Testimony Before Portland Public Schools Board of Education Regarding Rebuilding of Jefferson High School

June 2, 2020

 "Good evening, Chair Kohnstamm, Board Members, and Superintendent Guerrero, thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak to you. 

I’m Susheela Jayapal, Multnomah County Commissioner for District 2, representing North and Northeast Portland. 

I’m here because I understand that you are considering your options for a 2020 Bond Referral, including whether that bond referral will fund the rebuilding of Jefferson HS.

I’m here to urge you to move forward with the rebuilding of Jefferson.

We all know the history of Jefferson, and the neighborhood it serves. We know that North Portland is the historic and present home of Portland’s black communities. We know that our black communities have experienced displacement, educational inequities, health inequities, economic inequities -- all rooted in, and caused by, intentional, structural, and systemic racism.

We also know that despite all of that, black communities have been resilient. They have maintained their relationship in and with North Portland, and in and with Jefferson High School.

In this moment: in this moment, during a pandemic that has disproportionately taken the lives and livelihoods of black and brown people; in this moment, the week after the murder of George Floyd; and after the nationwide and local convulsion of grief and rage that’s a response not just to Mr. Floyd’s death, but to all the profound injustice that led to his death, and to the loss of countless black lives; in this moment, we have all pledged to do things differently. 

You -- we -- have an opportunity here to do that. To do things differently.

A rebuilt Jefferson would be a concrete -- literally and figuratively -- investment in our black communities. It would reinforce an anchor; and it would help create the conditions for moving the needle on the stubborn educational inequities experienced by black students in the Portland Public School system.

A rebuilt Jefferson has always been the right thing to do, and it is even more so the right thing to do, in this moment.

I want to close with some words from Eve Ewing, the author of a book called Ghosts in the Schoolyard. The book is about school closings on Chicago’s east side. So the subject isn’t directly applicable, because we’re not talking about closing, but rather about rebuilding, but the perspective she provides is applicable.

She talks about the fight to keep those schools open.  About how, in fighting for their schools, community members were fighting for an “acknowledgement of past harms, a reckoning of present injustice, and an acceptance of the reality that the value of those schools were about much more than numbers.”

And towards the end, she says this: “[W]e must continually set our sights on what it would look like to get things right, and we must integrate those visions into our rhetoric and our strategy.” 

A rebuilt Jefferson would represent an acknowledgement of past harms; a reckoning of present injustice; and an acceptance of the reality of the value of Jefferson to our black communities. 

It would be one way -- just one way, but an important one -- to match our strategy to our rhetoric.

Thank you."