I boxed the NYC Golden Gloves in the early ’90’s. It was one of the most rewarding times of my life. Up at 6am to take the train to Gleason’s gym, giving my whole mind & body to the training. The support of my community, my trust in my trainer, my faith in a fair fight, stepping into the ring and facing my opponent. And no punch is as beautiful as the left hook. Precise. Powerful. Clean. Because of its proximity to your opponent it’s a hard one for them to see coming, and as with any good blow, the power comes from your back foot, spiraling up through your body, with clean alignment you deliver the blow.
Many times I have encountered the lament “there are no black people in Portland”. It would certainly seem to be the case relying on the dominant narratives from mainstream media (like the TV series Portlandia) down to public school history books. Growing up as a person of color in NE Portland, I knew this wasn’t true, we were here - but somehow we weren’t seen.
History teaches us that the greatest influx of Portland’s African American population was due to the Great Migration from the south during the War Years to work the Kaiser shipyards. After the 1948 flood, those who had established a community in Vanport now found themselves redlined into the Albina neighborhood, one of the few areas of Portland blacks were allowed to rent or buy, due to the Rose City's discriminatory housing practices. Keep Portland weird indeed.
The storyline of Left Hook condenses a history that unfolded over a dozen years or more in Portland into a few months, touching on the intermixed experiences of African-American Soldiers returned from Vietnam, the aborted Legacy Emanuel Hospital Expansion, the Black Panther Movement, and Portland’s once world famous black boxing community in Albina. The all black cast focuses on the owner of the fictional Left Hook Boxing Club, and his struggle to claim a stake in the American Dream for himself and his family. To keep faith.
Rich Rubin’s new script allows us to hear voices of this all to true recent history, offering a start of an understanding of the intentional and systemic choices that lead to the continued displacement of the African American community in Portland. In this time of engaged discussion about gentrification, affordable housing and displacement of communities, I hope we can use this as a spring board to ask where do we want to go from here, and how do we imagine our city.
Damaris Webb, Left Hook Director