The proclamation was introduced by Commissioner Loretta Smith, who said Black History month is a time to recognize those who “fought to bend the arc of history toward the highest ideals our nation was founded upon” and also those people who are shaping the nation’s future.
“I offer this proclamation not only to celebrate the past but also to remind us that the future is ours to write through positive active engagement,” Smith said. “Will our story be one of continued injustice, exclusion and suffering or will it be one where justice, inclusion and the dignity of every individual is not simply an aspirational goal but an identity that is jealously guarded and eternally treasured? I hope we will choose the latter.”
Among the people working to create a more just future are students at Roosevelt High School, who participate in the school’s Freedom Fighter Project. The project raises awareness of social justice issues in Portland and preserves the stories of people in the community who help to advance civil rights causes.
The students produce a book and a museum-quality traveling exhibit about their subjects. More than 200 freshmen at Roosevelt High are interviewing 29 freedom fighters for this year’s project.
“It’s really a chance for people to learn about the things in our community that have been made possible by the sometimes very public, sometimes very quiet efforts that people take,” said Kate McPherson, the project’s community engagement specialist.
Roosevelt High School sophomore Tosha Kitungano said interviewing freedom fighters last year “inspired and uplifted” her.
“I take this as a very big thing in my life,” Kitungano said. “I feel like I know I can do something with my life because they have done it. So why can’t I?”
Kitungano’s classmate, Alden Gurule, said the project gave him an appreciation for everyday, unsung heroes.
“It’s really cool to see how people from around the community, that you might just see walking down the street have committed to making this place better and cleaned it up,” Gurule said.
Several other Roosevelt High School students also attended Thursday’s board meeting. Before the proclamation, six members of the school’s Black Student Union delivered a spoken word performance.
As the students spoke, the board and audience members snapped and chanted “Love. Celebrate. Community. Love. Love. Love.”
The poem closed with the repeated line “It’s all about love.”