August 24, 2016

Kalisha, center, poses with family after being honored for saving a life.
It wasn’t the typical scene inside a meeting room at the Department of Community Justice (DCJ).  A small, celebratory crowd rallied around 17-year-old Kalisha, who teared up while talking about last month’s event.  

“I used to be told I was a monster,” said Kalisha before a group of people gathered to celebrate her recent act of heroism.  Now, she continued, it feels good and different to be called a hero and believe “that we can do better things.”

Kalisha helped perform CPR on a customer at the McDonald’s restaurant where she works. The man collapsed near the front counter, stopped breathing and appeared blue.  While on the phone with 9-1-1, Kalisha and other customers helped perform chest compressions. Kalisha pressed between the customer’s chest bones, right on the heart.  Shortly thereafter, the man started to twitch, then move. By the time police and paramedics arrived, he had regained consciousness and was taken to the hospital.

A police officer at the scene called Kalisha's mother to report that her daughter had helped save a man’s life.

“In the past, a phone call from a police officer wasn’t a welcomed call,” explained Kakieba, Kalisha's mother, but this call was a positive change.  

Kalisha is one of dozens of teenagers involved in the Community Healing Initiative or CHI, a partnership between DCJ, Latino Network, and Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center (POIC).  CHI’s goal is to prevent and reduce youth violence, decrease rates of juvenile justice involvement, and increase community safety.  At 11-years-old, Kalisha had been expelled from school and was facing one to two years of probation. Today, she is a student at POIC. She has aspirations of working in the medical field like her mother, who also taught her CPR.   

“I’m very proud of her for what she did. I’m grateful she took action and saved that man’s life and for her to keep achieving and reaching for the stars,” said Kakieba.

Kalisha was presented a certificate of recognition for her lifesaving action by Department of Community Justice Director Scott Taylor; Juvenile Division Director Deena Corso, Multnomah County’s Chief Operating Officer Marissa Madrigal and a handful of supporters from DCJ and POIC. 

Deena Corso, JSD Director, presents Kalisha with a certificate.

“You are being recognized because many of us would have walked the other way if we came upon this situation and for that you deserve recognition,” said Scott Taylor.  

Madrigal called the teenager an inspiration and gave her an emotional embrace.  By the end of the short celebration, there were many tears.  

“I’m off probation, I’m on track to graduate and going to college, said Kalisha. “I always look at the bigger picture because someday you’ll be part of the portrait.”