Future: Portland

Black community leaders talk about making a home in Portland.

"Future: Portland" is the first of two short videos inspired by Ifanyi Bell's essay from the Quandary issue of Oregon Humanities magazine, "The Air I Breathe," which explored the challenges of growing up black in Portland.

Perhaps the most difficult thing about living in Portland was the lack of an authentic visual and social acknowledgment, recognition, and appreciation of African American people. Without a historical anchor, I fear the potential of what Portland could be in the twenty-first century will be lost to the unrelenting pressure to maintain and preserve a very particular understanding of its history.

In the five-minute video, civic leaders describe the loss of Portland's strong black communities and the hope of restoring them in the future. Featured are Avel Gordly, former Oregon state legislator; Rukaiyah Adams, chief investment officer at Meyer Memorial Trust; Joy DeGruy, author of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome; Nolan Lienhart, director of planning and urban design at ZGF Architects; and Charles McGee, executive director of Black Parent Initiative.

The video was produced by Bell and Brushfire Creative Partners, thanks to a grant from the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation.

Read Bell's essay, "The Air I Breathe."

Watch “Future: Portland 2,” which looks at how Portland has become what it is and how decisions made today will determine the city’s development in the future.


Belonging, Civic Life, Gentrification and Displacement, Land, Oregon, Oregon Humanities Magazine, Race, Video


29 comments have been posted.

I grew up in Portland. Thanks for the video, I am surprised I hadn't seen it before.

dog | November 2015 |

Reverse the races and you'll be called a racist.

resume writing service | November 2015 |

I was impacted originally by Ifanyi's article and just viewed this video. I echo Kristy's comments of pain of leaving Portland and that it once "held" us, black and white, and our hopes. I feel sad that my birthplace has become unrecognizable to me, not just the place, but the whole and the face of it. Something about it is no longer 'real', like it has adopted a facade with bad makeup choices, covering a history of grounded possibilities. Now the State Parks are willing to sell out, the companies that had a base here are selling to other owners. Can we really be that vague about identity now? I hold onto Ifanyi's words of Portland's potential, still, " In my mind it is possible that the city will capitalize on this moment and collectively reevaluate its course. . .if there is any city that can investigate the anthill beneath its boot, it is Portland".

Karin | August 2015 | Brookings

A heartfelt reality-exclusion hurts. But there is a way to reconnect. It's a way filled with challenges and probably some disappointments...but there is a way. We must promise to work hard and pledge to never give up on our ability to shape and reshape our world. Remember, our foremothers and forefathers did it. I believe in us!

Gloria J, Fluker | May 2015 | NE Portland

The house I grew up in Laurelhurst) is worth close to 1 million $. There is no way as a single person of ANY color could move back there. I am getting towards retirement w/o a pension and have recently moved to a little house in the suburbs. the video is reverse racism. I feel displaced but my comfort and identity are not dependent upon the color of my neighbors. everyone is suspicious of people they don't know, It's sad no matter where you are or who you are. A friend of mine inherited a nice home in the NE neighborhood and he lost it from spending all of his money on drugs. so the cohesiveness you seek takes effort. If you want to re-establish your roots, get together and fight for it. good luck.

c. burgess | April 2015 |

That same pattern--the flight of African American citizens to suburbia as "gentrification" proceeds apace in historically black neighborhoods--is obviously present here in Austin as well.

Robin White | April 2015 | Austin, Texas

This is Black racism. Watch this video and everywhere there is an African American speaking put a white guy instead. It would be labeled as racist. They feel saddened that whites are moving in? If white neighborhoods turned black would there be a similar concern? I suppose, but it would be deemed racist. The standard double standard. People want everyone in the neighborhood to be like them? And in this video it is labeled a good thing?

Arlington | March 2015 | arlington

Please refrain from using the term "you folks." and please clarify how you have spent your resources in working to help alleviate gentrification and make communities more welcoming to those who don't look like you. If you are a trust fund "baby" please recuse yourself from these discussions. Thank you.

Judith Trotter | March 2015 | vancouver, washinton

Sounds to me like racist hogwash! Will you folks make up your minds? Do you want integration or segregation? Do you realize how much of my money has been spent to reverse segregation? and now you want "ethnic communities". You are very confused. You don't fit in because you don't want to fit in. You will always be different because everyone is different. Get used to it, and get over it.

Bill Turner | March 2015 | Dallas, TX

this was beautiful and so true, I listen to this twice. everybody that lives here should listen to this...EVERYONE!

Jeannie | March 2015 | portland oregon

Beautiful. Poignant. Honest. Inspiring.

John Branam | March 2015 | inner NE Portland

I have not had the pleasure/ pain of reviewing this video, but I already experience the visceral pain of seeing the transition and overreach that developers, realtors and bankers have enjoyed as a result of their inside and advance information available first to them through municipal and funding organizations without any open and simultaneous disclosure to the public . There is no transparency in their dealings. Not only is the millions of "affordable housing" dollars committed to specific residents/neighborhoods been ignored or deliberately and systematically been redirected to developers and persons with advance knowledge. I was born and raised in Portland in the 1940s to 1960s, and saw the beginning of this pattern beginning with the eminent domain rules applied to North/Northeast residents to build the Memorial Coliseum. This is not new, just a move of privilege and power that has grown through the decades. if you would like an additional review of housing and displacement, please attend the program /panel presented and sponsored by the Oregon Black Pioneers on Wednesday, April 22nd, from 5:30-7:30 pm at Portland State University-@ the Native American Center. Focus: housing and displacement.

Judith Trotter McAfee | March 2015 | Vancouver, WA

It was only a matter of time before there was a JStone-type of comment! I would love it if Ifanyi Bell created a companion piece to this one that explained to the JStones of the world how "black hoods" were *created* by city planners, via redlining and then abandoning those areas of a city. In every city, but also in Portland. How Portland's services like utilities, police, schools, and ambulance were *purposely* sub-standard for the people in those neighborhoods. How Portland real estate agents preyed upon elderly African Americans, once the neighborhoods had been excluded and ignored into decrepitude, to buy their houses cheaply, displace the residents, and then build a new "affordable" refuge for (usually oblivious and well-meaning) white artists. This video does a great job of "how we feel about it." I would love to see a "how we got here." The latter might cost OH some funders. But that is also a story that should be told.

Kristy Athens | March 2015 | Enterprise, Oregon

Thank you for sharing such a compelling video and promoting a dialogue within communities throughout the entire state of Oregon!

Kali D. | March 2015 | Eugene, OR

What a wonderful place NE Portland was! gangs, crack houses no city services, nightly gun fire, loud stereos all night,.dead hookers in the park, Cars on blocks in the streets, failing schools. Dog fighting gotta to miss that this!This video makes me wish for the Days when it was a black hood..

JStone | March 2015 | NE portland

I'm a lifetime resident who recently had 16 units built on the same sized lot next to me. The lot on the other side is slated to be developed this year. My once proud-standing 110 year old home has be dwarfed by the rental and will soon be sandwiched-- the last house and garden standing on the block. I would love to paint it but why make the investment when the next owner will raze it and develop the property to it's "highest and best use"? As a person who facilitated the Interstate URA Housing Implementation Plan I have not seen the promise of housing "benefiting existing residents" as a way to mitigate displacement and keeping long time residents in their homes become the reality. The reality is what we see. Without vigilant public policy,investment and oversight gentrification causes irreversible displacement. Now my cultural exposure comes through looking out my front window and around the new building to watch people who look like me come and go at the Safeway parking lot. I wonder where they live because they don't live in my immediate neighborhood anymore.

Allyson Spencer | March 2015 | King Neighborhood NE Portland

Thank you Oregon Humanities!! This is brilliant and such a rich message. I am sending to many friends!

Anne Kelly Feeney | March 2015 | Northeast Portland

I appreciate this video. It is validating. Yes, there is grief and sadness. But I think it is part of the healing to have credence given to your concerns and for this to be more of a collective experience, instead of feeling the anger and other emotions in isolation. I found this helpful. It is beautifully done. I appreciated reading the responses; especially from Kristy Athens--- I feel as though you honored the space here, by sharing from your own heritage and experiences but not overshadowing the creation/intention of the video and subsequent dialogue.

Mercedes | March 2015 |

A long sigh, as I exhale, leaves my body collapsed related to the 'loss' of community and our neighborhoods due to gentrification and exclusionary practices. Ms. Avel Gordly made a true statement, "It hurts". Yet, my posture returns to a proud upright position in my belief in humanity and 'hope' on the horizon as each new day dawns. A poignant short message that captures the essence of life in Portland, OR and the continued struggle to be included because our lives matter too.

Lynnette Jackson | March 2015 | Portland, OR

Thank you for making this video.

Jenny C. | March 2015 | Portland, OR

Thank you Ifanyi Bell and Brushfire Creative Partners for this amazing video!

Joy Alise Davis From Design+Culture Lab | March 2015 | Portland

The emptiness that I feel from being one of the few black people left "on the block" is only tamed when I enter my home and lock the door behind me. Often times not even this is enough, as my new neighbors continue their "assault" on my way of life by encroaching across property lines to fulfill their insatiable thirst to reign supreme...even if that means building a fence on my property. Never mind that I my consent was never sought after (I took great pleasure in tearing that fence down). This house has been in my family since Columbus Day, 1962 (yes, the same day as the infamous storm). It is often joked that the white neighbors back then muttered "look what the wind blew in!"

Terrol | March 2015 | NE Portland

I struggle with this idea constantly, as a white resident of Wallowa County, another Oregon "neighborhood" that was gentrified in a manner of speaking, displacing another group of people (who happen to have inhabited the valley for thousands of years, rather than decades). I love it here and yet I always feel the tug of guilt. When I stand in my field and enjoy the majesty of the Wallowa Mountains, I feel the absence of the people who used to stand here and do the same thing. For what it's worth, and possibly nothing--in spite of being a white person I, too, have been outclassed in Portland. The last time I moved out, from SE, in 2013, I knew I would never be able to move back in. The rent of the house I was in went up $500 between us and the new renters, and it was already more than we could really afford. And because I originally moved to Portland in 1995 and I remember what NE used to look like and feel like, I, too, feel grief whenever I'm in the area, which I frankly avoid. Sadly, the people who live there probably mostly are unaware of its history. I don't know what good telling them will do, but I'm glad you are telling them with this video.

Kristy Athens | March 2015 | Enterprise, Oregon

Beautiful!!! I am so proud of my cousin for inspiring this video!!!

Bahia | March 2015 | Portland

That was an incredibly well done and moving video. Thank you.

Bonnie | March 2015 | WA

This was a beautiful video. We still have our family home in NE Portland, but to see the landscape of our neighborhoods changing it hurts.....it really does.

Sandra | March 2015 | Portland, OR

Thank you. This so perfectly stated my own feelings and experiences as a child of color growing up in N/NE during the late 70s - early 90s. I went for college, only to return and find I could only afford a house out in Lents. I feel that pain Senator Gordly describes when I visit Alberta Street and see that revitalization happened for "them" to enjoy, but not "us". It is painful. It hurts to feel that my experience of Portland and that of my children, and that of my parents was not as important as the positive experience of people with more money and even lighter skin. We have made a life in our near decade in our multicultural Lents neighborhood. At the same time we still long for that feeling of "home", of simply belonging that we had in North/Northeast. Thank you for this beautiful video. At the least it was validating - at most it may inspire and bolster inclusive community.

Deanna Wesson-Mitchell | March 2015 | Portland, OR

Poignant and hopeful, grieving and reflective.Offering a challenge for all Oregonians to embrace diversity and ethnicity so to enrich ALL of us. More needs to be created to reach our growing population about the history of Portland's African American community. I am white, my young son is bi-racial African American. This story is his story, it is our story. Thank you.

Eileen Hawes | March 2015 | Portland, Oregon, USA

Beautiful and important. Thank you!

Kristin greene | March 2015 | United States

Related Stories