February 2019

I was raised in Northeast Portland. A few decades before my parents settled in the neighborhood, much of it had become home to a new generation of Black Portlanders. Many first came seeking jobs in the shipyards during World War II, and then built a lasting legacy of Black culture in Portland and Multnomah County.

As a kid, I heard this history. I learned how the flood of 1948 displaced many Black families from the destroyed community of Vanport to the Albina neighborhood in North Portland. And I knew that this little pocket of Portland was the only place where Black families were permitted to live.

Yet there is so much more to the story.Black leaders, families, advocates and entrepreneurs have changed neighborhoods, the county and our entire state in ways that touch us all everyday.

Dr. DeNorval Unthank, who was the first Black member of City Club and co-founded the local chapter of the Urban League, advanced local equality in ways we cannot measure. Otto Rutherford, an early president of Oregon’s NAACP, helped lead the fight for Oregon to become the 21st state to prohibit discrimination in public accommodations.

But many still remain invisible, especially Black women. For too long, we have failed to recognize and celebrate the everyday work and lasting contributions of Black women. They are pillars in our community and have long-served as the vanguard for progressive change across the nation. But to know it, we have to seek it; only then can we make the invisible, visible.

On February 7th, our boardroom was filled with the faces of more than sixty Black women and femmes who are change-makers in our community as we celebrated them, their work and their contributions. The Abina Queens photo project brought beauty, strength and healing to Multnomah County through powerful imagery. If you missed it, I encourage you to attend the 2nd Annual Visibly Invisible Honoring our Unsung Sheroes Awards on March 9th, or the March 12th exhibit at the Old Church Concert Hall.

The Black experience in America is a critical part of our nation’s history. Black History and Future Month compels us all to acknowledge, celebrate, and learn. And for those of us who are not Black, it is an opportunity to pry open the sometimes one-dimensional simplifications of a complex and rich history. That means stepping into uncomfortable spaces, engaging, and most important, listening because Black Americans have never had the luxury to take a break from confronting race. And neither should the rest of us.

Sincerely,

Deborah Kafoury

Seen, Counted, Loved and Valued: Board Proclaims Feb. 2019 Black History and Future Month in Multnomah County

In a room adorned with more than 60 portraits celebrating local black women and femmes, the Board of County Commissioners on Feb. 7 proclaimed February Black History and Future Month in Multnomah County.

The annual proclamation honors the vital role of African-Americans in the history and culture of Multnomah County and beyond. It also acknowledges the troubling history of inequity and oppression that the black community continues to face.

“What a joy it was this morning to walk in to this room in the presence of these radiant powerful portraits, in the presence of these radiant powerful women,” said Commissioner Susheela Jayapal, who sponsored the proclamation. “I am so thrilled to be celebrating this year’s Black History and Future Month in Multnomah County, with a focus on the arts and our local black woman/femme artists.”

Read about Black History and Future month.

Honoring Dr. King’s Legacy at Interfaith Event Headlined by Daughter of Malcolm X

Attallah Shabazz, eldest daughter of Malcolm X, speaks at interfaith event celebrating Dr. King on Jan. 20, 2019.

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury pledged to continue the fight against racism at an interfaith celebration of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday at Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church in north Portland on January 20. The county leader shared the stage with faith and elected leaders from the Portland region, as well as keynote speaker Attallah Shabazz, the eldest daughter of slain civil rights leader Malcolm X.

Read about the interfaith event.

Board of County Commissioners Adopts Amendments to Workforce Equity Strategic Plan

In a major turning point in the County’s efforts to create a more equitable workplace, the Board of County Commissioners on Thursday accepted a national consultant’s recommendations for structural and organizational changes in a standing-room-only board meeting.

The recommendations, created by the Jemmott Rollins Group and prioritized by County employees, are expected to strengthen the strategies and performance measures in the Workforce Equity Strategic Plan. More than 870 employees weighed in on the strategies in a survey. About 150 employees attended lunch and learns and another 140 worked with employee resource groups to respond to the recommendations, made late last year.

Read about the County's Workforce Equity Plan.