Posts tagged gentrification
A Place Called Home: From Vanport To Albina
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"Will anyone show up?" That is always the question when we host an event that deals with our appalling racial history, and with past and present community marginalization.  On Saturday, May 12th, the question is particularly relevant. It is a beautiful sunny day, one of those Portlanders wait all winter for, to remind us why this city is, after all, such a great place.

The Kenton Library is particularly quiet. The St John Street Fair, with its great arts, music and food, is calling. Would any of the 986 people who pressed the Interested button on Facebook show up? What about the 92 who committed on "going"? 

Slowly but surely, as it has been happening for the past 4 years, event after event, the room fills up. Race Talks director Donna Maxey, and artist Velynn Brown, both Vanport descendants, are here, ready to guide us and facilitate our journey into feeling and understanding. Henk Pander, the renowned visual artist who has been capturing the shipyards, Liberty Ships, and the Vanport Flood in his watercolors, is here too, sitting in the audience carrying his own painful memories of war, and "home" back in Holland.

Those who are meant to be here are here. And once again, we gather around the stories of those who share them as gifts: leaving the Jim Crow south just to find a more subtle but equally dangerous racism in Oregon, building a better life and a new community in Vanport, losing both in 1948 once a flood wiped all out in a few hours... the new "chapter" in redlined Albina: losing all, rebuilding stronger, losing all again; this time, not because of a poorly conceived system of dikes and irresponsible lack of evacuation plans, but because of racist city planning under the name of urban renewal.

Velynn Brown, Vanport descendant, performing her poem "Roots and Remnants"  (Photo by Andrew DeVigal)

Velynn Brown, Vanport descendant, performing her poem "Roots and Remnants" (Photo by Andrew DeVigal)

We share only a small selections of our oral histories, part of the on-going memory activism effort now in its fourth year, and then we sit quietly with our eyes closed to listen, truly listen, to Velynn Brown's words. Her poem, "Roots and Remnants," is a lullaby of memories. I cheat, and open my eyes for a moment. Tears are streaming down her face. My face. Everyone's face. She has embraced the responsibility and the honor of being the "Remnant Keeper," the one left to tell the story. We clap for long time. If my hands could speak they would say Thank you. I am sorry. Forgive us. Forgive me. What can I do? I made my home in your home. I don't want my story to bury yours. And how can we tell a different one together, one where we all belong?


Donna Maxey must understand the language of my hands, because she stands up, hugs Velynn as warmly and tight as I wish I could do right now, and answers my questions. See us, she says. See your neighbor. Let's truly see and meet each other. Ours and yours survival depends on it.




"First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew
Then they came for the communists and I did not speak out — because I was not a communist
Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.
—  Pastor Niemoeller, Victim of the Nazis in Germany

Race Talk Director Donna Maxey, Visual Artist Henk Pander, Artists Velynn Brown, and Story Midwife/Vanport Mosaic Co-director Laura Lo Forti ( Photo by Emmalee McDonald ).

Race Talk Director Donna Maxey, Visual Artist Henk Pander, Artists Velynn Brown, and Story Midwife/Vanport Mosaic Co-director Laura Lo Forti (Photo by Emmalee McDonald).

A PLACE CALLED HOME; FROM VANPORT TO ALBINA will be offered again on June 24th,  3-4.30pm at North Portland Library. Join us for a FREE screening of oral history documentaries, part of the Vanport Mosaic participatory on-going oral history project, with a facilitated dialogue presented in collaboration with Donna Maxey, Founder/Director of RACE TALKS, and artist Velynn Brown, both Vanport descendants. Through archival footage, historic photographs, and compelling first-person narratives, this collection of short films and audio oral histories traces the story of Portland’s African American community from the 1940s to 1970s. It is a story of struggle, perseverance, and resilience that continues today.

This program is part of the Our Story: Portland Through an African American Lens digital collection and project-
Made possible by The National Endowment for the Humanities Fund of The Library Foundation.

The Vanport Mosaic oral-history project is facilitated by Story Midwife Laura Lo Forti, made possible by Regional Arts & Culture Council, Oregon Heritage Commission, Oregon Historical Society, The Kinsman Foundation.
Thanks to our partners: University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication, Open Signal, Stream PDX.

Left Hook, a new play about community displacement in 1970's Portland

Vanport Mosaic presents

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A new play about gentrification and community displacement in 1970’s Portland, set in an Albina boxing club.

Presented as part of the 2017 Fertile Ground Festival
4 Public Performances: Friday 1/20 @ 7:30pm, Saturday 1/21 @ 2pm & 7:30pm, Sunday 1/22 @ 2pm
Venue: Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center, 5340 N. Interstate Ave.
Admission: Pay What You Can. Suggested $10; $5 Students/Seniors
Buy tickets here, or at the door one hour before curtain
Run time: 2hrs with intermission - join us for a curated conversation following the Sunday matinee. 

Featuring: La'Tevin Alexander, Anthony Armstrong, Kenneth Dembo, Mario Depriest, Jasper Howard, Tonea Lolin & Jocelyn Seid.

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