I was born into to a large family that OWNED property throughout North and Northeast Portland. These properties ranged from multi-use apartment buildings with ground level storefronts to 7 bedroom family homes on corner lots. We survived the crack epidemic and the gang violence of the late 80's and early 90's while witnessing leaders like Avel Gordly emerge through the struggle.
From my young perspective, the idea of displacement was a very distant concept, in fact, my neighborhood was so colorful that I never felt like I lived in a city that was only 7.7% black; it seemed like we were EVERYWHERE.
My immediate family moved to Seattle in the mid 90's to seek a safer environment but we quickly began to feel the difference in atmosphere. Racism was only something I had read about until we arrived in the suburban setting of Kent, Washington. Although Portland was in the middle of a gang war, Washington felt more threatening and far removed from any sense of diversity; later in life I realized it felt that way because the racists of King County were very open about their feelings... I was homesick. My family however, had other plans, and upon relocation I found myself in Atlanta, Georgia.
Once I arrived, my father parked in front of city hall and instructed me to observe the scene and tell him what I witnessed. This was the first time that I had ever seen, (in person), Black lawyers, judges, politicians, doctors, and peace officers. Suddenly, what I knew of Black Portland transformed to a lack thereof... Black Atlanta on the other hand, wasn't just a neighborhood, it was an entire city!
I returned in 2000 to a city that had changed dramatically. The neighborhood I grew up in was developing at a rapid pace, but the face of the owners and developers weren't those of the people I remembered inhabiting the area. It was unsettling. I realized that, much like Vanport, my home was quickly floating away. My education led me to discover the actual history of the city I still call home; I learned that my neighborhood was a redline district, which explained why we were a dense population in the North and Northeast real estate. I learned that my home was an area assigned to my family, versus chosen by my family.
Today, there are very few happy endings in the fight against displacement in Portland. However, there is victory in knowing that collectives like Brushfire Creative Partners (BCP) are continuing to raise awareness for the Black history that does exist in Portland. These individuals have inspired me to write this testimony with their latest project, FUTURE: PORTLAND. The short film produced by BCP and award winning writer Ifanyi Bell, is the adaptation of his essay, "The Air I Breathe."
FUTURE: PORTLAND is a human and heartfelt representation of WHO WE ARE as long time residents of this city. Projects like this serve to educate or remind us all of a colorful and vibrant history. Our stories will inspire our community to embrace diversity and create opportunity for those who choose to thrive. We must set the example so our future leaders are able to not only preserve our efforts, but expand upon them, and continue to defy the boundaries set to confine us. Keep On!