Introducing Jazkia: CENTER Youth Advocate

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.

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Introducing Bella: CENTER Youth Content Editor

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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.

Introducing Thomas: CENTER Youth Marketing and Outreach Coordinator

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.

Introducing Taji: CENTER Youth Event Coordinator

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.

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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.

Introducing Kyle: Empowering Youth: What Happens When Young People are at the Decision-Making Table?

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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.

Introducing Kyle: Reflecting on a Month at the CENTER


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.

Introducing Kyle: Community Peace Collaborative: Looking Closer at Policing in Portland

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.

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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.


Introducing Kyle: Looking in. Looking out.

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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.  

Personal Reflection: Disrupting Ideology


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?