Jan. 18: Pressing on toward Dr. King’s Beloved Community in the face of ongoing challenges

Dear friends and neighbors,

I hope that you are able to set aside some time today, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, to celebrate and reflect on his legacy, his words, and his profound and unwavering belief in the world that we could become.

As we think through Dr. King’s call to participate in the work of building up the Beloved Community, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that not enough has changed, especially considering the immense challenges we’ve experienced the last two years and the harsh truths about many of our systems that they’ve brought to light. 

Our country and our community are still contending with multiple, brutal crises, many of which overlap with and amplify the harms of the others: the COVID-19 pandemic, the public safety and criminal justice systems that both perpetrate and perpetuate harm, the crisis of housing and homelessness that leaves too many of our neighbors doing their best to survive outside, among others — all of which have brought outsized harm to our Black, Indigenous and other communities of color.

In the face of injustices and harms that are so visceral and pervasive, we all want the solutions to these challenges to be as expedient and immediate as possible. The flashes of real progress, restoration and justice that we’ve made together make that longing even deeper.

However, the promise of the beloved community can only be delivered when people, propelled by the enduring heart and vision of Dr. King, engage in the work of orienting and transforming these systems toward greater justice.

The work of doing that isn’t simple or instant. Rather, it requires conviction and creativity. The work isn’t done unimpeded, either. Distractions and discontentment are to be expected. And crucially, we have to acknowledge that this work won’t be done perfectly, so it must be done with openness of mind and humility of heart.

But one of the things that made Dr. King such a steady beacon for anyone, any community, who commits to positive change was his ability to hold the complexity of the task at hand. His words show us that he understood that building the beloved community requires both perseverance and urgency. That despite our doubts — doubts that many of us might be feeling now in light of the crises we are confronting — the beloved community remains not just entirely possible, but wholly necessary.

We all have a role to play in this. As a local government, Multnomah County stands at a unique position to contribute to and lead the transformation of some of those broken systems so that they are more fully oriented toward equity, justice, healing and affirmation. 

The County is the state’s largest provider of social safety net services. We are the local public health authority. And we are the home of the Department of Community Justice, and host one of the broadest tables for conversations around the local criminal justice and public safety systems.

Right now, Multnomah County is leading a focused effort to design a criminal legal system that is built on a foundation of the restorative, healing and responsive potential of true accountability and safety, rather than the many racist assumptions, practices and policies that the current system was built on. It’s not incremental criminal justice reform: it’s a wholesale re-envisioning and a plan to get us there.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Multnomah County’s health programs have prioritized responding to the disproportionate harms that COVID-19 has leveled against Black, Indigenous and other communities of color. We have directed our resources to bring education, testing, and life-saving vaccines and boosters directly to the communities that have historically been marginalized or underserved by this country’s healthcare system. The latest data shows that 70% of the vaccine doses that Multnomah County distributed have gone to people from communities of color. And as the Omicron variant intensifies the importance of vaccines and boosters, we are increasing our push to educate and encourage people in those communities. 

Understanding that communities who are closest to the injustices are also closest to the solutions, the County continues to actively co-create and support the solutions that communities of color tell us they need. In doing so, people from the most impacted communities become full partners and leaders of programs that provide care amid crises, and build up their communities in ways that are both authentic and effective. These collaborations reach across our work to develop and support youth, improve community health, stabilize housing, increase public safety and beyond. You can read about this kind of work on Multnomah County’s Justice and Equity Agenda website, which details and tracks these myriad efforts, as well as the rest of our work to change how systems function and who they truly serve. 

The work of building the beloved community doesn’t have to be lonely, but it can sprout with one person. So I encourage you — no matter who you are or what you do — to take hold of that urgency, to find ways to pursue justice and equity, and to bring along your own families, networks and congregations.

That can even begin with small steps — like encouraging those you know are hesitant to get vaccinated, to get boosted and to wear a mask (find a County vaccine clinic here or another location here) — that can then grow into further education, advocacy and action.

The last several years have stretched us and knocked us down. But we must make room for the pain and adversity that we’ve endured to push us toward action — action that can bring Dr. King’s vision of a just, equitable society to life.

I hope that we can find the courage, imagination and audacity to match Dr. King’s belief in the sheer possibility of such a world, and be moved to play our part in it.

Please stay safe and stay healthy,

Deborah Kafoury
Multnomah County Chair

Square black graphic with text that reads "Warning: Blood Crisis"; white silhouette of United States filled in red about one-quarter of the way upThere’s a national blood crisis. Can you help?

You may have seen the headlines over the last week: the American Red Cross is facing its worst blood shortage in more than 10 years, leading them to declare a national blood crisis for the first time ever. Without more donors, hospitals face the prospect of making tough decisions about which patients receive blood transfusions and who must wait.

Blood and platelet donors of all blood types are needed, but especially Type O. If you’re interested in helping relieve this crisis by donating, visit RedCrossBlood.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or use the Blood Donor App to schedule your blood or platelet donation appointment. 

Volunteer to participate in this year’s Point-in-Time Count of Homelessness

We are looking for volunteers to help with this year's Multnomah County Point-in-Time Street Count, conducted every other year by Portland State University and the Joint Office of Homeless Services. The purpose of the Street Count is to learn more about the individuals and families experiencing unsheltered homelessness in Multnomah County.  

By volunteering, you can help address the crisis of homelessness in our county by counting how many people are sleeping on the street on a single night. The more volunteers participate, the more accurate our count can be; even volunteering for a few hours helps immensely. The majority of the shifts will be scheduled the evening of Wednesday, Jan. 26, through the evening of Friday, Jan. 28, but there are shifts through February 1. 

Learn more about the Point-in-Time Count and please sign up to volunteer!

Apply to join the tri-county Metro Supporting Housing Services Measure planning body

Metro is now accepting applications for its supportive housing services tri-county planning body, which will support regional alignment of local implementation plans.

The group will work to strengthen coordination and alignment of how the supportive housing services program works across the Metro region to address homelessness more effectively. These efforts will not replace the community-centered work happening in Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties, but it is intended to strengthen its effectiveness by helping counties bring appropriate aspects of the program to a regional scale.

Metro is looking for applicants from across the region with experience and/or expertise in being homeless, being part of a marginalized group, serving people experiencing homelessness, or with work in fields like culturally specific services, business, philanthropy, racial equity, systems alignment and other related fields.

Read more about what the committee is charged with, and how to apply. The deadline to submit an application is Feb. 18, 2022.