Intisar Abioto ( Born 1986 ) is an adventurer, dancer, photographer, and writer. Originally from Memphis, TN, her work is an active exploration of life through arts, storytelling, and adventure. With an ongoing research focus on the global African Diaspora, her unique form of story inquiry as a way of life has taken her from Memphis to Berlin to Djibouti to Portland, seeking the authentic stories of people within the African Diaspora. In 2013, she began photographing The Black Portlanders, an ongoing photo-essay, blog, and cross-modal arts adventure that images people of African descent in Portland, OR. She is also a founder of The People Could Fly Project and founder of The Black Portlanders. Intisar swears by the true life and love that can be found in fantasy, folklore, language, and movement. She makes her home in Portland, OR, and her adventureâ€Śeverywhere. -intisarabioto.com theblackportlanders.com
People come to Portland and they don’t see Black people. We are not here. People come here and say, “I don’t see Black people.” This becomes a form of seeing, a way of traveling Portland. Black Portland. Unseen. Latino or Asian Portlands. Unknown. Native presence flowing back and forward into time…unacknowledged. We are all here. Native and indigenous presences are still here, that which existed before Portland was a blink upon the life of our minds. The history of this place needs to be known to travel well in the present, to engage with a Portland we can attempt to be in and make in now. The stories of people of color in Oregon often point unabashedly to the uncomfortable and shameful sides of this state’s history. How do you engage that complexity? How do you travel that knowledge and also travel Portland now? What truths would we have to listen to? How much further would we need to peer beyond what might be immediately visible to us about and within Portland? How can travelers contribute to the mythology and physicality of a place? What will we find if we look this way, and how can it deepen our journey? When I moved here in 2010 there was nothing that specifically told me the history of Portland. I found out myself that Oregon’s 1859 constitution barred Black people from moving, making contracts, or buying land in the state. I knew that the law wasn’t repealed until 1927. But I’d been in Portland for two years before finding out that Williams Ave., the site of Portland’s historic Black community, was purposefully destroyed by the City of Portland in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. No placard told me what was missing, but I could feel the absence of what I could not see long before I knew. Oregon was founded on a culture of “not seeing” Black people. This culture reaches into Portland today, even in the midst of its many changes. As travelers, transplants, or residents, we often have to seek out
this history ourselves. We have to be the ones to look, to go further. Art and exploration are how I travel Portland. It is how I seek out powerful Black presence where it has existed all along. In 2013, I began using my camera to research the history and present of Black people in Oregon. As a person of African descent from a different place, this was one way I could acknowledge the history while working to be an active part of the present. Personally and importantly, it has been a way for me to seek to understand Black Portland cultures within the context of the history and cultures of Black people throughout the Americas and within the larger global African Diaspora. Portland is an indelible part of this story, too. This is more than an invitation. This is not a guidebook that will gift you magic glasses to see the invisible Black Portlands waiting between curated selections of Portland neighborhoods, galleries, breweries, and bookshops. In these pages are voices, lived experiences, and ideas of Portlanders whose families were here generations before Portland skyrocketed to the heights of an international consciousness. They came with railroads or shipyards, to cut timber, or on the backs of their own nascent dreams. You won’t see their stories or this history reflected on many of the streets, buildings, and geographies of this city. Not yet, anyway. With all this in mind, what are Black Portlands? What might they be and where can we find them? Black Portland is sitting with a Chicago-born Black transplant who doesn’t yet feel connected to Portland’s long-standing Black community, but recognizes community in the faces they have passed by for years. “Just because I don’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there.”
These are Black elders and siblings and caretakers and preserver-creators and Katherine Dunham’s one and only Oregonian dancer. These are economists and baristas. These are individuals who are, themselves, Portland right now. Here are brave ones who are making and remaking, crafting and recrafting an Oregon landscape that sought to write itself into existence by writing them out. Their work is a creative act. These are the makers of which you’ve heard tale. They are creating Portland through their presence, through their being, staying, working, existing. formulating, defining, redrafting…through their very presence, changing and rechanging the plan. I see them. I’m proud to have listened to these ones, to learn, as one person of the African Diaspora, to listen in all of our places better. I’m proud of these ones and stand by the action of the articulation of their voices. To travel Portland is to understand the city as not simply the buildings, the shops, the eats, the goods, and the experiences that exist here today. Traveling Portland is to understand the city as a flow and flux of many experiences, many living beings, soil, water…the city’s many future, past, present, and becoming dreams. So, you are coming to Portland? So, see it! See what you see here. Look! Peer! Question! Ask! Don’t stop there! Go on a little further. Thinking about Black Portlands? See what you see here! See what you do not see here. Listen a little longer. Look in a little further. Question. Don’t stop here or there! Go on. Black Portland/s.
Ifanyi Bell and Margaret Jacobsen are partners at Brushfire Creative Partners, a first-of-its-kind, socially sustainable consulting agency.
Margaret: I think Portland a very important place Ifanyi: I think Portland is a isvery important place to be. I think Brushfire exists as an alternative vision to what Portland can be. On a personal level I’ve grown up under a very specific idea of what Portland is…and oftentimes struggled against it. I think as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized I have a choice either to live within that or to produce and support some kind of alternative, I think particularly in the creative space. Creative spaces are really powerful, because they promote vision. They promote representation and they promote culture all at the same time, and I think there haven’t been enough…And I hate to use this word. There’s not enough diversity within the creative space to drive and to motivate alternative vision. It’s just not enough...The community is far too homogenous, in its culture, its fresh airs, its sustainability, its bike lanes, all that stuff…which are all good of course. No one’s going to argue that bike lanes and fresh air and nature aren’t good, but there are different ways to express and appreciate the value of those spaces. And I think there’s a different way of sharing the story of that experience. I think for me that’s what Brushfire is. Also an opportunity for me to share my idea and what my vision is for what it is. So while I like and appreciate and respect Wieden+Kennedy as a creative agency, I think it is somewhat responsible for a certain level of articulating and expressing homogeneity, be it a result of their thinking, [or] financial and economic foothold. But that’s what happens within industries. There’s always a leader and I think that leadership, in whatever space that it is in, whether it be sports, whether it be art, whether it be technology, there are leaders. I think it is important in a cyclical way that those positions of leadership be challenged. That’s how a society maintains itself, checks and balances. Portland has had no checks and no balances, particularly in creative spaces.
Intisar: So on this idea of diversity...and there not being enough diversity to change the creative space...also this idea of leaders and challenges... Ifanyi: If it is natural, then it will happen. What’s unnatural is the maintenance of homogeneity. I think if you look at Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, he’s been a dictatorial force in Zimbabwe for how long? Ninety-one years old. As we all know that’s
"White-owned, colonialistic, monopolist entities in the creative space...I think it's time for a different vision." problematic for a lot of obvious reasons on a political level. If you look at the modern conception of what Portland is today, it’s adopted this persona and personality that has been driven by a singular vision.
and I think that when you see that image promoted or being successful and economically viable you attract others who want to be able to trade within these spaces, so you have people who want to support those visions. So you have a creative agency who will support the idea of what Portland is in this day and age. And in the moment that you find someone who questions, someone creative who questions that particular idea, I think you’re less likely to work with them, that person. Because what you’re looking at is a lot of...all of these things are driven by a very particular economic engine. And right now Portland and Oregon are very marketable...and I don’t think anyone wants to produce anything...I think anyone in the Chamber of Commerce...Travel Portland... the mayor’s office...wants to report any particular vision that is an alternative to what we see today. Because what we see today is what people... is what is selling. It’s why people are coming here. It’s why people are buying houses and why developments are going up and these giant boxes of filing cabinets for young professionals are being developed in every corner of the city. People are coming for that, so why would you want to change that. Why would you want to mess with that idea? I want to mess with that idea because I believe that other people who love alternative ideas are suffering under that idea, under that larger idea.
Intisar: Who’s been at the helm of that singular vision?
Intisar: So you said certain ideas are valuable in that community. What ideas are valuable to you?
Ifanyi: I think it’s difficult to point to individuals. I think when you look at what is supported by any particular economic structure, certain ideas are valuable within this community. And there are certain people who drive and motivate and take advantage of these ideas and package them and put them on television or put them on the radio
Ifanyi: When you ask what is an alternative vision, I think the alternative vision is a different level of participation in all of the good things that are marketable. The ways we communicate ideas don’t always translate to everybody. There are things that I can say to you that would be completely lost on someone else. So a lot of how we communicate is
period of time that is positive. But I think there is a moment, just like when there’s a moment when leaders should hand over power. There’s a moment when alternative visions, even successful models of living should change. Intisar: What is Brushfire to you?
lost on a large percentage of this community. And I think it dissuades them from participating. So when you look at an alternative vision you start to look at new creative languages, new spaces where ideas about our community are shared, not the same ones. You’re not looking at the same people who are creating different things. I think there is space. If you look at culture as a marketplace, there is so much more space for competing visions, competing ideas. I think it’s that competition that stirs choice, that stirs creativity, and supports the whole. At this point, I think largely the reason why Portland is what it is is because people are happy just to keep the same. Intisar: I think a lot of people think the opposite of that, that there are all these different things here. Ifanyi: Portland is no different than Austin. Portland is no different than all the other cultural enclaves that are striving so hard to maintain a very particular image of who they are. I think for a
Margaret: Brushfire for me, I guess is about community. I wanted Brushfire to be this thing. I wanted it to be this place where people know that they will be supported and held up. A place where they’re always visible and by people, I mean people of color mostly. Basically in a city that is constantly whitewashing itself and its neighborhoods, I wanted Brushfire to continually be this place where there are roots down, and where people know they could go, and you know, their creativity would be seen and supported and loved and it would be pushed forward as opposed to…“Oh, here’s this one Black artist that we know.” But there would just be a group of them. I think in my mind, too, Brushfire was going to be sending this message that Portland...It’s not my Portland, it’s not their Portland, or this person’s Portland, but there’s this other version/vision of Portland that we wanted to make known and seen and realized and not ignored anymore… There’s so much more that Portland could be and I feel like Portland limits itself to being concerned with how they’re seen in this fake identity that they’ve created and they’re constantly referring to it and I feel like it’s now happening where across the city they’re shutting down parts of neighborhoods that were big deals to those neighborhoods. That’s where people went and they met their community. We’re actually going to put this local chain in all of the neighborhoods!
Ifanyi: If we’re talking about representation there’s a very acute danger. If we talk about commodity, I think that Portland is beginning to recognize that its own sort of homogeneity...they’re looking at themselves and seeing and recognizing that they’re still producing the same kind of aesthetic. It’s still marketable, but at the same time I think that they recognize even within themselves that things are getting a little stale. A very clear subtext to this homogeneity is this emergence of ethnicity and culture within the city. Of Black culture, of AsianAmerican culture, of Latino culture that’s burdening/ burgeoning up and bubbling. I think the danger in this particular case—and this is when I talk about representation—is when you see these agencies begin to play within these cultural spaces and gather assets. That’s where there becomes a challenge. That’s when it becomes this competition for this cultural capital I always speak about. I think a lot of the things that are going on in Portland have to do with a competition for access to cultural capital and how it is deployed and how it is valued and how it is sold and how it is purchased. And so there’s a strong
warning out to the community of Portland about how we access…how we take advantage of this new cultural capital. I think that’s another reason why Brushfire exists. We want to support access to that cultural capital for the good of the whole. When you look at creativity, when you look at art, at any particular art form, the greatest art comes from a sense of access, collaboration, and collage. We do not exist in a vacuum. We exist in a community where people have different experiences, aesthetics, voices, faces, different feelings. I think as a community it’s important that we all be able to in some way create access to those things, but it needs to be safe access. And I think in the creative space there’s such an opportunity to abuse access. Brushfire is also about supporting access in a healthy and positive way. Intisar: What is your experience as a Black woman creative and also a Black woman owner of a creative agency...? What’s anything about that experience that feels important to you for you? Margaret: I had this interesting experience where someone was tagged in a photo and I saw it and realized that the photographer was Black. I got really excited and I sent her a message. And I was like, I can’t believe you’re a Black photographer like me. Every time I was in a creative space, everyone I knew was white and if I did know someone maybe they were a Black designer. But no one did what I did and it was lonely, because no one could relate to it. And most of my clients were white and I didn’t shoot a lot of Black people. It got me thinking outside of that. What does my community look like here in Portland? Even there it’s kind of lacking. I think part of me wanted to hold off and see if other people were doing things about it. And then I got impatient. I know a handful of Black women, maybe they’ll hang out with me. People started
to reach out to me and be like, Oh, I needed this. I didn’t know this was here. I was alone. I have a friend that moved, because she couldn’t find her community here. It was really important to me that there was some kind of thing that Black women knew happened once a month, where they could see faces that looked similar to theirs. There’s no agenda to it. We sit around and we drink some tea. We’re just there together. I wanted it to be this community that even if we couldn’t see each other constantly, we knew that we were out there. There’s some pride there and excitement, but also just like being yourself with someone who gets it. You don’t even have to say half of the things and they’re there with you. Being someone in like white creative spaces can be uncomfortable, but you just get over it. It’s like a natural thing you have to do. But it’s so lonely. I’m that person that tries to bring it up to white people, like where are the Black people here? They’re at so and so. They couldn’t make it today. They feel like you’re pointing a finger at them and being like you’re being racist because a Black person isn’t here. But you’re like, you’re my friend and I want to share this experience, but it’s hard for them to grasp. My whole thing with the gathering of Black women is I want community. I want to be able to just be. Intisar: What does Black Portland need or want based on what you’re talking about with these visionary spaces? Ifanyi: I spend a lot of time in Harlem. Harlem is representative of a lot of different ideals. It’s a historical place. It is a place where African Americans were able to have a very particular form of artistic freedom. I’ve seen how that has evolved. I’ve seen the result of that. And it is defined, the vision that I see today, of Harlem, the positive elements of Harlem, I see as defined by a very particular form of search for parity within
this culture. We have the dominant culture that is defined by capitalism and money and wealth. And then you have Black culture which is defined in a very particular sense as struggle and resistance to that culture. But as I see what Harlem has become and the people who live within it and what they strive to become, I see it as a reflection of the same dominant structures that exist, that created them. That’s what I mean by parity. And I’m not certain that is what the future of Black America looks like. I’m not sure that the future of Black America and the positive existence of Black Americans is defined by parity. I don’t think that’s what we should be looking for. I think as the playing field levels, and it is not level by any means at this particular point, but as it does become level, I think what is important is that we begin to define ourselves not through the absence of struggle and resistance, but through the true nature of who we are. And I don’t know what that is. And that is what the great adventure is for Black Americans and that is to discover who we are authentically. And we do not know who that is. That is the future of America. And similarly, I think it is the future of every small American city, including
the city of Portland. And that as we figure out what equity is, as we figure out what balance is, then what? What do we do with that balance; what do we do with that access? And I think, personally, it is to find out who we are truly, not defined by the absence of struggle, not defined by the absence of racism, not defined by the absence of anything that is negative, but who we are truly. That’s the future of America. That’s the future of Portland. And there are Black Americans, there are Black people in this city who I think are at a point where we can start answering those questions or at least exploring them through art and through creativity. That’s why I think it’s important that we allow people of color, we allow Black people, we give them the space to be creative. Because we will define ourselves through that culture if we can create freely. Margaret: I just want to like applaud. I want to record you, like all of your great speeches and lay in bed and fall asleep to you talking about Black America. Intisar: Are there any spaces or places in Portland that are important to you? Ifanyi: One of the things I think is problematic about Portland is that no one really even knows the truth of this place. There is such a clear attempt to propagate one very particular image of this community...and that image is just straightup wrong. What we’re producing from a creative standpoint, a lot of these places in Portland don’t factually represent the truth. Philadelphia is the opposite. Philadelphia is like...tell it like it is for better or worse. We held slaves. We killed these people. We persecuted the gay, lesbian, and bisexual community. But you know that’s part of our history and we learn from it and we’re moving on, but let’s not forget. That’s the kind of thing Portland needs to adopt. That’s a very important part
of creating a better Portland. Hey. This happened here. There were early Black pioneers that were here that were forced out, who were sent to leave. This place was rife with racist Ku Klux Klan members who were driving people out and trying to maintain a very white Oregon. That existed. We need to put that stuff on signs for people to know. Not to celebrate the actions, but the reality of their existence. We have to educate not only people who are making documentaries, but everybody here. Intisar: Are there any spaces that are important to you, Margaret? Margaret: I think I want that, but I don’t think I’ve necessarily found it. So I think I’ve just been trying to create something that would be important. Intisar: Do you know of any Black creatives, makers, or people who have spaces? Ifanyi: It hurts me when I find out that there is a Black person who is doing beautiful things that I’ve never found out about. It is painful, because I feel like that’s one of our big problems…is that we are not aware. Margaret: My favorite person right now that caught me off guard and I didn’t realize she was a poet, a talented poet, and has put out zines already is Jenna Marie Fletcher. Ifanyi: Jomo Greenidge. He’s a backend developer who’s got amazing skills and owns his own company. He’s working in tech, which is an extremely white-male-dominated industry. Intisar: Are there any physical spaces?
Ifanyi: That’s part of the problem. They exist. It shouldn’t be that hard for me to find them. Margaret: So we’re going to have to make them. -brushfirecp.com ig: @brushfirecreates
Creatives: Jenna Marie Fletcher, Poet Jomo Greenidge, Mungai Media
deangelo nicholas raines Native Portlander. Co-founder of Service. Founder of Art Not Crime. Art Director/Designer at RO.BO. Along with Charity Stratos, DeAngelo is the co-founder of SERVICE, a hybrid production studio, event space, and creative incubation space in NE PDX.
DeAngelo: I was born in ’84. Even when I was a baby my family owned property throughout Portland. My grandfather owned a corner store that had apartments on top. There were bars and nightclubs all throughout N and NE Portland. There was actually a venue right on MLK off Alberta where my parents said [people like] the Temptations would come and play, but it got torn down. I remember a lot of stories about stuff like that but the most important thing is that back then it didn’t even seem like there were only a few Black people in Portland because we were all in one big area. We didn’t necessarily need to travel outside of that area because we had everything we needed from grocery stores to community centers, shopping malls, building supplies; everything was right in our neighborhood. I didn’t even experience Portland the way that it is now until I moved back here from Atlanta as a teenager; and Atlanta was completely different because there were more than just the family, neighborhood, and community-oriented type of Black people. In addition, there were judges, doctors, CEOs, and police officers...It was just different. Intisar: Were there any Black businesses or business owners that were prominent in your world when you were a kid? DeAngelo: At the time all I could really think about was being a kid…and going to the corner store to get food and candy, Clearly Canadian, Now & Laters, and all that kind of shit. We’re talking about Jack’s Chicken on the corner of 9th and Alberta. Same owner as it used to be, just a different store. Intisar: Is that place Black owned? DeAngelo: No. I believe it’s a Korean man who owns the place. If you ask anybody from here in
N/NE Portland everyone will be like he’s just as Black as anybody else out here ’cause they’ve been there. They got the best chicken in town, for crying out loud. My Auntie Mona, my mom, my grandma, my Auntie Phyllis all helped my Auntie Mona form her brand called Soul Chain. They created clothing and accessories from crochets and knitting, and this was something that my grandmother always did. Everybody has a blanket from my grandmother. She’s passed away now, God bless. They started her brand, Soul Chain, and they had a store right on Alberta. This was in 2000/2001. They were doing well, fashion shows, Oregonian articles. They were doing so well actually they moved to NW 23rd for her store…That’s when everything
"I have a responsibility to always create an environment. An environment is an open mind." started to decline with the recession, and with the Pearl District being completed the rent went up. It was difficult for her to maintain the business. I think for me as an entrepreneur and professional, the most inspiring thing for me as an entrepreneur and professional came from my dad who started his own painting company. He had a job. He worked at the shipyard, but he started a painting company where he would go and paint churches because he was also a minister. The company is called The Masters Craftsman, and the motto reads “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” He brought me in when I was 14 originally because I got in trouble in school and so he made me go to work with him. During that whole thing he wasn’t just showing
me how to paint with a brush or roll. He was also showing me how to contract the job and how to talk to the clients and how to order the materials. He taught me every aspect of the whole job. That helped me think in terms of projects as a project manager and what that’s gonna take. Boom boom boom. The other big influence for me as an entrepreneur was my brother. Although he had a job, he was one of the first people I ever knew to flip cars. He started when I was 6 or 7. I remember the summer when him and my older cousins were like, “We’re gonna get mopeds this summer.” Every time my brother got paid from his job at Calaroga Terrace, he would get tens and fives and keep those to spend. If he got 20s and up, he would keep that for saving…He’d just save and save and save until he had a knot. He went and bought a moped. He bought one for my cousin, too. Then he ended up selling that moped for double what he paid for it because he put some work into it. Then he moved up to cars…He started throwing rims on ’em, giving them fresh paint, and flipping ’em. He kept doing that with cars and was making money. Just seeing that level of responsibility, that level of saving and reinvesting, taking advantage of niche markets…Nobody was really out here doing that kind of stuff. He was one of the pioneers of that ol’ school car shit here. Portland hasn’t always really been keen to that kind of stuff. I think a lot of that California influence that came up, part of that was car culture. My dad always was a collector of nice cars and I think that went down to my brother. Honestly, most of my inspiration came from people that were just hustlers. Especially in Portland, not too many people aside from my grandfather and my dad had real honest hustles that turned into actual businesses or brick and mortars. I know people like Geneva’s barbershop that’s been there
forever. That man owns property up and down MLK to this day. I know of stuff like that. I remember when SEI had a small headquarters like POIC is now. That’s the kind of stuff I grew up through out here. I’ve always also been more creative and artistic. Out here that culture in the Black community is really just starting to be celebrated. For me growing up and being more creative or playing guitar, it was “stuff that white people did.” I just saw that movie DOPE, and the kids were saying that stuff that white kids do is what keeps you safe in the hood; and all the stuff they were talking about, I did. I always got shit from my friends about it, but it was the stuff that I liked. When I went to Atlanta I realized there’s a whole community of people who do that shit. You’re the same as anybody else. Intisar: I was just talking to another native Portlander. He was talking about some kind of identity crisis with native Black Portlanders in the ’90s…and how that doesn’t always get talked about. This idea that being a Black Portlander wasn’t being a real Black person. That you had to try to be some other kind of Black to— DeAngelo: I know exactly what he’s talking about and that’s a great way to put it…While I was in Seattle that’s when I started listening to alternative rock music and skateboarding and shit like that. I would come to Portland almost every weekend and meet up with my friends, my cousins, and they were like, Black people don’t do that kind of shit…and the identity in Portland was Black people wear baggy clothes, Black people have a certain mentality… Then later on it was Black people don’t eat organic food. When I was in high school I would literally get on the bus to go to school and when I took my guitar people would be like, Awww. What you
playing, a banjo?…I’m like I wish you knew that a banjo is an African instrument. [scoffs] But it’s cool… It’s just because literally the only thing you seen as a Black person through the ’80s and ’90s was either what you saw on TV or what you see in the neighborhood. There were a few creative Black people in Portland, but they seemed to be stuck in a mold. It wasn’t like Black graffiti artists or abstract painters. Then you have the whole thug-mentality thing…So many different gang members came up to Portland and kind of sparked the whole gangviolence thing that happened from the end of the ’70s through now. But that wasn’t something original to Portland. Portland is continually influenced by outside Portland…which nowadays I encourage it because it challenges that standard way of what Black Portland was supposed to be. I see a lot of really cool creative things happening here. And I feel like I’m partially responsible because I brought a lot back from Atlanta and the South.
Intisar: That’s gold. I think about that a lot. Black Portland, Black Portlands, or whatever…also that it’s not like just brick-and-mortar space. It is those places and times. It is ephemeral. DeAngelo: It’s always on the move. It comes from years of displacement over and over again, but it’s never in one place. It’s always moving around and transforming. I think that about all art, but on a microscopic level, it’s really starting to happen. Especially with the people that I’ve been meeting, with Black people. I think the most interesting thing is to see Black people in different professions starting to pop up in Portland. Not just in creative areas, but the guy you’re talking about who works at Albina Bank. Seeing more people that are bankers or involved in politics or that are doctors. I don’t know a ton of designers or people who are in creative agencies that are Black, but starting to see more of that.
Intisar: What might people not know or see about Black Portland or Portland from the outset that’s important?
Intisar: I feel like I’m starting to see more Black designers. In this idea or ephemerality of real Black Portland, past, present, and future, what do you think your role or gift is…in the reality, in the story?
DeAngelo: Number one, that it’s here. That it is here despite not being able to find it in the form of Black-owned storefront property or anything like that. It’s still here and still thriving and growing, especially with the more people that come in that have a wider sense of what Black looks like. It’s growing. I can say that every week I’m meeting at least five new Black people. It’s also interesting seeing—not just Black people, but universally the medium is becoming more of an ephemeral experience. The medium or the actual content that’s being created is more ephemeral. It’s in the moment. It comes and goes. It’s not just in one place where you can always access it.
DeAngelo: One of my many objectives is to show the next generation of Blacks that are coming up that it is here and it’s everywhere. And showing them what it looks like, giving them different visual representations of what it can look like in different forms versus just seeing it in one way. Always being open and accepting to things that are new. I kind of get put off by things staying in the same space or in the same structure. If it’s working that way, can’t it work this way, too? I like experimenting. For me, I have a responsibility to always create an environment where people can come and be creative, they can come and express themselves and where they can have a conversation. An
environment can be an open mind. Even with people who I don’t necessarily feel their work, just being open to hearing those ideas. If my opinion is welcome, I’m open to giving opinions or insight and sharing my knowledge with people that are willing to do the work or are already doing the work to continue. Ultimately, the goal is to continue, to create, to help fuel the engine, to keep the engine going. That’s through continuing to be creative and challenging myself, to mentor, to create a space for ideas and freedom of expression.
Places: SERVICE Celebrities Parkway Grill (on live-music nights) Jimmy Mak’s Mt. Olivet Church PoShines
Events: Y.G.B Portland The Dookie Jam VSTRS FLUX (every Sunday night at Black Book) The Thesis Deep Under Ground (DUG) (deepundergroundpdx.tumblr.com) Good in the Hood
Black creatives: Mikey Fountaine Chanti Darling Blossom (EYRST recording artist) Eatcho Deena Bee Mic Crenshaw Joanne Petit-Frere Greg Jackson (NikeLAB apparel designer) Lamar LeRoy Gabriel Maselino Jay Jankans Vincent Magee Anthony Taylor Justin Morris Timothy Blanchard
information: servicepdx.com ghtoblst.wordpress.com
Intisar: What do you think Black Portland/s may have had in any part of the past or did not have? And what do you think we have now and that we don’t have? Donovan: I think we had.. by force.. we had physicality. We had these neighborhoods that were ours because they were made to be. This is where you had to be. We ended up creating culture out of that. We were able to create these vibrant scenes that people wanted to come to, the same cultures that were so much afraid of us, quote unquote, actually wanted to come experience what we had created despite our being “other.” As we’ve been kind of moved around—and most recently N/NE Portland is a story now—and been pushed away from the neighborhood, we don’t have now a central locality, which is really detrimental. What comes with physicality is that you’re literally getting to know people. You see people all the time. It creates familiarity. It creates a unison. Despite that what we have now is a lot of different Black people with a lot of different ideas, who from what I’m seeing, agree that something needs to change. The fact of the matter is we’re dying and we’re in a worse position than we were 50 years ago. This is facts. This is numbers. The urgency of it isn’t really being pushed. I think once the artists have some solid language behind what’s happening to us and where we can be, then we’ll have something even better than what we had 50, 60, 70, 100 years ago. Intisar: Are there any spaces, places, events, times that are important for you? Donovan: So much of being a Black person in Portland is based now…in terms of congregating…it’s based in events and, personally, I don’t think that’s a good thing. These random events. And if you’re
not there, you’re not there and you missed it. When we come together it’s, “I never see this” … ”It’s just so good.” Which I don’t think happened. And I’m so young in terms of Northeast Portland that I’m not really sure how much of that happened 30 years ago, but I have a feeling that when there was a Black movie theater right there [We are standing blocks from The Alberta Rose Theatre] people weren’t saying that that much because it was a part of the physicality of the neighborhood. Every time you see someone you know it becomes like this thing. And I think we need physicality. I think the idea of Black Portland with a plural on it .. Yeah, that’s always gonna exist because we’ll never always be the same. We’re just people at the end of the day. But I think there’s a lot of Black Portlands right now because we don’t have any physicality. I don’t know how much of a realization that is when people are talking about the Black community, period. This creative community that’s Black in Portland, that is a very specific thing. And that’s a lot of times what people are talking about, a very specific group of people that show up to things that say, “I am Black in Portland” and there’s a lot of people that are not a part of that. Intisar: I’ve been trying to find things Black people are making here? Do you know of any Black-made things, food, crafts, spaces, anything? Donovan: Chris Williams of LXRD. WOHM, We Out Here Magazine, is another one. No Limits Stickers is one of those places that’s a physical Black United Fund. We don’t have spaces though. We really don’t have any spaces that are really meant to be places of congregation. We have the Urban League and SEI that are combating institutional racism. We don’t have spaces where we can just be, which is a problem. Again, this idea of getting away
from talking about white people so much is rooted in the fact that we don’t have places where we’re just coming together and just being… places where we come together and we don’t necessarily have to be talking about what’s wrong. Intisar: What do you do or express in the world, or here? Donovan: I make clothes. I put art on clothes. The baseline is yeah, I’m a clothes maker. I’m a writer. I just started exploring poetry again. I’m a poet now. I been a poet, really. Intisar: What would you tell someone who was coming here and wanting to find out about Black Portland? Donovan: We Out Here Magazine. I would tell them to pick up The Skanner. Pick up The Portland Observer. Those are things that let you at least know.. at least give you an idea of what’s happening. You can pick and choose. They’re not the whole representation, and there will never be a whole representation of what is what in terms of Black people in Portland. Find Donovan at Ignorant/Reflections. ignorantreflections.com --
Black United Fund No Limits Stickers
Publications and Press: We Out Here Magazine The Skanner The Portland Observer
Creatives: Chris Williams at LXRD Diamond Ferguson and Jonny Sanders at Tribe Movement Jay at ROBO
Mother (Ellen), late 1940s
The Fo roots in affecti affectio dance visual Liz Fou yoga in Dunha Oregon
George H. Wood & friends at Union S
orge H. Wood) w/ Bobby; 1951
outhers have deep family and arts n Portland. Mr. Bobby, as he is ionately onately known by current and former students in Portland, is an acclaimed artist, dancer, and choreographer. uther-Branch is a retired educator, a nstructor, craftsperson, and Katherine am’s only dancer from the state of n.
Liz: It’s been very hard to be a person of color here and have a space for real. And no one has really had a space for any length of time that I’m knowledgeable of without some kind of sharing it with...The same way we got our houses. Because of redlining you had to get it via some other group. Either a church group or a particular cultural group. There were a lot of first-generation immigrant populations— German, Russian, Italian, Jewish—here who did a lot of supporting in terms of people buying homes through land sales. Intisar: Oh, I didn’t know that. When did that happen? Liz: Late ’40s, early ’50s. Shortly after the Vanport flood when that big influx of people started coming into Albina area. Most of that neighborhood was German, Scandinavian, Italian… Bobby: Surrounding Unthank Park. Liz: It was very multi-cultural, first- and second-generation immigrants. The
parents came off the boat and the kids were being raised in that neighborhood. That was a whole lot of Albina, up through Kenton and over into St. Johns. So a lot of the old churches here were Orthodox churches. Intisar: Wow, I had no idea. So they helped facilitate people buying homes? Liz: Our house was bought on a land sale. It was between the owner of the house and us. It had nothing to do with going to a bank. The son was who we made our house payments to, not the owner of the house. Bobby: So we didn’t have to deal with banks or the exclusionary laws or anything like that. Liz: Almost everybody I know that was in that Albina area bought their house on a land sale. Where we were in Albina, which was on Shaver and Gantenbein, we were the first of maybe three Black families in 1957. It was us, the Phillips, the Hunters, and Ms. Alexander… Intisar: When did your family come to Portland and how did they get here? Liz: Our grandfather came in the early ’20s, right after the first world war. Our grandmother came down from Canada and they married. My grandmother’s side of the family…up there was a Black settlement that came out of Oklahoma. They’re in history books. There’s three Black settlements out of the Saskatoon,
Saskatchewan area and our family was one of them. There’s a historic church and everything. Bobby: Our grandfather from Richmond, Virginia said nothing about anything. So whatever they did to him—he was real fair-skinned—really pissed him off. Liz: He was in whatever that army regiment is, that first one that went in and almost all the guys got killed. And so all his friends got killed. He got to see the men, where they had them stand up on the table and dance like monkeys. And then he came back to Richmond where they said they would give you jobs and there were no jobs. My grandfather said I’m done and he got on the train. He was supposed to be studying to be a Methodist minister. He basically ran away on the train and came out here. And never went back to Virginia and he would not go back overseas. “I will never go to Paris. I will never go to Italy. I will never go to England.” And he never went back home. And he could ride the train anywhere. He could go where he wanted to because he had worked on the railroads for 40 years. I’m like a history nut. We were one of the first 1,000 people that were here before Vanport. There are different perspectives on how people feel about that. Some call us the bougies, because supposedly we were already here and spread throughout Portland. So we didn’t all necessarily live in Albina.
Stepdad James (Sweet Baby James) Benton, Frank Martin Sr. & Delbert McSwain. The Deltons. Late 1950s.
Intisar: Where was your family in the city? Liz: My mother was raised on 25th and Burnside, across the street from the Matador. It’s still standing. You couldn’t be in every part of the city. She was born in that flat. And actually that flat was pretty much all Black people. Intisar: I remember when you were posting on Facebook about your family’s arts history here in Portland. Your mom’s dancing. And jazz at your house when you were younger. What are some of the stories around them doing art here? Bobby: Our mother danced. She went to the ballet school that was downtown. Renoux. What you used to hear is nobody Black got to go there. But our mother went there. She did a lot of things. She was the first black elevator operator at Olds and Kings. Our mother was a visual artist and a dancer. Same thing I’m doing, she was doing. Intisar: You also talked about a house or a place where people would come and play music. Liz: The Outback. That’s another whole set of history. Bobby: The “Out Back” really needs to be separated.
The Outback got created by people like Ken Burns and white people doing research about the history of our stepdad, James “Sweet Baby James” Benton. When we moved into that house when I was 7, he was there with us. He turned the yard and the garage into a little miniature haven. We had a little two-hole miniature golf course that I had to clean out every other week…We had a hand-built brick barbecue pit that he and some friends built. We had a pigeon coop. A pond. All the musicians in town when they would finish their gigs—well not when they would finish their gigs because they’d be there all day and night—would come to our house and everyone would go “out back.” We had to answer the door at the front of the house.
my stepdad got married. That’s why you had to go out back. Because my grandfather wasn’t letting none of them people in his house. If they were what you call ruffigans or hooligans, who smoked or drank, you’re not coming in my grandfather’s house. So they had to go out back. The garage was turned into a miniature theater with theater seats and projection booth, a stage, a piano, a bar… People came there to learn how to be a musician.
Liz: That’s how it got the name.
Mel Brown used to walk over so he could learn how to be a better drummer. Every famous musician that was here at the time would be at our house. Mel Brown. Leroy Vinegar. Frank Martin who’s in the Jazz Hall of Fame in Kansas City was in my dad’s group. We have pictures of them. The Deltons. The McSwains. Delbert McSwain.
Bobby: So usually if somebody came to the front door one of us would answer the door and they’d say, “James here?” And we’d say “They’re out back.” That’s where that name came from. It was not a club. It was not what is fantasized by Oregon Historical Society and Ken Burns.
McSwains is an old family name here. They all sang in the church. The Wrights. The Warrens. The Jacksons. The Nickleberrys. You’re getting into gospel. Gospel and jazz really cross. Almost every musician was out of the church. Almost every musician who’s ever been here.
Liz: Well, the guy that wrote the jazz book. That’s who started that.
Family groups were more identifiable back then. You knew that the Warrens, the Beasleys, the Nickleberrys, and the Lincolns were all related. You mess with this family, they had cousins from four different neighborhoods. There would be gigantic families here. It’s like annexing neighborhoods. By the time you finished annexing four gigantic families, you had an entire army of people going to ten of the different schools growing up.
Bobby: How people want to romanticize things for whatever their needs are. It was popular to do that during the time when they wanted to revitalize the little triangle key block by the Rose Quarter, on Broadway and Weidler. That’s all new buildings now. They wanted to revitalize that so they bring up a romanticized history in order to say how important this was. And that block was important because there was an African American–owned club on that block in the ’40s on the second floor. It was also my mother and my grandfather’s house. We actually bought the house before my mom and
Liz: There was so much of that going on that literally if you played football, you were going to play against those family members. If you ran track you were going to run track against those family members. If you sang gospel, you sang gospel with those family members. Everybody did everything
19 Ellen & dance partner Teddy Adair. Late 194
and everybody went to every school. You couldn’t be mad at Grant. You could be mad about winning or losing the game, but you couldn’t really be mad because everybody’s related or knew each other or grew up together. They went to church together. Somewhere in the course of their day, including all of our teachers, the Black teachers we had, which you really didn’t see until the ’50s… you knew them. They were at your church. Your doctor was at your church. Your attorney, at your church. Your accountant, at your church. If he wasn’t at your church, you could list the churches he was at. He was either at Jackson’s church, Father Stone’s church, Maranatha, AME Zion, Allen Temple CME. You knew them or you knew somebody who knew them. And all of our parents worked together, so you couldn’t really have hate or anger or— Bobby: Or the opportunity to disassociate from the other people. You would be crossing over into their neighborhood. As soon as you went from the east side of MLK, to the west side of…well, the east side
of Union Ave., which is what it was before to the west side of Union Ave., you were in somebody else’s neighborhood. So your free pass was knowing you were going to your cousin’s house. Because that’s what you would tell everybody whose neighborhood you were walking through but they didn’t know who you were. Especially kids. You know kids ain’t right. So…and if you looked any kind of funny they would tease you. Liz: And then on the other side of that we were so lucky because there was only the two of us…to where many of those larger families adopted us. We could go wherever we wanted. Bobby: Everybody knew Grandpa. Everybody knew my mother. Oh, you’re Mr. Wood’s… Liz: And our great aunt. Everybody knew them. Bobby: I was born in 1950. She was born in 1952. Our family dynamic was a lot different. We were a very small family. It was the two of us and our mom. And we had one set of cousins here that we knew about. Since those times we have found that we have cousins here from Canada that have the same relatives but we did not know that. That’s like literally sitting right here across the street from you and you don’t know those things. Just through the slip of the lip. When you keep digging and you get to bring it up in a conversation, then somebody says, “Wait a minute.
Battleford? My cousin’s from Battleford.” That’s why the sharing of information is so important. Intisar: There are all these Black artists here, Black creatives, whether they’re coming or they’re here… I’m interested in what Black creativity or Black art was like here in Portland in other times. Are there any important time periods to you in the life of Black Portland? Bobby: Portland was a music capital in the Northwest, always has been. At one time there was so many jazz clubs here, people traveling through, you could find anybody playing anywhere. McCoy Tyner would play here. Duke Ellington would come here. Count Basie. Sammy Davis Jr. Momma had a handkerchief from Louis Armstrong. And that’s what our parents were used to. Which was one of the reasons our stepdad built that little place. That was a heavy artistic influence on here. And then there were visual artists and things like that. Our mom was a visual artist. The most prominent person I think from here at that time would be, or a little later, would be Charlotte Lewis, whose work is around town. Her mural is here on Killingsworth. She was one of the mentors of Adrienne Cruz.
Liz & Bobby Fouther mid-1950s
My biggest influence that let me know it was okay to be a Black artist. I went to the University of Oregon. I met a guy named Ray Eaglin. He was also a political activist during the Black Power time. His art intrigued me because it was activist artwork. It spoke to the issues. Like a Black man carrying a gun and aiming it. That was one of the first people I met at college that really reinforced my inner self that I was okay and it was okay. Aside from Momma’s training and stuff like that. Her thing was like, “Baby, that’s your straight line. That’s your straight line.” I was all good after that. Teachers couldn’t tell me nothing. Nobody could tell me nothing about me. So that was all good.
Another influential person who came here from Mississippi was Charles Tatum, sculptor. His work is out on the coast, I believe now. Growing up in that house between being 7 and 16, it was all the musicians that came. All the musicians that came did other things too. They weren’t just musicians. So we got to experience all of that. I was listening to The Supremes and The Temptations in the kitchen and jazz at night, which I hated…They would play all night long. Literally outside my window. Liz: We literally thought everybody went to sleep and woke up to music…every day. Bobby: Literally that was what was going on. We listened to The Supremes and The Temptations in the daytime. Dancing in the kitchen with each other. And in the nighttime we’re hearing Count Basie. We’re hearing that whole spectrum of the wild and crazy jazz that you would think it’s wild and crazy, but it’s not. It’s just interpretation, like dancing. Liz: Very experimental. Bobby: Those things helped develop along the way. Also things like the Albina Arts Center, which was the first center that I went to where I got to sing in the practice room with the group I was singing with. Where I got to have my first duo art show with another artist friend from college. Where I got to have a dance class. In Other Words Books [bookstore]. That was the Albina Arts Center. That had an entire generational influence for approximately 20 years. Approximately 20 years during my artist development. That influenced most of the people or the parents or the aunts and the uncles of the kids you see now doing art. That was pre-Interstate Firehouse or any of that. That was the hub.
Ellen & our godmother, Wilma. Mid-1950s.
Ellen & Virginia late 1940s
Liz: That was the hub for any kind of dance classes, music, painting for minorities. There’s been historical hubs along the way that supported a whole generation of people. At that time also Williams Ave., Vancouver Ave., had Black businesses. Mississippi had Black businesses. Information: bobbyfouther.com
Niki: My relationship to Oregon is…I’m all island here, all island and shore and ocean current. By all island in Oregon I mean it’s a secluded existence in many ways. To be in Oregon for me is to feel apart from myself, which comes with great trials and great teachings and great questions. Yet somehow this place grounds me, mostly because my family and community are here. To be revived of who I am I gotta
get out of Portland. Home for me is in the warmth. I travel to the islands often. And too, to remember where parts of my story come from—because I was raised here and my father passed away here—I come back here to root down and reflect. Reflection for me comes out in paintings or drawings of my recent travels. Portland is good for reflecting and restoring. This is what I do here.
Ripley: I think my exploration of coffee centers around what you’re talking about. It centers around being able to interact with the craft economy on a level that’s akin to my birthright. Coffee is something that follows us on the Diaspora. It’s from Africa. It comes from a tradition of Black harvest. People of color curated coffee. The three main growing regions are East Africa, Central America, and Indonesia. Global demand for coffee keeps clean water, and educational opportunities, and independent capital in these communities. Coffee is coming from really poor regions. Similar to chocolate. And it’s always been that white chefs would be the chocolatiers and the people who are in the commerce of chocolate are up front, but the people who are harvesting the actual cacao and the seed that everything revolves around are the slaves, usually children. And I don’t mean to evoke something that political when I go onstage and I brew the coffee. I just think that it’s blood memory that’s inside me. I have a desire to serve and to be serving my purpose. So I think coffee illustrates that for me. Where I sit down with a room full of people and I engage them by stopping to take the time to go through this ritual and give them something at the end of it. Which I think is…that’s the goal
of craft. I’m trying to reach across the table and give you something that you can interact with and that you touch, but that you also view metaphysically as something that’s more important than what it is.
the point where it’s shined up and put to market, we’re not there. But you study us. And you study our craft. And I’m disinterested in this kind of craft maker’s movement that doesn’t talk about its roots.
Recently with my day job and being involved in the specialty coffee world…how that ties into my identity as being one of the few Black people in specialty coffee in the nation, not alone in Portland where it’s the most known coffee region on the West Coast. I know I can count all Black professional baristas by my hand.
Ripley: It almost ends up meaning that our own existence is not even about us. We’re an addendum to fuel the passions and the desires and the things that white America cannot say, so that they can find their deeper creative meaning or their craft liberation. You know? It takes the narrative of the white savior to appeal to people’s conscience almost. ’Cause hearing it from me, I’m a crow.
Intisar: Here in the city? Intisar: You’re a crow? Ripley: Yes. There are very, very few of us. And it’s a shrinking realm because most shops only want to take on one of us at a time. And that’s something that none of them will admit to your face. It’s only when these specialty companies sell to multinationals that people of color are serving, but that’s also when the product ceases to be specialty... I’m forming a place for people of color in specialty craft industry. Grape God is doing the same thing. Blak Sushi is doing the same thing. Artists are presenting multiple skill sets and applying them to nontraditional audiences. The Portland makers won’t take us seriously if they don’t have to. So, we are requiring that people listen up by learning the rules, and breaking them on display. I don’t think I mean to talk about disparity in the craft industry so much… Intisar: No, no. I think it’s super relevant. I think we all know it. We all know that we get a large amount of our creativity, of the root energy of making things from Black people. Even in a city like Portland where it seems like there’s not a lot of Black people you still get your root stock from Black people. It doesn’t really matter what the medium is. At
Ripley: Yeah. I’m the fixture here. Travel Portland. People are going to come here and they treat it like a zoo. Flash pictures of hipsters. They come and I’m behind the counter and I’m sealed in. You came to Portland and you had a coffee experience unlike you’d ever had, delivered by this young Black man who speaks so well. But in their minds I’m like an exception or something. “There are NO Black people here!” And I’ll never fully represent what I want to represent: another way of being to young people who would end up being like me…Because our existence is only for their own support. When you don’t fit into that mold of angry, passionate Blackness at every moment…you get forgotten, or absorbed. You’re like erased. But here’s my thing. I walk around and any person from East Africa will be like, “Are you Habesha?” So in that way it makes more sense for me to be in the coffee shop than somebody that looks like “Hans.” But somehow our global market has made it so that this does not belong. You’re supposed to be in the field. I think this romanticized craft thing is like the white celebration of getting our hands dirty for the first time, and I’m just like “That’s cool, but my
hands been dirty.” I’m just saying. There’s something only so novel in it when…I’ve been Black my whole life. We came here to work. The shipyards in North Portland that are now inactive were popping during WII. People came out here to join the war effort. To find new horizons, new abilities to live. I think it’s wrong that the history of this place is so underground, and washed away. No traces of indigenous Americans, few pockets of color here and there. I grew up and I learned about the history of this place and the dark roots, the redlining. And the fact that on the books still it’s illegal for me to live where I live right now…in SW Portland in the hills. Historically, Black folks don’t live up there. They intentionally didn’t pave the sidewalks on Broadway Drive so that there couldn’t be foot traffic. So that there couldn’t be public transportation. Intisar: What is your critique of this city? What are the gifts of your being here? Ripley: I think this place is wild. There’s such a potential for us as young black artists to come together and create new cultures and we’re doing that. We’re setting that work forward. I have a very modest goal and it’s one that I want to make real and ubiquitous and that is to have Portland’s coffee identity become synonymous and interlocked with Portland’s hip-hop identity. We’re evoking ceremonies and rituals. Rap has always been linked to the tribal act of smoking, the cypher of storytelling. It’s all ritual based. This place is so devoid of culture that there’s room to create from the ground up a very real culture…and that’s our job as people of color. That’s what we’ve been doing since day one whether they want to give us license for it or not. We’re taking [license]. Information: ripleysnell.com
Native Portlander. Executive Director of the Black Educational Achievement Movement and the annual Black Student Success Summit. Photographed at the Black United Fund, NE Alberta St.
Portland Native. Community member. Program Manager at Portland African American Leadership Forum. Portland is a small town disguised as a large city. For me, Portland is home. Both of my parents were born here. As a child growing up in Portlandâ€™s small Black community, I received love, support, guidance, protection and sometimes reprimand from many community members. Many of those same community members still provide that sense of safety and security to me and my child too. My native Black Portland community is strong and resilient in the face of many transitions. Sometimes. that strength appears to be missing in the political and public sphere, but folks should know that many of us are doing very important work and engaging with one another (and others) in deep and powerful ways.
Just because it's not visible to me doesn't mean that it doesn't exist.
There’s this drag night at the Local Lounge called Queens of The Night. It is one of few queer parties out here completely Black run. That’s real rare out here. Even when there are a bunch of Black faces or bodies on the poster, the party relies on Black culture, or if someone Black gets to run a party that is awesome and does well, Black representation is still sparse. What I like about Queens of the Night is that it’s at a small bar. A lot of Black queens run the show. I see a bunch of different sectors of the black queer community turn out. Spaces like these help our culture thrive because we can just be Black without our culture becoming some novelty for white people. With Queens of the Night I feel like everybody has this one commonality of, like, drag. They are queens themselves, aspiring queens, and people who appreciate this art form. We want to have a good time on the weekday, and it’s a lot of fun in a very small place. It feels like a safe space even though I think that term is weird. In a city as white as this a “safe space” is a place that I have to create for myself in my head, mainly. I really love that night. It’s run by Black people. Black people go. And they bring their friends and extended queer family, and it’s really nice to see. It’s a reminder to me that I need to get out of my circle. It’s a small city, but there are a lot of us here and it’s not the end of the world.
The Black queer community here is sparse. I once asked somebody [Black] where can I find more Black people and they gave me the most bleak answer. I was like, you would know. You’ve been here. But at the same time I feel like Black people find each other no matter what. Portland Black history is super important. We have been here and built this place. This is also a place full of transplants like me who have been here for X amount of time. We all have our different cultures as Black people rooted elsewhere, but we’re creating a new one here just by being here. Which is significant, you know what I mean. I try to check myself whenever I start to say there’s not enough Black people here. As a Black queer trans person, there isn’t at all, but there still is a Black history and community here. Streets like Mississippi and Alberta are overrun, but, like, you know there’s still a lot of Black families in and out. Gentrification is still going...There are familiar faces I’ve seen for years so I feel like I have a place here, It doesn’t take you that long to navigate and start familiarizing yourself and start noticing people. It is a community. It’s just way different from being from a Black city where I don’t really ever have to think about that as much. I’m not hyperaware of it, or if I am it’s in a different way. Being Black in this city has its own significance that a lot of Black Portlanders know amongst each other. I see Black people on the bus interact with each other like “Oh, hey! How you doing?” I like that kind of stuff, seeing that kind of stuff even though I have no connection to it. It’s like, OK. There is something here. This city is still great and a lot is still going on here. We still have each other. Just because it’s not visible to me doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. That’s a good reminder. That’s a nice thing. I have to remember that.
Spaces in time: Queens of the Night
Intisar: Why sneakers? Why coffee? Ian: So I initially just wanted to open up a sneaker gallery, a place where people interested in the footwear industry could go to hang out, where the industry that we have in Portland could be represented. There’s so many sneaker companies that are based out of Portland that a lot of people don’t know about. People that love shoes know that it’s all here. So really I wanted more representation for the city throughout the nation, throughout the globe, whatever. Also I wanted to create a place where people could go to learn. If you have questions about footwear design, you could learn about the process and also about how to get in. So a place for people to chill. A place for people to learn about shoes in general. And then a place for people to learn actually what to do and how to do it, the skills. That was the initial idea, but galleries make no money. So then I tried to think of something that made money all the time. And coffee makes money every single day. Coffee shops are the only businesses that bring the same customer back every single day. The people around you love it too because you’re then bringing back a customer consistently. The things you can do over a cup of coffee. If you look right here, Stephen’s having a business meeting. Jill stops by to hang out and help me out a little bit. You’ve run into friends you haven’t seen in a while here. That’s the beauty of a coffee shop. The power that a coffee shop has, the social aspect, is what I was looking for. So for me it was taking those two. Sneakerheads are nerds. Coffee people, especially in Portland, are nerds. Taking those two nerds and showing them that they’re actually the same person. It’s a passion for crafted things, for premium goods, product. For me, making coffee and making shoes are kind of the same thing because I’m still creating a product.
I’m just creating a product for an individual now. At Nike I felt like I was making a product for an individual because we have one consumer. We just make it a million times, a literal million times. To me it’s the same process, the same thing. It’s just in a different package. There’s a coffee menu and there’s also a detail menu. Really you just drop your sneakers off and we clean them for you. A lot of the crazy, crazy shoes that people collect, they all come from Beaverton. They come from Portland. The idea was to take care of the crazy, crazy sneakers that everybody out here has. Most of the people who work at the companies, they don’t clean their shoes. To them it’s disposable. They got it for free. Just get rid of it. But imagine if there was some kind of service where you could drop them off and get them taken care of for you. A lot of times people will wear something for a little while and they’ll want to clean it up and sell it. If a shoe is worth $2000 brand new, but then used and dirty it’s worth maybe $700, you can pay $60 to get it cleaned. You might take that $700 up to $900 or $1200. Paying 60 bucks is making you money. And that’s the most expensive service that I have. The other is to drop ’em off and we’ll clean ’em up for you, a spruce. A lot of time it’s a stain that somebody doesn’t know how to get off. We can probably take care of it. There’s a couple small things, some industry tricks that I’ve learned, and the people who work with me have learned over the years. We’re able to release wrinkles out of midsoles. A lot of people don’t know how to do that. Intisar: What is it about the way you process or think that makes this right for you? Ian: A part of the reason why I left Nike was…for me it’s all about community. I’d rather foster community. At Nike I’m contributing to a community. I’m contributing to the sneaker world. I felt like I didn’t have the ability to contribute to the community
as much as I did to a bottom line. Going into it, I thought it was going to be more community related. I thought I was going to be able to spend more time with consumers, spend more time with the people who are out there buying. Instead I spent a lot of time behind the computer. And I didn’t want to spend time behind the computer. I wanted to uplift everybody else in the community. Everybody else is doing something cool. Everybody’s trying something. I’ve always known I was a little bit different. Now different in which way, I don’t know. I went to a little private school for high school and I was the only one who liked sneakers. I was the only Black kid in the school. I was a very bad student. I don’t read fast. I don’t type fast, so I was always a little bit different. I’ve always just kind of embraced it. It’s never been an issue, because I won’t allow it to be one. For me, some of this was just how do I do something different? This coffee industry is kind of snobby. So I wanted to do something different for the coffee industry, but something different for sneakers as well. Most sneaker heads couldn’t care less about coffee, which is why I actually launched two Kickstarters for this, and both of them were unsuccessful. People were like, yeah, the idea is cool. People like stuff and I wasn’t giving them stuff. People don’t want to fund your idea. So my plan was, my goal, my hope was that I could do something that was different and more exciting. Overall, I didn’t know it was going to work, but I know it’s gonna work because of where we are. That’s the problem. There were a lot of people who were interested in investing and a lot of people asking me, Why would you put it in Portland? How come not LA or New York or San Francisco? And all those places work, but they would work from a business side. But this was more about the community, because the sneaker people and the people who work here and all of that stuff already being in the area. I’m fine with opening another in the future, but it needs to start here.
Intisar: Through this, have you been able to meet other people in the sneaker community? How does that work? Ian: I’ve been able to meet other people. A lot of it for me though is, I know a lot of people in the industry. A lot of it for me has been connecting other people, people to people. So last week, Jermaine, who was here a little bit ago, was here. Jermaine’s a really big collector of prototypes, crazy samples. Somebody who develops and works on a lot of that crazy stuff came by the shop last week. So I was able to introduce them. It was a friend and a friend to me, but to Jermaine it was a big deal. Hopefully for her it was a big deal to know that somebody really appreciates what she’s doing. Intisar: It’s interesting. I’ve been doing a lot of these interviews. And at the beginning you don’t really know what themes will come out, but it’s been a lot about space, creative space, who has creative space for these environments and opportunities to happen. That’s interesting. There’s an energy in people coming together that needs to be fostered but when it hits a certain point, then it moves on its own. Ian: I am about fostering community. Where else can the sneaker people hang out? We could go to Compound. We could go to Index. People from Nike know people who work at Adidas. Neither of them can hang out at either of those places, and vice versa. I just wanted an informal space. It definitely has become a bit of a destination for people. Sometimes I’ll have people who come by. Like...Are you guys traveling? Yeah, I’ve been following your Instagram for like a year and a half. We came to Portland and this is one of our stops. …Where are y’all from?…New York…Germany. It’s crazy. It’s been cool for that. It’s been what I hoped for, that it would be a destination.
Deadstock Coffee 412 NW Couch St. PDX 97209 deadstockcoffee.com IG: @deadstockcoffee
Intisar: When did you start doing tattoo work? Leila: I’ve been doing it part-time for 5 years. Finding artists of color in this town is very difficult, but I feel super isolated as a Black tattoo artist, particularly as a Black queer tattoo artist. I’m for sure I’m the only one of those here. Which is why I’m so excited when I meet another. Having to go through school, it’s still like an old boys’ club. The industry in general. It’s super isolating because there is a lot of racism, a lot of misogyny. I had to stop a kid in class from making rape jokes. The whole appropriation deal is also
really...it’s just super frustrating. The conversation gets really hard to have with other artists. I saw a woman who had a skull with an Indian headdress on it. Like, really? Intisar: Where are you from? Leila: I’m from San Francisco originally. I’ve been in Portland for ten years, working, loving, living, laughing, that sort of thing. I feel like I’ve really put down roots here. I’m kind of belligerent about being Black in Portland. I want to stay here and make noise and make people uncomfortable.
Intisar: What’s New Classics? James: Before anything else it’s an idea of how people, artists, creatives, should be treated. How they should be represented. The mission is first and foremost to create spaces and resources for artists of color, and not just artists of color but predominantly artists of color, who don’t have access to those resources or have been told that they have to conform to a certain kind of art that somebody else thinks would benefit them and not necessarily the art that they would like to be doing. We wanted to create a platform for artists to be able to be themselves. It’s about allowing people to create things in the way that they want to create them. Intisar: You’ve said that on holidays when you’re walking the streets of Portland, that it feels like earlier versions of Portland, older Portland? Can you explain that? James: I feel like Portland, old Portland, the essence of Portland, of what Portland is or really is or what it feels like to me .. has a vengeance to it. It’s almost like it will not be denied. I feel like I hear often in Portland that people are saying, Oh Portland is changing and all these Californians are moving in and changing Portland and Portland isn’t like it used to be. And no. Portland definitely isn’t like it used to be. It isn’t how it used to be when I first came here. Even when I first came here, people were saying it wasn’t how it was 5 or 10 years before that, but I feel like Portland has this influence over people. I think more so than people are coming to Portland and changing Portland, that this vengeance, the spirit Portland carries, will change the people who come to Portland. And I don’t think people necessarily see it that way, or I don’t know that the people who are moving to Portland necessarily view it that way. People move to Portland and they
come and visit and they’re like, Oh Portland is this and Portland is that and that’s why I want to move here. And they come here and they bring some parts of themselves and parts of places that they’ve been and then Portland maybe initially conforms to that, but I think the part that’s missing is that these people will be changed by this idea of Portland. More than anything else, I think Portland embodies individualism. That’s a very American ideal, the idea of the individual, and I think Portland embodies that as well as any place I’ve ever lived. Something it’s kind of losing is its individuality as it’s becoming a little more cookie cutter. You can tell with the architecture. You can tell with the businesses that are burgeoning, the trends. It can even tie back to things like - not that I blame Portlandia - but it kind of ties back to this thing of Portlandia where it’s kind of been like pigeonholed as what Portland actually is. Where I think people who are newer to Portland or people who never experienced old Portland don’t realize that old Portland doesn’t take shit. And old Portland .. there’s this resurgence and the artistry and the creatives and the people who want to stay here… Portland is becoming not as hospitable as it was to creative types. When I came back to Portland from Atlanta, I used to always say Atlanta was a place where if you don’t have any money people look at you like you’re not shit, but if you live in Portland.. if you have a trade, if you can do something well whether that makes you rich or not, people recognize your inner wealth and it allows you to exist in this place that feels maybe not safe, but it feels like there’s a place for you to exist. I think that is what is coming back .. is more and more people dedicated to existence. Portland was hospitable to creatives and art, and with a lot of the growth, some of that has been lost or glossed over or people want Portland to look more like maybe the places that they’re from and the places that they’re comfortable in being. And
I’m saying that old Portland will reign, r-e-i-g-n, and that the idea that Portland is a place for people to create and that it’s hospitable to individuals who want to create, that is what Portland is. And much as the city of Portland is changing, I feel like this quintessential Portland attribute will continue to define Portland, make Portland what it is. Even though it’s not a visible now, that it will ultimately.. People who benefited from that, I think, are at a point in their careers where they’re able to do things that they’ve never been able to do before. As evidenced by maybe some of the people that you’re interviewing and the fact that you yourself are able to do the things that you’re doing. People are in places where they’ve never been able to create in Portland, especially people of color in Portland, and I think that as a result of that, that will create more. Myself, DeAngelo, Vincent, yourself, the list could go on, through all of these people that are mutual friends and also these people that you know separately. I think they’re all dedicated to creating places for people to create and that is what Portland is about. I don’t think Portland is going to change as drastically or as terribly as people think it is, except for the people who don’t know what Portland really is like.
I’ve always been curious about what words are because any meaning they have is contextual. All language is contextual, and that sounds really basic, simple, easy, but it’s true and that’s what made me start poetry. This confusion and curiosity about language and what words are. I started writing poetry when I was about 4. At root I am a poet and nothing can dissuade me from that. I’ve never really thought it was something you could get a degree in, you could get an MFA and somebody tells you now you’re a poet. I always get confused when people seem to be looking so much for someone to tell them, “Now you’re a poet.” It’s like now I have these readings and this book. “Now I am a poet.” So many people’s status as a
poet is contingent upon the will of others in this death way/play. And it’s bizarre because poetry is something that claims you. And that’s cheesy, right? That’s corny to say, but it’s real. Everything you think about art is probably racist. Nobody wants to hear that, but I’m here to tell them that because it’s true. For that reason I’m not necessarily a person who is like a multidisciplinary artist and poet that people really like because you’re not supposed to tell the white people the things they don’t want to hear, and I think I’m only ever interested in making white people uncomfortable. And not in a focused childish way, na na nana na, I’m gonna make you mad. It’s like you know that the way you think about art is
rooted in white supremacy. Saying that to a white person who prides themselves on being very openminded…they’ve even dated some Black people, they have black children, they have physical and ontological access to Blackness and so they are beyond reproach. For a lot of white people, talking about the ways in which racism and white supremacy informs everything they want and like and deserve and has made everything they have possible is an apocalypse. We’re at the point in our culture, we’re at the apocalypse point. People don’t want that.
Jamondria futuristic m
a is a poet. She curates Solar Throat, an Afro-surrealist/Afromonthly experimental performance series in Portland, OR.
Kayin Talton Davis and Cleo Davis operate their creative studios on N. Williams Ave. For most of the 20th century N. Williams/Albina was the hub of Portland and Oregonâ€™s largest African American community. Together they are producing the Historic Black Williams Project, a large-scale public art project funded by the Regional Arts & Culture Council, which will honor the history of Williams Ave. It will debut in the spring of 2016.
Intisar: What is Soapbox Theory and Screw Loose Studio? Kayin: Soapbox Theory is a creative outlet. It has turned into graphic design, shirts, cards, children’s products, home products. I think it’s important for us to see more of us, especially children. You go down the toy aisle for younger kids or any kind of home decor and everything either has nothing on it, like no characters, or it’s just some kind of pattern .. which is good and universal, but it feels good to feel represented. The converse is that there are just these pictures that don’t represent any of our children. There are a few. Soapbox Theory is moving into more home decor and home products, just so that we can be more surrounded by the things that represent us and the things we love. Cleo: Screw Loose Studio is really a production hub for the creative intellectual genius. The slogan being “Big mouths. Even bigger brains.” What our mouths speak, our brains can create. And get that thought process into production. Intisar: How do these two things work together? Soapbox Theory, having all these various designs that need to be produced, works very closely with Screw Loose in order to produce these designs. And on the flipside, when Screw Loose Studio needs design work done, then Soapbox Theory can provide that. If you were to look at us as one company, it would just be split into two different areas of design and manufacture. Intisar: What does it mean for creatives to have space? What does it mean for you all to have this space here that you are developing? Kayin: For us being here, the neighborhood has changed vastly. Before we shut down to do some of
the changes, we were getting tourists from all over the world. Having that space and just being open and available gives people a chance to really see and feel and touch everything. Cleo: Space is very important, and as property value goes up here in Portland it’s becoming more and more difficult. Square footage costs. For us, it’s very important. And for this space in particular, on this street, on this avenue. It is a historic space. This was the heart of the Black community. We’re still here doing our thing. This space is very important, to work in and to have exposure.
“I think the focus of Portland now being on this creative energy, a birth energy. Portland is back in this new birth, and I think that’s feeding into everybody.” Intisar: The people who were coming upon you from other places, did they know about you beforehand? Cleo: Most of the people just come up from foot traffic. But there’s a lot of Black people out there who come through looking for us. Intisar: Are they from here? Cleo:. It is a mixture. And that’s amazing. Someone called me from Las Vegas, saying, “I’m gonna be in
town on Friday. Will you be there Saturday?” I’m like, ”Yeah, but how did you out about find us?” They do these write-ups on Soapbox all the time... Intisar: Could you tell me about your upcoming project, The Historic Black Williams Project? Kayin: The project is about the Black history of Williams and the community around it. We’re going from the 1920s to the 1980s with some of the community aspects, business aspects. It’s what makes a community a community. As opposed to just being a one-piece or two-piece project, we plan to have art on most every block between Broadway and Killingsworth and make it more of a historic walk. For instance, we have some for Dr. Unthank, for the old location of the NACP, some things on the redevelopment of Emanuel, the Black Panthers. So it’s just some of the things that are specifically historical and then some things that make community a community. In the ’40s and ’50s and for much of the 20th century, if you were out in the streets, everybody knew to get home by the time the lights came on. And Mother knew everything that happened while you weren’t at home because of the community network. So some of those things that are just community and some of those things that are universal community from a Black experience. [We’re] talking about how people came to work from the shipyards. We’re not going into detail about the Vanport Flood and so on, but we are really telling about the experience. Not the reactions, but the result of what it caused, how people lost everything, and so they’re starting over. How families were separated, things that happened after this huge disaster, and how that additionally colored trust issues with the city and so on. So we’re doing
signs and embedded tiles in the sidewalk and we’re doing a kiosk. The kiosk will have additional history and interviews with the community. The Black, experience didn’t start on Williams Ave in the 40s. The building of the Broadway Bridge, that’s really what brought people over from downtown. Cleo: For me the key piece with the kiosk is that with this whole theme of gentrifIcation, whatever it’s called, not only did we lose homes but this street right here is a main thoroughfare of commerce. So this is like a lifeline. When we had this we were making money to buy homes. We’re one of approximately four Black-owned, property-owned businesses left on Williams. We would like to use that kiosk to give exposure to those who are not located on it. So if you got something interesting going on, you’ll be right here. When Kayin was talking about all these international people on the street, it takes a long time for a Black business or a Black community to have it to where internationals are coming. You even look at what’s going on in Harlem, Brooklyn, areas of Philadelphia, Detroit. We only had a handful to begin with in the country. People don’t say where’s the Black neighborhood? They’re looking to get away from the Black neighborhood. Even our great Black neighborhoods are being diminished .. neighborhoods where they bring in commerce, where we live there, we work there, we do everything within our own community. That’s no more. So, I’m saying let’s put this kiosk up so that those who are way out in the numbers or moved to Vancouver or out in Beaverton and Southeast. Although they’re not physically present, what they’re doing can be tapped into this thoroughfare here. Kayin: If you’re working out of your basement or you’re in your apartment...
Cleo: Now people are coming in here and looking. Now you’re not here. You were moved out so that people could come look at what others were doing. Intisar: Who were any people who were important to your vision of doing what you’re doing now in the community, whether you were a young adult or a child? Were there any physical places that were important to that for you? Cleo: I can think of a lot of people, but not a lot of places other than this place we’re sitting in right now.
“We're one of approximately four remaining Blackowned, propertyowned businesses left on Williams.” Kayin: I think for me the answer to actually kind of both is family. Because for me I was able to be creative and have that creativity be accepted and not forced out. My creativity was always supported. My whole thing was creating for people who weren’t generally represented. I went into engineering to do prosthetics for children and to do them in such a way that they were comfortable with them. And now that’s translated into doing more children’s products, but making it into more of a visual representation so children can be comfortable
with themselves. It’s still in that same kind of mindset, just a different application. And that started at OHSU, talking to an engineer that was a prosthetics designer. My path is this windy kind of way, but it’s still connected towards this same goal. Intisar: What’s that goal? Kayin: My goal is to make people feel comfortable in loving themselves and feeling their own beauty and being able to see it and represent it in ways that are approachable. Sometimes people get into art and love to dig deep into the symbolism and say, “I get this.” Other people feel like they don’t understand it because there’s too much symbolism. Sometimes there are those pieces that are very simple but very striking because they resonated inside. I want my pieces to resonate and bring out that.. Wait, that looks like me. It’s so awesome when kids come in. I usually have lunch boxes, these kids are like...that looks like me! And they will not let them go. Cleo: Or that looks like Kiki. Or that looks like Shamika. Kayin: Because it’s such a universal thing. It’s really interesting and fascinating and it brings a lot of joy to me to know that my artwork is out there doing that. Intisar: Do you have an answer to the question of place? Cleo: For me it would be family. For me, one of the places would be the TAG program. Talented and Gifted. You start off in animation with a little flip book, you start out with Roboscope where you make a strip. By the time I was six, I was doing
stop-motion. You could take whatever you wanted to take—painting, drawing, ceramics. Now I have kilns. I do ceramic sculpture, paint, draw. How do you do all these things and maintain a business? It’s not the same as just having a studio and doing whatever you want to do. That would be one of the main places. And this neighborhood, in particular growing up at this location. This used to be a family restaurant. I: What’s the story of this place? This location was a restaurant that my family owned and operated. It was called Two Pesos at the time. It was Black Mexican cuisine. Black folks doing Mexican food. And everybody from Emanuel used to come eat. You see all these folks at the food cart? Everybody used to come here.
of driving him around. I studied urban planning in California. I studied architecture, industrial design, product design, graphic design. While I was there I was studying about Portland. Even in other cities, you learn that Portland is the model city. In urban planning you’re going to learn about Portland. You study the city, community, districts is the big thing. If you have a nice thriving district you don’t even have to leave your area. When I came back I saw it all, everything that I’d been studying. I was also in another city, seeing how the districts were. Portland was young at that time, but the major thing about Portland is the urban growth boundary. That’s what made Portland what it is. Cleo: I love being around creative people. We need more creativity in the world, more expression. We need to change things, allow people to take the chains off their minds, allow them to see, allow them the freedom of creativity, to go out and do.
Kayin: That was in the ’90s right? Cleo: Yes. We used to fry up the chimichangas. I was in high school at the time. I used to come here after school and get food. All my family worked here. My brothers, sister, my uncle managed it. My dad was the owner. It’s been in the family for over twenty years. A generation. This was us, and this has been in the family for so long. He trusted in me to take it over…This location has a lot of history, a lot of blood, sweat, and tears in it. I just came in and changed it into the design studio. We still have our fume hood back there. When I came back from California in 2003/2004, it was up for sale. It was up for sale, and I was like what? And there was no development on this street. Everything was just at its end of bottoming out. It was just starting to come back up. I had long conversations with my father begging him not to sell it. It took me a good six months to a year
Kayin: …Get comfortable being yourself and don’t worry about how people are going to react. Intisar: In this idea of Black Portland unfolding throughout time...1850 and 1927 and 1950 and now…in this ongoing story, who do you think that you are? What do you think your gift is? Kayin: The first thing that comes to mind for me is being a part of a resurgence, a renaissance, just that mixing together. That when things all kind of dissipate, how do we bring those things [back]? Let’s stir the pot a little bit more, see what new things we can come up with. That’s where I feel for me personally, but also where I think all of us in this kind of community that is starting as far as artists [are]. Like, okay. This stuff happened. It kind of died down for a little bit. Let’s stir the pot and see what we can come up with. Add a few more ingredients. Maybe things got overcooked a little bit.
Let’s change it up. And let’s go from there. That’s really where I see it, where I see myself. Intisar: If there wanted to be some kind of Black renaissance here, it could happen. Cleo: It’s going to. It’s not a “could.” Kayin: Because the energy has changed in Portland. I think the focus of Portland now being on this creative energy, a birth energy. Portland is back in this new birth, and I think that’s feeding into everybody. Cleo: Like Kayin’s saying, it’s an energy. And it’s going to happen with or without you. And the cool thing about you guys is you guys are in the forefront of that energy, with the group you are
creating…[BCC: Brownhall]…You guys are embodying that energy. So for me, I agree with my wife. There are two sides of me. I have a preserver side. My whole thing was preservation. It has to be protected. So before I tried to get out and do anything big and wild, I had to protect it, I had to preserve it. I knew that this was coming. I could see it. It’s like the fallout from a bomb. Everyone says, “Why aren’t
you redoing your building?” ’Cause there’s a bomb coming. I’m going underground. But I’m preserving. But I’m creating. I would wrap it up as preservercreators. Once you can preserve it and protect it and when the fallout is done, you can come from underground. This is what we’re doing. We’re reemerging. We’re rebirthing it. This street—and people don’t even know it—represents us as a people. The goal was to preserve, and now it’s time to come up. But the whole energy is that way. It’s going to come together in waves and teams. No matter what, there’s going to be a renaissance. And it’s the time. And that’s the history of Portland. This is a long, enduring process. For our history, for our Black history here in Portland, we’re at the end of winter. We’re heading into spring, again. All of us here. How do you create opportunity with art, with public art? That art gives you a voice. It wakes people up. This is the thing as artists we need to do with our voice. As an artist, I have to preserve something for my family and my community. With this artwork let’s create opportunity and say, “Look this is what happened.” Well then, we need more people on this street and to be participants in these opportunities. We would like to get more Black businesses back on Williams. Information: blackwilliamsproject.com soapboxtheory.com screwloosestudio.com
Kemba: The Bremone Academy focuses on dance, singing, acting, drumming, different elements of entertainment. I’ll have other people coming in from all over the world to do workshops and to enlighten the community about what all of these art forms are. How do you train in it? I’m really trying to get the community involved. It’s not only about dance and acting, but about teaching the kids responsibility, how to come prepared. Hopefully they’ll be using all of the skills we give them in their daily lives, in being a doctor or lawyer or... Because we don’t know if they’ll be entertainers. Only 3% of the 300 dancers we have in Beaverton at the Arts & Communication Magnet Academy become professional. That’s how steep this competition is around the world. I tell them the truth. Not everyone is going to do what I’ve done. You got to be at the right place at the right time. And it’s an energy. Intisar: How did you come to Portland? I came in 2010. I had my daughter, and we moved up here from Los Angeles so that I could get myself back in shape and go back. But I’ve always loved Portland. Even when I came here on tour and performed, I always felt this place had a natural energy, something that I wanted to be a part of. That’s why I came to be a part of this natural force. I don’t know what it is quite yet, but it feels like home, my second home. Intisar: How has it been for you as a creative here? Kemba: It’s been good and bad, I think as for anything, for any business. For me it’s really hard to get the community, especially the African American community, to come out and support you. Maybe because I don’t know where they are all the time. I’ve done things with Bobby Fouther, because he pretty much knows where the Black community is located. It’s been really hard getting people in the studio. I don’t know if it’s the location. The Southwest people don’t want to come to Northwest. Everyone wants to stay in their own
little neighborhoods. I did close my door to the neighborhood because I felt that they weren’t coming in. But I have to go out to bring them in. So now this is why I’m going to start the academy, to open some more doors and hopefully some minds of some people so that they can come through the door. Because I was angry. I shut the door. I started my ensemble group and we performed 20 shows around the city. I felt like I’m knocking and knocking. I had the resume, and not only the resume but I had the proof that I had the skills. It’s still an issue here and I don’t want to say it’s a color thing, but sometimes I really feel like it is. I don’t get it. I don’t want to play the race card. I don’t want to pull that card and say it’s a Black thing. No, it’s a white thing. It’s an Asian thing. It’s a community thing. I wish everybody could come together and stop thinking of race. Just come in for the art. It’s weird. Not that ballet is more important. I lost some kids because they wanted more ballet. Ballet is not the root of dance. You can’t say Europe is the root of dance, because what about India, what about Africa. All of us are the root of dance. I don’t believe in that. So you’re telling me that if the Africans come over here and they’ve been studying their way of dance that they don’t coexist because they don’t have ballet? So they’re not good dancers? We need to stop that. If you want to do European dance, yes, ballet is the core. It’s the root of certain things but it’s not all. I love ballet and am in support of ballet, but I respect every culture, cultural dance. When I had half Black, half white in the company, I loved that. I got a note that my company was too Black. I didn’t understand because I had six Black girls and six white girls and I had choreographers from all over the city. We put on a show and I was very insulted by it. What if it was an all African American company. How many companies are here like that? How many white companies are here?
And then I did a piece by Jill Scott on the white girls. Then we had African American women sitting over there angry about it. So it goes both ways. I think we need to sit down, all come to the park and eat together, live with each, everything should blow up. Everybody. We should start from the ground so that we can get to know each other. We’re not coming together as a community. We talk about coming together, but we don’t. We’re not getting to know each other as a culture. I’m sorry, I’m telling the truth. It’s important that people out in the community really come out and support each other. Intisar: Have there been any specific Black artists or creatives who you have been able to build and connect with? Kemba: I’ve got to give credit to S. Renee Mitchell. Renee is an African American woman who has worked for The Oregonian. Writing her own books and doing her poetry across the city, she gets her hands into a lot of things. She’s a very important force in our city. Bobby Fouther has also been a huge, huge support in terms of keeping my doors open and keeping me connected to the community because I don’t know the African American community. PoShines and the pastor at Celebration Tabernacle Church have been a great support for me. But I haven’t been able to get my hands on the Black leaders more. I’m bumping, but we don’t stay. We don’t hear from each other for a while, then we connect together, then we disperse, then we connect together. No consistency. Or maybe it’s me. Maybe, I think it may be me. I keep pointing fingers, saying it’s the community, the community. I’m a part of the community, community. Maybe I’m supposed to start creating so that the community can see. I got it.
Kemba Shannon King, the Broadw for Madonna, Cél across Portland a Shannon Dance
has danced professionally as part of the The Lion way production of The Color Purple, Cirque du Soleil, line Dion, Pink, and others. She teaches and mentors and from her studio, Bremone Academy, formerly Kemba Center.
Bremone Academy, formerly Kemba Shannon Dance Center 2017 N. Kilpatrick St., Portland, OR
S. Renee Mitchell Bobby Fouther
PoShines Celebration Tabernacle Church
Intisar: How did you get started making these bags? It’s really really by accident. This lady gave me a bunch of leather scraps. She thought I could make something out of it and I made this bag. I call them Kotoku bags. In Ga, “kotoku” means sack. In my language, there’s no difference between a bag and a sack. Anything you can hold stuff in is a sack. The bags I find, they’re either too big, the material they use is not so .. so I decided I wanted to make something for myself. Then I started experimenting.
I met a Haitian dancer. We became really good friends. I think that’s when I really got introduced to Haitian music and dance. The similarities between that and the Haitian music is really, really similar. It’s the same. Then I did a lot of research, which led me to find out that the slaves that were brought from some parts of West Africa, Togo, Benin, and Nigeria ended up in Haiti. And also in Bahia. Not so much in Cuba. Cuban slaves, some of them were from Nigeria, Yoruba people. Then I like to trace the origin of music they brought to the Americas and the evolution of it and why it changed and the availability of materials they used for the instruments. That’s mainly what I do for my music work.
envision what can be made out of it. But then I also leave the possibility of the unknown. I don’t know how it’s going to look like, but I put them together. Until I finish it, I cannot have the idea what it will look like.
I have always tried to be different in everything that I do even with the music, the dancing, the collaborating with other musicians. The same thing happens with clothes. I like to wear nice styles, not necessarily new, but that is unique. Not everything I have is new, but I like to wear it a certain way and that’s the same with the bags and making them. I feel like I can make something better than what I can find. That’s really what I feel. I see bags and I think, Oh, this is nice, but then I see my bag...Yes, I can make something better than what’s here. Whether it’s music or this, it’s really based on inspiration. There’s been times I’ve made bags from beginning to the end and I’ve put it away because it’s not looking...my mind is not in the right place and I don’t feel inspired.
Julie: Another cool thing about watching Okaidja do this, because he didn’t ever get training in leather making...It was like a pocket knife, a nail, and a mallet. That was like, your only tools. Just nailing it on this bench. Everything cut with a pocketknife.
My thing is I wanted it to be as simple as possible and clean but very nice. One thing I like to have...if I get a leather that has the end like how they cut it when they were making it, I don’t like to cut it away. That aging you can never get. Things like this, you can never make it. It only happens in the process, when they were dying they leather.
Intisar: How long have you been here? Fifteen years. I play music. Obo Addy actually brought me. He saw me in Ghana and brought me to work with him. After a while I decided to work for myself. I have my band, Shokoto. In my free time, I like to do different things. I practice a lot, so when the inspiration is gone...you practice up to some point and you feel like you have to stay away from the guitar for a while. So then I do this. Intisar: Could you tell me about your dance and music work? The dancing is mainly Ghanaian traditional music and dance. I like to also incorporate some Haitian movement, sometimes. The music is Ghanaian, but it is a mixture of what I create: my background mixed with Afro-Peruvian, Afro-Haitian, Afro-Brazilian, and other things mixed together. Intisar: How did you learn those other dance forms? Being in America, I got bored of what I was doing. So I wanted to better it. Julie and I went to San Francisco to have fun and check out some classes.
Intisar: Where did you learn how to do this leather work? Did you teach yourself? Okaidja: I just do it. Four years ago, I decided I wanted to teach myself to play the guitar so I practice a lot and taught myself. It’s the same way. I just naturally have...I go to the leather store and I see leather strap or end of the leather and I can
Okaidja: The first ones were made with a pocket knife. With these bags you don’t want it to be too perfect. --okaidja.com
Tory Campbell’s grandparents’ celebrated Southeast Portland BQ restaurant served Portland for over 20 years. Today his family continues their tradition of artisan food craft through Felton & Mary’s Artisan Foods.
Tory: My grandparents were always travelers. They were notorious for getting in their car and going. One day they got in their car, went to Sacramento and kept north and eventually got here. ’Cause he had a sister here…They stayed for maybe a week and looked at each other like, you wanna move here? So they bought a house that week, the house that we grew up in. It was on 87th and Powell. And then they bought the house that would soon have the restaurant that they would build and that was on the corner of SE 87th and Powell. I remember sitting as a kid at the house, and I remember one day walking in and my grandparents were sitting around the dinner table and my uncles and my aunt were there. They were like, we’re gonna open up a restaurant down the street and here’s what we’re gonna do and my grandfather started drawing the pit, of what it would look like.” I remember the first day we were knocking down the walls of the house. I remember he got a mason to come and build the pit. It was a Black man…and the pit’s still there. My grandparents were always really friendly. They were culturally attuned to people. They knew how to work with a lot of different people. There was a guy down the street who used to do welding work on Ford Model T cars and I remember my Grandpa said, “Hey, I got this pit, but I need these metal doors to be welded on. Could you help me?”…And the guy says sure. So I remember him welding the doors and putting them on. Intisar: Is that still there? Tory: It is…We sold the restaurant and kept the rights to the core recipes we are bringing to market now. The new owners were running it for another seven years. It closed just recently…My grandparents taught me even in business. I’m an entrepreneur in part because of watching them and being part of that. If you have a good product you
can build an ecosystem around yourself. I know there’s a lot of other contributing factors to success, but that was a big one. Everyone would be like... Where’s the restaurant? Southeast Portland? Well, where at? Who’s out there? But people came ’cause the food was good and because of my grandparents and their hospitality and it ended up becoming a staple. Intisar: Talking about where the Black businesses were in the Southeast. That’s, amazing that y’all were out there in the Southeast in the ’80s. People need to know about that. Tory: Wasn’t nobody out there. Intisar: I’m interested in the idea of Black Portland cultures. Do you feel, as someone who grew up here, do you feel there’s a unique Black Portland culture/cultures? Tory: As you know we’re not a monolithic people and I know you’re not asking for a very simplistic answer, but I think that’s part of it…is that there’s such a diversity of experience here. I think some of it is determined by what brought you here...and where you land…in terms of where you live. I think native Black Portlanders who were born here whose family came here in the ’40s...Their experience is so different. For us we were in Southeast Portland. We were one of the few Black folks out in that area. Most of my school experience, I was one of two Blacks in most classes or a handful. But because I grew up in Oakland for the early part of my childhood, that shaped me too. …I feel like for me Portland draws pioneers. People of color who tend to be pioneers, with curiosity, a willingness to adventure outside of their own traditional norms to experience life.
We felt proud because of what our grandparents instilled. Like everybody wants to be a Campbell. That was one of my grandfather’s sayings as kids. We had the restaurant so for us…I didn’t feel like we were consumers. I felt like we were creators. And we were producing what people wanted. I still think there’s an aspect of some sense of loss of not engaging in certain things in North/ Northwest Portland. When I look back, now that I’m working here...a lot of it feels like I’m doing an autopsy of a resilient community resulting from the swift-moving currents of gentrification. Now I’m like, man, I wish I would’ve been a part of that. But at the same time I was very grateful for Southeast Portland. For me, my grandparents showed me how to make an oasis in the middle of the desert. I think that to me has proven to be more powerful in my life. Where I feel like I can go anywhere. And I think that’s what I cherish the most. Information: feltonandmary.com
WHAT’S A ZINE? /'zēn/ZEEN: An independently published booklet, usually reproduced via photocopier and folded and stapled. Zines represent a rebellion from mainstream publishing. Portland has one of the strongest zine scenes because of its progressive spirit and DIY ethos.
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