also responsible for researching youth programs or workshops, providing the CENTER as a hub for students to get involved. I do this work not only because I care deeply about my community, but because I want to give back to that community by affecting actual change. Voicing my concerns about the future of my community can only do so much, but being here at the CENTER and doing this work affirms that I am doing all I can to be a positive and helpful person in the fight to create change.
My name is Bella Myers and I am the CENTER editor. I am 17 years old and a senior at Catlin Gabel. Coming from a multiracial family, I pride myself on my different layers of identity. A huge part of my family’s values is to be able to experience as many different levels of diversity as possible. My passion for social justice and inclusion stems from my experiences growing up. As a person of color at a predominately white school, I am either ignored or looked upon with a microscope. Ever since I started school at Catlin Gabel almost 4 years ago, I knew that I had to start speaking up about the injustices and microaggressions that myself and my other friends of color were experiencing. As I became to use my voice, I started to recognize the bubble that encapsulated the Catlin community. This eventually led to my involvement at the CENTER because I wanted to reach out beyond the bubble and into the communities that I call home. The CENTER has allowed me to have leadership opportunities within my neighborhood and I plan to create programs for the underprivileged youth.
My name is Thomas Cassidy and I am a Junior at De La Salle North Catholic High School. I serve The CENTER as the Marketing and Outreach Coordinator. Being a part of the CENTER I am given a vast amount of opportunities. Freshman and Sophomore year I was not given the chance to do what I love which is helping people. In my mind I had no community to help, I was not engaged with myself, others or society. I saw problems that I never knew I had the ability and power to fix. I heard about the CENTER countless times from friends and never knew how special it place truly is until I did the myPlace program this past summer. CWSP (Corporate Work Study Program) at my school gave me the chance to work here. The CENTER is different than any place I have ever been. It is an open space that allows me to provide help to those who need it.
The CENTER has brought so many opportunities into my lap. In fact there are too many to be able to take advantage of each one. Everyday I step into the CENTER for any reason I am faced with the fact that I could change something today. The CENTER gives me a sense of community and the ability and platform to help people and make a positive change in my community. I suffer with mental illness off and on and that is one subject that I am very passionate about. Mental Illness is overlooked especially in youth today. I would like to change the way people perceive mental illness and how they treat people suffering with mental illness. My need for social justice was sparked when people on social media would use racism, sexism, homophobia, classism etc as comedy.
What do I want?
I want many things from and for the CENTER and my community. First off I would like to engage Freshman and Sophomore students from the Portland Metro area to not just be involved in their communities, but to have the opportunities that I did not have. I want to grow as an ally and comrade for POC, women, WOC, immigrants and all other people in my community who deserve not just equality but equity. I want to explore the world of voting and find solutions to the lack of youth votes in all elections in the United States. I want to urge people to get involved in politics and their local, federal and national governments. I want to use my common interests to build a larger following for the CENTER. Widen the scope of the CENTER and making it a space where everybody feels welcome to the opportunities they offer is a very important task and goal of mine. I plan to use all resources provided to me to be the best I can be. I want to carry on a space cultivated by brilliant youth and adults from around Portland. I want to bring the CENTER to middle schools to perpetuate the mission of the space as well as social justice work in Portland and the world. I want social justice to become a norm in all schools across Oregon and eventually the whole of the United States. I want to be proud of the work I do as well as the legacy I leave for the next CENTER students and youth. I want to leave a mark on my community that will last long after I’m gone. I expect to have achieve these goals within 2 years and I plan to keep the CENTER in my life for a very long time. The most unlikely yet probable goal of mine is to expand the CENTER physically to cities in America who are in need of a cultural and empowerment hub. As I grow with the CENTER I will be who I need to be for those who need me.
Hello! My name is Taji Chesimet. I have lived in Portland for the last seven years and was not only a political awakening, but also an introduction into the sphere of social awareness. I discovered how to love my blackness, and this city helped me love other peoples’ blackness too.
This is evident when I started in middle school to make it my duty to build the school’s student council from the ground up. After entering my current high school, De La Salle, the opportunity and necessity for community involvement just increased. The CENTER is the necessary microcosm for hope, since the first time I stepped in — hearing conversations on the American Dream and the ambiguity she posses fill the room. From then on, I have found ways to utilize the CENTER for all it’s worth. Holding workshop installations on the importance of recognizing queer intersectionality with people of color to participating in summer PLACE programs with New York Riverdale high school students, the organic relationships, and outlets for participation are endless.
For the next two years, I will sit at the CENTER, as it’s Event Coordinator and work with local organizations and people to build, facilitate, and support projects that surround the CENTER. This job description was a natural transition for me as I have made strides in holding and participating in CENTER and other organizational events for a large portion of my schooling now. I am really excited for the year as I have a lot of ideas and input I can not wait to share with our coalition — and community.
Over this past month working with the CENTER, a burning question has arisen for me centered around youth empowerment: how much decision making power should youth decision makers be given in the context of an organization like the CENTER whose role it is to empower youth decision makers?
This question is important to me because of my background working with Post 58, a youth-led outdoor education nonprofit in Portland. I have been involved with the Post for all four of my high school years, and have been on the student leadership committee for three. There are 133 students in the Post, representing 23 different high schools. Of that 133 students, 25 are on the student leadership committee. The goal of the Post is to provide access to the outdoors, particularly in the realms of rock climbing and mountaineering, to students who otherwise wouldn’t have access.
My involvement in the Post has increased over these three years. I was first in charge of managing the Post’s gear that we own in order to loan to students for trips. Last year, I was the climbing coordinator, which involved managing the logistics for our mountain climbing season (the busiest time of the year for us!). That process began with planning which climbs we would do, moved on to coordinating signups for trips, and finally involved making sure each trip ran smoothly throughout the summer. In short, I was given an opportunity to show that I could shoulder a large responsibility even though I am young and relatively inexperienced.
However, I was far from perfect in fulfilling every aspect of that role. I frequently had to enlist the help of others to get tasks done, such as when I had to communicate with all 80 students who signed up for trips at once. I was supposed to keep a watchful eye on each of the student leaders who were actually going on these climbs, but my watchful eye frequently missed a few beats. Despite my moments of failure, I was given another opportunity to grow as a student leader in my role as vice president of the Post this year.
Now, I am going to take a few steps back and zoom out from the details about my involvement with the Post. I used this anecdote in order to give you some idea of my background as a youth decision-maker, and to give context to why this question of youth empowerment is so important to me. However, even though I am doing my best to answer this question objectively, you should know that this experience has imparted a bias for me: I lean heavily towards giving youth more responsibility than they could possibly shoulder because I believe that creates the most productive, albeit ambitious, learning environment. In general, I believe that people will rise to the height at which the bar is set, so we should place it pretty damn high.
There are times when youth couldn’t possibly be expected to cover all the bases. This is most often true on the logistical front, such as when students tasked with organizing event space or building partnerships with other organizations don’t know best practices for getting those jobs done. There are other times (and I see this with both the Post and the CENTER) when funding is somewhere on the decision-making table and the adults that work with the students to fulfill their visions have fiduciary responsibilities that require them to curb the risk the students are taking. It is in these cases that I see a need for the more experienced hand of the adult mentor to extend a little further.
On a whole, I see a need for our education institutions to need to be more confident in providing agency to youth. If those in charge of making the decisions for schools and other organizations that work with youth believe in experiential learning, then why are more youth not at the decision-making table? Even if experiential learning is not a core value at a given institution, I still believe that it would be beneficial to have students work with the adults as peers in some cases, not just as pupils. That means having students in the decision-making bureaucracy, with perhaps a few on every committee or working group.
Providing this sort agency is something that the CENTER does really well for its students. As a “coalition-led hub for child and youth creativity, education, and engagement,” the CENTER provides an open-ended platform for students act on their visions and create meaningful change. Anyone can take advantage of this resource, and, in doing so, know that their opinions and goals will be valued.
While there are adults that work to push forward the work of the CENTER, the time I have spent engaging with these folks has shown that they truly believe in empowering students by putting them on equal footing. In fact, the CENTER relies on its students to carry forward its work, which is a lot of trust on the part of the adults who have a responsibility to make sure the CENTER is living up to its goals. I admire this approach, and I believe that other education institutions could learn from it.
I have experienced this dynamic of working with adults as peers most readily in my experiences with the Post. We have volunteer adult advisors that come on our trainings and trips in order to provide their expertise, but their relationship to the students in Post is far more than just guide and student. I have been able to work alongside these adults to teach other students, plan trips, and even to make decisions relating to the groups safety out in the mountains. As a result, some of these adults are among those who know me best, and I firmly believe that, when you place youth on equal footing with the adults they are working with, the kind of learning that comes out of the experience is far more engaging and is something that young people will carry with them.
I realize that this rationale for giving our youth more decision-making power may seem to be derived from my own overly-privileged background. Indeed, I am lucky to have had this privilege of decision-making power in my youth. I also know that there are those who believe that providing this kind of power to all (or at least most) students would pose a danger to institutions who choose to move in such a direction. While giving students more agency would introduce new risk into the system, I think it is worth it. Often times, the adults who work in the education field are doing the work they are doing because they enjoy working with students. By putting these students at the decision-making table with those adults, the students don’t get to go running off in any direction they so choose. Instead, they would feel like they are an important part of the group of people who shape their educational experience.
When I set out on my senior project, I had big plans. My long-term vision is to try to do some freelance journalism abroad next year, and I want to start that work by building up a skill set and portfolio of work while I’m here in Portland. I wanted to start this work through my senior project at the CENTER writing for I Love This Place PDX, so I chose three Portland-specific topics to explore: environmental justice, policing, and housing. I also set out to write a reflection on the recent primary election, and an internal review of the CENTER.
With these goals set, I started my work trying to gather some background information for each of the topics. For the Portland-wide ones (including the election), that involved lots of Googling. The idea behind just setting out on an internet-based exploration at first is that I would get an overview, a sense of which specific events or things I would need to ask questions about in my interviews, and, most importantly, who I was going to seek out for interviews. At the same time, I was participating in activities with the CENTER, by going to youth collective and coalition meetings, and I was connecting with coalition representatives in order to pursue the internal review. While still maintaining much of my initial confidence about the taks laid out in front of me, the breadth of this endeavor proved to be daunting.
I found it challenging to balance all of these different topics, even though that is something I was trained to do in school. I also found it challenging to be doing so much of the initial research sitting at my computer because I love journalism for the way it allows me to connect with people. This was a frustrating contradiction for me: on one hand I was super stoked to finally have the freedom to learn and write about whatever I am interested in, but, on the other hand, I was becoming more and more frustrated with what that work actually looked like. The moral of the story of these initial stages is that I need to Google less and talk to people more.
I found one valuable way to do this on the policing front through the Community Peace Collaborative (see this piece I wrote), but the area I was able to connect with people most was environment justice. I had opportunity to speak with folks from Portland Harbor Community Coalition (PHCC), the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability Climate Action Plan team, and the Portland Clean Energy Fund. Among my chosen topics, I honed in on environmental justice because it feels important to my experience here in Portland right now. I generally think of Portland as an environmentally friendly city, and I like to think I am environmentally conscious myself. However, I had no idea that environmental justice is so distinct from traditional environmentalism.
For the purposes of this post, traditional environmentalism is undertaken by those who believe in climate change and want to change their actions in order to mitigate it affects, but don’t consider disadvantaged people who are at the center of the impact of climate change. This could look like driving less to work, recycling, using renewable energy in your home, etc. Environmental justice is this same sense of environmentalism, but the people who are impacted most by climate change are at the forefront of concern. An example of this is the work that PHCC does to help those who are displaced by pollution in the Willamette River. Another example is the Portland Clean Energy Fund, a proposed ballot measure that would place a surcharge on billion dollar retail corporations in Portland in order to fund environmental initiatives in our city that would benefit those who did not reap the rewards of the older system. This alternative look at environmentalism has become crucially important to me as I adapt the ways that I act on my beliefs about climate change.
I mention my environmental justice interviews in this reflective piece because I think they showcase what I hope to achieve as a journalist. I want to be able to connect with people in the community that have a stake in whatever the given issue I am researching is and reflect their story in my work. Having the background knowledge is important, but talking to people is even more so. If had more time with this project, I would have liked to set up and conduct more interviews, so that I could present my findings as a whole story, not just the bits and pieces that I have learned thus far.
Looking back over the past four weeks, I am definitely disappointed in the amount that I have accomplished. I did a solid four weeks worth of work, but I set out to do far more than that. The lesson I am learning from this frustration is that I need to set smaller, more achievable goals for myself while still maintaining my ambition. I also need to be open to not fulfilling my goals in exactly the way I set them out for myself because every piece of work is bound to transform over time. If I do my best to connect with as many people as possible and put myself into my work as much as I can, than the stories I produce are bound to reflect my passion and I will have made progress as a journalist.
On the morning of May 19th, I had the opportunity to go to the Portland Community Peace Collaborative (CPC) biweekly meeting. The CPC works to reduce violence and crime in Portland by developing strategies with a diverse group of individuals in the room. The folks who I saw in the room include many street level gang outreach team members, police officers, city officials, community leaders whose goals align with those of the CPC, and other citizens.
I went to this CPC meeting hoping to learn more about the historical context to and present state of policing in Portland. I also hoped to be able to make connections with folks in our community who are involved in the work of the Police Bureau. However, I didn’t know what to expect.
When I walked in, I was first struck by the energy in the room. Almost everyone was intently engaged in a discussion, and I saw people in business suits talking to people in uniform talking to people in plain, everyday clothes. That image seems to capture the goal of the CPC to me.
I was greeted by a woman with rainbow-colored hair. I don’t think she was an official greeter, she just immediately said hello, which occurred quite often as I moved by different folks when I was there. I asked if it was okay to sit anywhere; she said no. “Standing room only,” she replied abruptly. I must’ve looked rather shocked because she immediately started laughing and slapped me on the back. “Just messing with you,” she said kindly. She could clearly tell that I wasn’t used to just walking into a room, in a police precinct no less, and talking to strangers. I needed to be less wary of starting up a conversation.
There was one long table leading from the door to the presentation screen; the first oval of chairs were around this table. There was a second oval of chairs around those, and then a third on the perimeter of the room. I made my way tentatively over to the front of the room, and sat down in the second set of chairs. I picked up the stack of papers that was on my chair and began to read.
“Presenter: Roberta Phillip-Robbins, Chair for the Oregon Council on Civil Rights. Youth and Measure 11: Impacts of Mandatory Minimums...Presenter: Nicole Grant, Senior Policy Adviser, Mayor’s Office. Portland Committee on Community-Engaged Policing.”
The meeting started with a report on the past two weeks’ gang activity in Portland delivered by the head of the Portland Police Gang Enforcement Team. The rest of the meeting was devoted to the two speakers, both of which had a youth focus, which was particularly helpful with my project.
The first presentation was about the impact of the mandatory minimum sentencing procedures imposed by measure 11 on Oregon’s youth, following this recent report by the Oregon Council on Civil Rights. The presenter, Phillip-Robbins, spoke of the disproportionate impact that this policy has on youth in communities of color and low-income communities. In 2012, black youth were 26 times more likely to be indicted for a Measure 11 offense than their white counterparts (see the report for more details). Furthermore, Measure 11 allows Oregon youth to be convicted as adults, which means that they have to live as a convicted felon for the rest of their lives, if and when they are released.
This presentation was impactful to me because I consider myself to be a relatively socially and politically aware young person in Portland, and I had never heard of Measure 11 before this meeting. Furthermore, I thought I had learned enough to have a primitive understanding of injustice in our criminal justice system, but I haven’t even scratched the surface. I want to continue looking into the ways outdated policies victimize people in our city today because this presentation made it clear to me there are ways to prevent this kind of unnecessary harm to people’s lives. I also want to extend the scope of this investigation to the specific ways in which new information can lead to changes in or the replacement of such policies. For example, the way this report uses new research about the brain to recommend changes regarding Measure 11.
The second presentation was about the Portland Committee on Community-Engaged Policing (PCCEP), a citizen task force focused on making policy recommendations to the City and the Police Bureau that the mayor’s office is forming in the coming year. The presenter, Grant, explained that the City is seeking a way to get community input as they make changes to policing policy in our city. She made it clear that they want voices from all corners of Portland represented, including high school representatives.
It was this emphasis on the need for young people to be at the decision-making table that caught my attention. Often times, youth are included in such endeavors in order to tokenize the youth voice, but this request for young people who want to be engaged seemed genuine to me.
City officials are actively seeking high schoolers by promoting the PCCEP at schools, and they have set aside two seats on the committee for high schoolers only. This is something they didn’t do with any other group, and high schoolers have equal consideration for all of the other spots as well. Once seated, everyone on the committee has equal voice, which leads me to believe they genuinely want youth engaged in this new initiative.
However, I believe that having the opportunity to help shape policing policy in our city is valuable for anyone, young or old. If you are interested in getting involved, the application form is here.
Finally, one last note about the CPC itself. I truly wasn’t sure what to expect walking in. In fact, I was caught off guard by the diversity of the people in the room. I think I was expecting a lot of police officers and a more formal meeting. Instead, I witnessed a room full of folks from all walks of life in Portland getting together with open minds towards the kinds of work that could occur. I was also caught off guard by the range of topics covered. Starting from the gang activity report that had almost no emotion attached, and moving to the hopefulness attached to the presentations on Measure 11 and the PCCEP.
One thing is for sure: the CPC is a unique group of people in our city, and the people in the room have the collective resources to make meaningful change. Their celebration of all those whose first time it was to CPC meeting makes me hopeful that this is one way anyone in Portland could work to make a difference. I am surely going back.
Even after living all 18 of my years here, I have an extremely limited view of Portland. Most of us do, as we are each restricted by our own individual experiences, but it is also important to reach across the boundaries that keep us restricted. Before I leave this town, I feel a need to broaden my understanding of those who live here and the issues that are most critical to our community. I want to help others do so as well through my work on the I Love This Place PDX blog.
Starting with the bigger picture, I am doing this work because I want to build a skill set and portfolio of work as a freelance journalist post high school. The question that many folks my age most often get is some version of “what do you want to do with your life?” Well, I don’t know. Nor do I think anyone my age needs to. At the moment, journalism is the most meaningful work to me because it allows to continue learning about what is happening in our community right now, connect with people everyday as I learn about their stories, and give back by making information about the most important issues in Portland more accessible.
For the past and next couple weeks, I selected five areas in which to focus my work: environmental justice, housing, policing, the election, and an internal project. For all of these topics (with the exception of the internal piece), I am focusing on why it is important to our community here in Portland. I chose to report on environmental justice in Portland because I am intrigued by the link between mainstream environmental efforts to mitigate climate change and the work of grassroots organizations focused on equity for all Portlanders. I chose to report on housing in Portland because homelessness and the availability of affordable housing are defining issues in the politics of our city, but I don’t understand what led them to be so. I chose to report on policing in Portland because there is a discrepancy between the mission of the Portland Police Bureau and the actions of our officers. I chose to report on the primary election that wrapped up two days ago because I am engaged in Jo Ann Hardesty’s campaign (candidate for city council position #3), and the three issues I am focusing on are crucial to many of the races in this election. Finally, I am spending time looking internally at the work the CENTER does. In particular, I am looking at the relationship between the coalition partners and the youth collective with regards to leadership at the CENTER. The bigger question for this internal piece is how much power should an organization whose aim it is to empower youth, like the CENTER, actually give to youth decision makers when a lot is at stake?
The end goal for this project is to build a list of resources and collection of articles for these topics that I will share through the blog at the end of May. The end goal for my work as a journalist in Portland before I depart is to extend my work on this project to create a bigger list of resources and collection of articles that encompasses as many of the most important issues to Portland as I can cover.
In the Words of, are segments and pieces written by authors within our extended i love this place community. These young people offer their own perspective, lens and analysis of issues around societal issues, community change and their own experiences.
Ahlam is a fierce advocate for social equity and activist combatting the prevalence of islamaphobia in Portland. With a calm demeanor and tenacious spirit, Ahlam defies the perceived knowledge of someone only 15, offering a bounty of wisdom to everything she approaches.
My mind is every single piece that never knows what to think or say
My heart preserves the fuel and energy that i need to survive on a day to day basis
My limbs are each full of the hot gas that burns
Igniting a poisonous fire in my veins
The heart needs the fuel and energy in order for the mind to function.
The limbs need the heart to function in order to continue burning that hot gas.
It all somehow correlates and works together.
The same way the wind gracefully moves with the ocean
Each wave dancing with the splendid sun
Thanking him for shining
On her crisp breath
I ask myself questions I know the answers to
I wonder about things that i know the results to.
At the same time,
I am nitpicking, and finding mistakes within myself.
My pen fits perfectly in my hand the way my puzzled mind and heavy heart works together,
My soul is spilling ink but also bittersweet words on the surface.
Misunderstood and misinterpreted
But i am continuously changing over-time
Like a butterfly, I am a never ending cycle of growth
So being put into a box where i only have one or a couple identities is never going to work out
I wonder whether i should spill words where i am explaining myself
But why should i
Because majority of the times, i feel like i am explaining things that are self-explanatory
But then sometimes
I get that quick reminder
That my heart is beating
That I am human
Made up of a series of flesh
Earth tones and brown tints
Tender skin that is engulfing each breath from my lungs
Constantly grasping for fresh air
And each day
they just want
For the longest time, since i was a little girl, it was embedded in my mind that my feelings weren’t important, and of course this lead me to believe that i was worthless anytime I spoke up
Or any time i showed a hint of tears from crying out of anger
when my older brother’s voice felt like knives scraping against my skin
I wasn’t allowed to show or feel frustration
--otherwise i was called emotional and disrespectful
Or it was perhaps, maybe, just maybe my ‘time of the month’
That i was just being a woman.
And it was almost like i was a problem that needed some fixing
Constantly feeling like a burden was the norm
Just hearing the word ‘emotional’ made me wince and feel weak and for a long time
I felt like a lost girl who was dumb and broken
Aching to hear the words “everything will be okay”
I felt like i was trapped in my own mind
No one could hear me
i couldn’t speak my words and what i thought into existence anymore
i had to breathe in the foreign words that were not mine
my own thoughts didn’t feel real or matter anymore
Because all i needed to know was
how to clean the house
how to cook for my future husband
How to take care of children
And it wasn’t long until i asked --
Why i was never taught to love myself
or to be strong
or how to be a leader
Why was I taught to care for men and children
before I was taught to care for myself
And it didn’t take me long to realize that my mother,
Went through the same exact thing
And it hurts
Knowing that it is a repetitive cycle that never stops
Knowing that generation after generation it has been the same
Relatively like it runs in the blood of somali women to never stand up for themselves
To not care or think about themselves
but for others
It runs in our blood to not teach our husbands, sons, our brothers
Things that they should already know
Things like how to respect women
To care for women
How to cook
How to clean
And especially for them to know that it is okay
To be vulnerable.
That i were never accustomed to fit into those societal cultural norms that have always existed
Like a lamp
There is light in me
A fire buried deep in my mind, heart, and bones
That has always existed
I have always felt it,
but now being the young lady I am today
I carry it everywhere i go.
The fire in me is a symbol
It is a reminder
That I am living
That I exist
That I am capable
And as I say that
I will continue to breathe in my own thoughts
And not be afraid to exhale my words.
and that’s another one sorry idk why it’s so big
In the Words of, are segments and pieces written by authors within our extended i love this place community. These young people offer their own perspective, lens and analysis of issues around societal issues, community change and their own experiences.
With a unique leadership style and charismatic presence, Tamia brings her unwavering understanding of social issues into poetic words. Her identity is her truth and story.
The word that means something isn’t fair.
Your sister getting a bigger bike than you just because she was taller and older.
Walking down the street and getting randomly searched because the color of your skin was darker than the hoodie you were wearing.
The feeling of being crushed.
Where the words coming out of the white man’s mouth is more powerful than bullets in his
But say you got shot.
The blood is oozing out of your back, flowing faster than you’ve ever seen.
Faster than you’ve ever ran.
They ask you “what’s happened, young sir?”
“He shot me,” you reply with.
“What? That can’t be,” they say back.
“The law states, some one with blonde hair and blue eyes can never be the root of a problem, that is simply unjust!”
Unjust? Injustice you say?
I thought you didn’t know the meaning of that word?
Because it didn’t apply to the slaves nor the black little boys walking down the street.
But it can apply to you?
The word that means something isn’t fair.
The Bill of Rights - The Second Amendment
This poem is dedicated to the scared kids.
They hear their shaky breaths as the heavy footsteps thump across the floor.
They taste their salty tears as they run down their faces.
Along the sides of their nose, over the cheeks, down to the tip of their chins where they fall to the floor. But they don’t see the tears.
They see what it’s mixed in with.
Because they don’t hear those footsteps anymore, they see them.
This poem is dedicated to the murder victims.
They’re wide eyes as they realize that this is their last breath.
The shock in their hearts, the immediately longing for their family.
And to their strength, for facing the weapon, even when our own government doesn’t want to.
This poem is dedicated to the sexual assault victims.
They feel the hard metal against their throats.
And the damp breaths against their skin.
And they think, “maybe this won’t be so bad.”
But it’s always bad.
This poem is dedicated to all the gun violence victims.
Because maybe without guns, they wouldn’t be victims.
For years the I Love This Place Blog and the CENTER have had a multitude of dedicated young people working to create spaces and opportunities for other youth, participating in programs put on by PLACE and using the space of the CENTER in a variety of ways. This flexible usage of resources of both entities in integral in empowering young people to create visions of their own. However, it has largely also led to a lack of a set demographic or pool of young people to constantly be engaged. That is changing.
This year's cohort of the CENTER Youth Collective have already begun planning, organizing and executing their visions for a more inclusive community. We are happy to introduce the wonderful youth leaders and activists that inform the direction of the CENTER, work independently on social justice initiatives and actively support the work of all youth around the city of Portland. We are looking to incorporate more young people and bring in more voices to augment our work.
follow us on instagram @thecenterycpdx
Introducing the newest change-makers of Portland:
Senior at De La Salle North. I stand for intersectional feminism (womanism) as well as black lives. My ethos as a black woman has compelled me to not only advocate for equity for myself but other who too share my identities. Equity and inclusion work is important to me because without this type of work being done no progress will be made: people will continue to be oppressed and conversation that are often tough yet beneficial for both parties will not happen.
My name is Ahlam Osman, I’m 16 years old and currently a sophomore at Madison High School. I like to consider myself a youth activist, and an active member of my community(s). I am a part of a few youth organizations all over Portland/Multnomah County and invest a significant amount of time trying to solve the underlying issues that exist in marginalized communities. I believe that it is important for youth to advocate for their needs/Rights, in addition, I encourage other young people to recognize how much power their voice has. My interests include politics, sociology, and art. During my free time I like to write, paint, or play with my cats!
My name is Carmen Vintro and I am a junior at Lincoln high school. I am the founder and leader of a group at my school called MAD (Make A Difference) Youth that aims to educate students on what’s happening in politics, how it affects them, and how they can make a difference. I strive to incite political action in others and am a passionate feminist and (aspiring) climate change activist!
hello my name is emma cooper. i’m 16 and a junior at grant high school. i spend my time doing social justice and community work. i work with the center, beyond differences (a group against social isolation), and raphael house ( a domestic violence center). most of the time i work i go into schools and run workshops about consent or what social isolation is. i advocate for equity and for mental health in my school and community, i aim to use the privilege i have for the better. at school i go to qsa, bsu and run a club called girl up to support girls in developing countries. i am also beginning a project to implement more mental health education into high schools. in the future i’d like to do social work within jails and prisons. in my free time, i create new projects to express advocacy, play piano, and dance.
I'm Ibrahim, a senior at Oregon Islamic Academy. I love math and reading about history and spend my time watching stand up comedy, thrifting, and working on community projects relating to social justice, specifically educational equality. I was born and raised in Dallas, Texas, and my parents are immigrants from Sudan, so I basically live in a multicultural household, an African, Muslim, American, English-speaking, Arabic-speaking household.
My name is Jada Commodore! I’m 17 and I’m a junior at St. Mary’s Academy! I enjoy taking photos and spending time with my lovely friends. I am a co-leader of the black student union at my school and enjoy teaching and learning about race and ethnic education. My favorite things to watch are The Office and Coming to America (they never get old!!). I also do continued work with Momentum Alliance and The CENTER. I love making people laugh and making new friends. You could call me a “Blacktivist” and a Tupac enthusiast!
My name is Riya Sivakumar, I’m 16 years old, and a current junior at the Catlin Gabel School. While I’ve lived in Portland for the lads few years I spent a majority of my childhood in New Delhi, India. As the child of two immigrants, that experience allowed me to connect with my heritage and broaden my perspective on the world. I find that I am better able to empathize and that I have a more open-minded approach to my activism. I am a strong advocate for diversity and representation within my community, and I care deeply about the voices of otherwise marginalized communities. In my free time I enjoy swimming, traveling, eating, making music, and spending time with my family.
My name is Semeredin Kundin, I'm 17 and a senior at Lincoln High School. I'm a African-American, Muslim male, and was born in Atlanta, Georgia, but was raised in Portland, Oregon. I love to read and write, and currently have a interest in political philosophy. I also have a strong passion for service-oriented projects and addressing social issues in our community. I believe it's significantly important for individuals, specifically youth to be thoroughly engaged in their community through civically minded activities. As President of my school's Black Student Union and Brothers of Color, I have the opportunity to draw local knowledge from a diverse group of youth and propose practical solutions to issues in marginalized communities. During my free time I enjoy playing basketball, taekwondo, and hanging out with friends.
My name is Taji Chesimet - 16, De La Salle sophomore - I am a vivacious, motivated and self-driven young man, who uses the understanding of self - inside and outside - in larger social identities, to navigate my work. Interacting with people of all backgrounds, to address the most complex and uncomfortable issues with a candid, direct approach. I run a non-profit and am also a youth commissioner where I corroborate the ideology of togetherness and holistic support for all youth in a valuable and organic approach. In my free time I love to snowboard, read, drink chai, and shop.
I am Tamia Miller, and I attend Jefferson High School as a sophomore this year. I try to spend a lot of time in different parts of Portland, exposing myself to different races and cultures. It has taught me to appreciate people that are different than me, and I think that it is really important because our society can be very restricting. I’ve always been very passionate about racial equality, mental health in teens, gender equity, and bullying. I would like to call myself an advocate for those things. I am always open to hearing new opinions, and new ideas because I believe that it takes more than one person to make a change. My personal interests include binge watching TV, writing short stories and poetry, and spending quality time with good friends and good food.
My name is Teddy, and I’m a freshman attending Portland State University. I was raised in Portland, but born in Thailand onto a refugee camp. I am committed to working towards a more just, equitable, and accepting society through volunteer work, community participation, leadership roles, and cultural diversity. I have been involved with organisations such as the Portland Student Action Network, the Oregon Queer Youth Summit, Momentum Alliance, and others. The common theme is to bring youth voices onto the table and into discussions. Youth voices are not as acknowledged but are equally as important to listen to, include, and uplift. I enjoy long walks on the beach, and punching nazis. Leo Sun, Taurus Rising, and Aries Moon.
my name is Tyler White, I am 17 and a senior at De La Salle. born and raised in portland, oregon, I have spent my entire life in the northeast portland neighborhood, historically the most diverse neighborhood in the city. with one of the largest black families in the state, my connection to my family is a crucial and integral aspect of who I am. awareness and understanding of the long, nuanced history of the systemic, political, economic and social marginalization of blacks in this country, created an overwhelming sense of empathy. the ability to empathize has allowed my work to extend far beyond the context of my own racial identity. working across sexuality, gender expression, creed, political affiliation, age, ability, geographic location and socioeconomic status, has provided a profound depth in scope and lens of all of my involvement. intersectionality and equity are the focal point of every action, event and activity I engage in. in my free time, I spend time writing, running, taking photographs, trying new foods and enjoying time with friends.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. exemplifies one of the greatest gifts one can have: foresight. His vision for America was one fraught with sacrifice, enlightened by hope and captivated by the people. Dr. King throughout his life overcame the barriers before him: white oppression, racial indifference, the social and political neglect of blacks, a country intentionally failing to uphold the principle that “All men were created equal.” In the midst of such despair, Dr. King organized, rallied and combatted the systems of injustice. Memorialized in the fight for civil rights, the hearts of the people and the inspiration of the embattled, each January we remember his work. We remember his truth, what he stood for and even more importantly, what he was lain to rest in support of.
Martin Luther King is often seen as a non-violent leader of the struggle for Civil Rights of African -Americans. That is not his sole history. Dr. King embodied a commitment to grapple with the injustices that threaten the goodness of humanity. He was not solely non-violent, he was revolutionary and radical in simply refusing to respond to the pure hatred and brutality of the system, people and ignorance that opposed him. His death marks a clear moment in history: the guilt of white fragility. What was more dangerous, was not the man who shot him, but the silence of those in power who did nothing to help the movement or address injustice. This tragedy is present in the of the bullet that pierced his body and ended his work on this earth. In his own words, “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Today, we find ourselves, regardless of race and political belief, at a turning point. The work of Martin Luther King has not stopped, it did not end in 1968, it did not end in 2008, it is the work of today, tomorrow and the future. Our political leadership has shown us that there is no respect for the immigrant, Hispanic, black, transgender communities. There is no protection of those who are poorer, need access to healthcare, employment assistance and food security. Any appreciation of women, Muslim communities and Afro-ethnic countries will not be offered. That is the state of our country. But that does not have to be the state of this school, of our community, of our interactions, of our lives. Your silence on these issues is your guilt in supporting them.
Oftentimes, we take for granted the third Monday of each year, celebrating time off, rather than the freedom that came at the loss of the lives of not only Dr. King, but those names we will never know. The names labeled as unsavory, militant and violent. Our self-described Founding Fathers-- wealthy, white men-- waged a war in fight for their freedom, and are forever immortalized as patriots. History classes remind us of their bravery, of their unique foresight, of their vision for a new America.
But today we say to history and society, our Founding Fathers and Mothers were not only those already with the privilege, power and influence to make change. Rather they are the founders of a greater movement, a movement to defy the status quo, to upset stability, the Founders of Freedom. Names our history classes forget, omit or stigmatize. Names like: Malcolm X, Assata Shakur, Stokley Carmichael, Huey Newton, Angela Davis, John Africa, Cesar Chavez, Gloria Anzaldúa, Rodolfo Corky Gonzalez, Joan Baez, Iqbal Ahmed, Richard Aoki, Grace Lee Boggs, Yuri Kochiyama, Sachen Littlefeather, Leonard Peltier, Sundance, Ladonna Brave Bull Allard, Marsha P Johnson, Bayard Rustin, Harvey Milk and the many more people willing to wage war for their freedom. Their lives are shared in the story of Dr. King. Resistance and dissent our the purest forms of patriotism.
Sitting in class, I look down at my phone and notice an alarming headline alert from Time Magazine, “Cape Town Is 90 Days Away From Running Out of Water.” The imminent threat of climate change always seemed like a distant possibility, far from my own reality. It still is. Conceptualizing the possibility of a city of half a million people will soon be without water, leads the mind to imagine post-apocalyptic circumstances. A three year drought and a growth in population have been the leading reasons that Cape Town’s reservoirs have began to dry up. Specialists and city officials could not have predicted such a dramatic scenario to occur. Or could they?
Sustainability, in definition means: “the property of biological systems to remain diverse and productive indefinitely. Long-lived and healthy wetlands and forests are examples of sustainable biological systems.” However, the definition does not solely pertain to the environment. Longevity and independence are the main pillars of sustainable principles. Creating spaces and opportunities where people are able to act outside of present institutions, activating their agency and building access to a future that is equitable for all people, organisms and the natural environment-- is sustainability.
“Tend the World Youth Forum,” organized by World Oregon, offered a unique venue for collaborative learning and thinking on young people authoring a sustainable future. In a partnership with the CENTER and Latino Network, GPSEN (the Greater Portland Sustainability Education Network) hosted an interactive workshop on demystifying the term “sustainability.” When asked, “what comes to mind when you think of sustainability,” most responses were in line with the common misperception of composting, ultra conservative living styles, tree conservation and overall green practices. A few voices emerged speaking about the need to conserve food intake, clean energy and equal access to social services. The nuances in these responses set the stage for the fifty-five minutes.
Going around as students responded to what brought them to the workshop, I noticed a common trend of social justice minded folks, leading gender equality clubs at their respective schools. The disconnect in those passionate about social justice, from the efforts of environmental justice is a problem that will only lead each movement to lack from the support of the other. Consolidation and collaboration in activism is integral to being effective in face of widespread systemic indifference. Yet, these were the activists realizing their blind spots, addressing what they did not know, head on to learn more about what they could do.
As a young person, I feel most empowered in rooms of other young people. There is an honesty and realism to the beliefs shared. Idealistic, oftentimes, yet, willing to grapple with the actuality of years of continual exploitation, young people have the ability to be use the energy of youth to combat injustice over a lifetime. Each generation feels renewed from the other. A fire of intellectual and social progress fuels their hope for the world. But with time and life experience this fire slowly dulls, as the negativity of life continually says, “no.” There were no, “no’s” in this room, only a shared creativity for solving the world’s largest issues. Empathetically, each group of five of the forty participants, spoke with conviction about the issues of sustainability in their own communities. Using the UN 17 goals of Sustainable Development, the groups had to address their community issue with a symbol made of the possessions they brought to the workshop. A ruler with lined equidistantly with a pencil, CPR verification card and a book, signified equal access to the goal of: “Quality Education.”
There was an inspiration shared in the subtle transitions between each group. Thoughtful explanations and support snaps augmented a space that provided everyone to feel empowered, stepping into a new space of hope for the future.
For as long as I can remember, I have been black. This may seem like an objectively obvious statement. It is. But, being aware of one’s blackness is the chief influence of how I show up, take up and relinquish space.
Somewhere between the past and now I made up my mind who I would be. Much of this newly created Tyler was premeditated, influenced, constructed. The first time my space was interrupted was five year old me at Providence Montessori School. In the halls of this private, preschool for kids ages three to seven, oftentimes I found that there were few brown people, two brown boys and one brown teacher. Everyone else seemed to disappear into the majority-- wide mouthed, smiling faces of whites and tans and peaches and reds. Everything that wasn’t black. In that space, my impressionable years of self identity were less than aware of the uncomfortability and otherness I felt. In that space, I was the rambunctious, black boy who could not seem to keep their bodies tamed or sit ‘criss cross applesauce in: 3, 2, 1.” Younger than everyone else, with special circumstance allowing me to begin schooling merely a few weeks after turning three, I struggled to meet the parameters of the classroom space that my teachers demanded. Of course, I was not the only one. But the unique pigmentation of melanin in my skin and the years of socially criminalizing black men and boys, I was an easier target to spot. At parent teacher conferences, the lovely Ms. Jean addressed my parents-- yes both of them, I know it comes as a surprise, an entire black family unit, thriving and sending their small toddler to a private school-- “I think Tyler is having some problems. He never seems to sit down and his choice of words are… not what we would like to hear.” In this space, I was the perpetrator. A child having problems sitting down and following directions, with an attention span of twenty seconds and twenty three at most. Ms. Jean, with the support of an entire entire society built solely for whiteness to thrive, robbed me of my childhood wonder and my body had become criminalized. From that moment on, no space was mine.
Rather space is a constant adaptation of self to fit the distinct circumstance of the environment. For blacks, we are always fitting in the holes and cracked windows made of whiteness, with our authentic black selves. However, there is no space in this country that is authentically black. Even Historic Black Colleges and Universities were established out of desperation and segregation from white society. Our bodies in their various forms have been fetishized, sexualized and corrupted from having any purity or self-definition. Even in the acceptance of ourselves we are subjected to the scrutiny of history, the capitalization of modern society and the unnerving veneration of counter culture. Each moment shared between two blacks-- family, friends, partners-- are made on the pretense of common annexation, of shared strife.
Our coming-of-age ceremonies are conversations on how not to die at the hands of those sworn to protect. Our pomp and circumstance is how to alter ourselves to fit the white mold. Our first job is a lesson that few pass on how to deescalate and negate black stereotypes. Our first child is the greatest gift and greatest fear that in the middle of our break from the world, we will receive a call that our angel’s soul has been washed clean from this earth. Our retirement is an asthmatic breath of potential relief in a beautiful solace.
No space is mine. Every space I enter is a changing of the guards, a swift change in delivery, a means of surviving. Still I am safe and secure in who I am. My mind is the only space, Ms. Jean could not take from me.
Race has become a conversation that Portland seems unwilling to meaningfully engage in. Nothing makes this city an anomaly; we follow in the footsteps of our fellow Americans-- we are unable to discuss race and race relations effectively.
Being black in Portland is a mythical, abstract concept. To inhabit a space that constitutionally outlawed your presence within its borders, is a bold and unmatched state of being. Three generations later, not only has my grandfather, mother and I lived here, but we have thrived. Even given this city’s perception of being a liberal utopia, we thrived. We are Oregonians through and through. But, we are black Oregonians. A rare combination that was never meant to exist.
There comes a time in the teenage life where one begins to contemplate their identity-- not only of themselves but of the world around them. Up until this point, they have been shaped and molded in the likeness of their parent’s or guardian’s values, perspective,and ideals. Coupled with the circumstances of one’s environment, there is a constant strife to carve out a place for yourself, in thought, action, belief or character. Seemingly, there is either a deviation from the ideology garnered from these varied influences, or a complete submission to become a product of the lessons or examples presented from these influences. Ultimately the two options of life choices, creates an opportunity to subjectively choose the needed aspects of parental influence and environmental influence, whether it be positive or negative. This is the reality of teenage contemplation-- a decision to be or not to be, or to sometimes be.
While I lie at this cross section--of trying to figure out who I am, how much of my identity is my own or a reflection of what I have been taught--my identity as a black person is the most challenged. My entire life has been a constant quest to understand my relation to the continual statement, “you are so white.” From the inception of my minute understanding of race, social conditioning and stereotypes, I quickly made it clear to myself I would not be what I was told I should be. Within my own family, there is such a richness in the display and embodiment of the black identity. Professionals, criminals, doctors, lawyers, 7-Eleven clerks, drug addicts, single parents, business owners, two parent households, a family of people from all walks of life. A spectrum of color, career, language, experience, gender roles, class and sexuality. All ways, types and kinds of black were within my immediate reach. To have an identity and background that is not monolithic or connected to one generalized stigmatized archetype is a rarity in minority communities.
Yet, as I left and even remained within the confines of familial interaction, I was told that the way I was black, somehow was incorrect. The ‘white’ things of shopping at organic grocery stores, running cross country, listening to alternative music-- everything blacks are told is not for them. Somehow these actions and characteristics were unblack. Despite my strength in myself, I found that insecurity began to form, constructing barriers between myself and myself. Again I was presented with this contemplation of further removing myself from toxic black stereotypes or giving fully into the pressure of both whites and blacks to act accordingly to a black that was more palatable for society.
Growing up in Portland establishes early on, very few ways to exist as a black person. Therefore, young black boys like me don’t see people who look like me on City Council, on the local news, at the grocery store, walking down the street. How can one aspire to be something, they can’t see? Black families are further behind white families and black families nationally, in regards to employment, high school graduation rates and health. There aren’t that many blacks here for a reason. Blacks are imprisoned more in Oregon than the national average, with the black population of Oregon at only 1.8%, one and 21 black men are in prison. This year’s stabbing of two men on the city’s, Metropolitan Area Xpress light rail. Throughout most of the 1900s, black people got loans at ⅙ the rate of all loans. This is no coincidence. The systems that exist in this state, have since the inception of this territory entering the Union, have been specifically created to exclude and outright ignore the existence of blacks.
Given this history, how could any black person find their identity, living in a city that presents a community of few to none blacks, who have largely fallen victim to policies set in place to institutionalize their bodies. The concept of being black in Portland holds a substantial take in defying every aspect of Oregon history. Being black in Portland is much deeper than being one of the 1.8% of blacks who live in the state, it is recognizing the root of that statistic. Realizing, our place here was never meant to be. That our identity and who we are is valid in every, simply because we are here.
We own homes in neighborhoods outlined to never have a black face within them. We own businesses. We are funny. We are reflective. We are tired of demanding our rights. We are tired of being targeted. We are humans. We come in all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, careers-- we are black and white, black and asian, black and…
It seems there is truly no hope for finding my identity. Hopelessly scrambling to pick myself up left and right, it seems impossible to be black in this city, this state, this region, this country. Black people are not given the opportunity to even have an identity or contemplate what it means to be this or that, because we are trying to figure out what it means to be alive. I am black, black in its usage of a word to describe a movement-- black power, young, gifted and black, black feminism. It is a word that I can attribute to myself. It has a meaning, a strength and when you hear it, you will remember it. In complete contrast, the word that is made synonymous with black is African-American. African-American is a dichotomy. Two things that can never coexist. An identity I can never claim. Politicians that protect these impossibilities. Policies that created this impossibility. Police that enforce this impossibility. Media that conditions these impossibilities. People who believe this impossibility.
As I see my own family creating a sense of making the most of what they have been given, I realize my own inherent privilege. My entire life I have had the access to everything that I need and more. My own family is one of the longest residents of the newest wave of homebuyers in our northeast Portland neighborhood of Concordia. In the last 20 to 25 years, the faces that use to greet us--as we drove through our neighborhood, as I went on runs and when the sun made its occasional appearance-- have lost their tan, becoming whiter and whiter. Yet, even in defying the socioeconomic stigmas and limitations perceived among black families, my mother’s own success has been challenged or constrained to her identity as a black woman, in a position and field dominated by her white counterparts. My father is forced to navigate work environments threatened by his large, black presence. In every area of American life, there is no true way to escape the constant bombardment of racialized oppression. Being black is not acceptable in any form. Claims that economic prosperity would end racism are truly false, no matter the amount of money, a black person earns, they still face immense racism and discrimination.
Clearly, it becomes the responsibility of the oppressed to fix the conditions created by the oppressor. There is nothing even remotely fair about this situation, but it is the most realistic of any options available. That is why, given the intentionality, and small success, of destroying the black community, black people universally must come together to form a network that transcended any influence or border. A network that worked relentlessly and in unison to combat racism on all levels of the social sphere. With leadership within our country and the spread of white nationalism creating fear, the time to act is more necessary than ever. My own identity as a black man has caused an increasing amount of fear about my safety, which is nothing new in this city, simply by just being black and alive.
This is not a complaint, this is history. I am sharing my experience and the experiences of hundreds or thousands of people of color in this state. This is an opportunity to actively work to combat and discuss these issues. Nothing can change unless we listen.
When time has passed and the present crosses to the future, what will be said of your contribution to making your immediate surroundings, more receptive to black and brown bodies?
How will you disrupt racist ideology?
"Masks" || 'beauty is more than skin deep.' When your skin does not reflect the status quo, finding your sense of beauty is a constant fight for personal acceptance. A constant practice of restorative justice.
This past summer our Chief Blogger, Tyler White, worked with his best friend, Aaliyah Joseph, through a paid internship with Resolution Northwest, to create the first installation of a series of responsive videos, investigating issues of identity for blacks and the implications of white standards.
Check it out!
In the Words of, are segments and pieces written by authors within our extended i love this place community. These young people offer their own perspective, lens and analysis of issues around societal issues, community change and their own experiences.
Mahlia is a multimedia phenomenon. Effortlessly, she uses her natural understanding of complex issues to curate and create personal works that weave auditory styles with visual presentations. Her dynamism transcends into her writing, as she blends her own experience with a larger narrative of naming the issues that impact her community most.
Last year, in July 2016, in the languid air of the right kind of New York City summer, I made my way on the train through the South Bronx and on the 4 train. I was filled with excitement because I would be going to a new stop, 138th Street, the last stop in the Bronx. I had never been in or around Mott Haven and I was glad that I would be able to check off a new place in the Bronx.
I was introduced to and made aware of urban farming within the city through grassroots activists from the South Bronx. Urban agriculture is a demonstration of the resilience of the Bronx and its residents in the face of government disinvestment and blight. Low-income residents have access to green space. The Bronx is thriving. There is something grounding and just a part of the culture to tie it back to the earth. The Bronx is thriving.
Up until that point in time, I was somewhat unaware of where I was physically located in the Bronx. But my interest and curiosity in urban farming has compelled me to move around and go to places where I had never been before. It sparked a desire to know my city more deeply and its neighborhoods. I realized I had never learned about NYC’s rich history and that I was not acknowledging it. I did not have to visit the marvelous museums that line Fifth Avenue to learn the history and I figured I would not find much about it there anyway. Going to these urban gardens and physically working the land made me realize the depth and gave me a glimpse of the strong community that was there. I made connections. I learned the complex history and opened myself up to learning. The Bronx no longer was this place of hopelessness. That’s what I like so much about gardening: of course, I enjoy learning about horticulture and how to take care of the soil, but what I love most is that you show up and you have to be present in these places. You’re not just sitting behind a computer screen - you have to physically move your body and engage with the environment around you.
From the time when these gardens have to started to pop up, there has always been a connection between a type of activism that shows so much care and love for the people it serves and urban farming. Activists talk of self-determination and empowerment. In Detroit, another city with its own thriving urban agriculture network, the women of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network say urban agriculture is an “act of resistance… an opportunity to work against systems and structures that have oppressed them.” (1) They want to move their communities away from boxed, highly processed foods that are prevalent in supermarkets that serve low-income neighborhoods. They want community members to work on their own behalf instead of waiting for supermarkets to arrive. This issue is just one that makes community gardens important to me. I come from a fairly privileged point of view. I have access to fresh foods and I had never dealt with food insecurity in my life, but I recognize that there are many people in the Bronx who do not have this same access. Working in community gardens has been a lesson in being an ally. If I want to begin to create a relationship with the Bronx, I also have to create a relationship with the people in my borough.
The perspective we take on urban farms depends on how we relate to them. Since the 1970s, when the city undertook a wave of policies to revitalize its communities, the network of New York City urban farms that it has served as a space of empowerment for communities of color. Urban farms and community gardens provide residents with a sense of transparency and knowledge about where their food comes from. According to a 2011 report, “Two million residents of New York City are estimated to be at risk for hunger; half of them reside in the Bronx, the poorest and by some estimates the "hungriest" urban county in the United States. Paradoxically, New York City has high rates of diabetes and obesity and these problems are also concentrated in poor neighborhoods.” (2) The gardens allow community members to forge a battle against these overwhelming statistics and determine the state of their health through the food and crops they grow.
Garden of Happiness is a 0.217 acre-community garden in the heart of the Bronx. It is located on Prospect Avenue in the Belmont area of the Bronx, between 181st and 182nd Streets. The garden is headed by Karen Washington, one of the most respected experts in urban agriculture in New York City. A leader of the Bronx’s urban farm movement, she was coined by the New York Times as “Urban Farming’s Grande Dame.” I have the pleasure of working with Karen this summer and learning the skills from her to grow and plant my own cilantro, kale, collard greens, etc. She will also be taking me to the La Familia Verde Farmers’ Market, which starts in July. (3)
Since its inception, the GreenThumb program, under the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, has provided farming resources like soil and gardening supplies to the multitude of community gardens around New York, in addition to holding workshops that cover basic gardening processes. In New York City, there have been multiple programs to aid and support community gardens in the Bronx.
The history of the Garden of Happiness starts before the land on which it sits was turned into a garden. In the Bronx, a developer named Abraham Shnay had planned to build duplex town houses to be sold to moderate-income buyers under the Section 235 program to bring the middle class back into the borough. (4) Most of the houses were eventually constructed, but Shay abandoned one set after bedrock was discovered in the ground below. Over the time, the vacant lot became host to drug activity and trash accumulation. Karen did not want to live across that environment. One day, she saw a man working on the lot and she discovered that he wanted to start a garden. “It was the birth of what is officially called the Garden of Happiness. ‘If you come into the garden feeling sad, you will leave feeling happy,’ she said, walking through the allée of holly bushes that forms a graceful entrance to the 36-plot garden. (5)
(1) Monica M. White, “Sisters of the Soil: Urban Gardening as Resistance in Detroit.” Race/Ethnicity: Multidisciplinary Global Contexts 5, no. 1 (2011): 13–28, www.jstor.org/stable/10.2979/racethmulglocon.5.1.13.
(2) Arati Karnik, et al, “Food Insecurity and Obesity in New York City Primary Care Clinics,” Medical Care 49, no. 7 (2011): 658–661, www.jstor.org/stable/23053694.
(3) Ibid., 75. After same source
(4) Richard Higgins, "2,000-House Plan Will Test Market in Renewal Areas," New York Times, Feb. 11, 1981 (Proquest).
(5) Dan Shaw, "A Believer in Vacant Lots," New York Times, Sept. 19, 2014 (Proquest).