Multnomah County honors the late public health hero Rev. Dr. W.G. Hardy

February 8, 2018

The Reverend Dr. W.G. Hardy received a Public Health Hero award from the Multnomah County board in 2017
The Multnomah County Board unanimously proclaimed February 8, 2018 as Reverend Dr. W.G. Hardy Jr. Day in honor of the pastor and avid activist who passed away last Friday (February 2).

Pastor Hardy was recognized for the more than two decades of service he dedicated to Multnomah County’s mission in areas of public health, housing, mental health and community safety.  

“He made a positive difference in our community,” said Mariah Taylor member of the Action Communities for Health, Innovation and Environmental Change (ACHIEVE) before the board Thursday (February 8), “stressing the importance of being spiritually and physically fit.”

Community leader Mariah Taylor addresses board during proclamation for Rev. Dr. W.G. Hardy
As a senior pastor for Highland United Church of Christ, Hardy made improving health and eliminating health disparities in the African and African American communities an integral part of his mission, said Health Department Deputy Director Rachael Banks while reading the proclamation.  

Hardy was a founding member of the 11:45 Movement, a faith-based coalition to address public safety and gang violence through volunteering and maintaining a “sustained visible presence in our community.” In 2000, he formed Highland Haven, a nonprofit organization that serves distressed communities in North and Northeast Portland with nine different social service programs including a 12-step substance abuse recovery program, a prison ministry and worldwide missions.

He worked tirelessly to raise awareness about and de-stigmatize mental health services, Banks said. He was on the board of the African American Mental Health Commission that was fundamental in establishing the Avel Gordly Center for Healing, which provides culturally-specific mental health services.

Hardy was also a long-time partner of the County’s Health Department in HIV prevention, health equity and chronic disease prevention. He led a coalition of 35 multi-faith leaders to take action against rising rates of chronic disease and obesity.

Since 2009, he was instrumental in securing a multi-million dollar REACH (Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health) grant to improve health for African Americans. And just last year, Hardy and his Highland Haven received a Public Health Hero award recognizing the work of the organization’s youth on issues surrounding tobacco and healthy eating.

“With the ACHIEVE and REACH grant we’re not going to change the generation overnight …but perhaps the policy level of work that we’re doing will bring about those incremental changes,” said Yugen Rashad Multnomah County Health Department Educator.

“I was told by a colleague that he had passed away and … you don’t exhaust the grief after the acknowledgment that the person goes away, it just comes and goes,” said  Rashad. “I’m trying really hard to be that person that he talked about.”

Presenters teared up while sharing stories of his compassion and conviction. First and foremost he was a man of God, said Tameka Brazile.

“The day before he passed he preached a whole sermon,” said Pastor Deshawn Hardy, son of the late reverend.  

“He said, ‘Always forward never backwards, son. We can look backwards and see some of the things we messed up on, but at the end of the day, we need to move always forward, never backwards.’”

“I told the congregation the other day, my father was a giant,” said Hardy. “He was small in stature but he was a giant.”

County Chair Deborah Kafoury described her 20-year relationship with Pastor Hardy.

“He wanted to make sure that people were spiritually and physically fit. He was there for all the issues that I cared about and that we care about as a community. He wasn’t just concerned about physical health, he was concerned with how you were as a person,” said Kafoury.

“Always forward and never backward. He was such a good friend. I’m really gonna miss him.”

Pastor Deshawn Hardy addresses board at proclamation for his late father, as Rachel Banks (center) and Tameka Brazile (right) look on.