Board proclaims February 2023 Black History and Futures Month

February 24, 2023
Sprinavasa Brown (left) and Dr. Kellianne Richardson of Experience Life Science Outdoors
In a virtual ceremony Thursday, Feb. 23, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners proclaimed February as Black History and Futures Month in Multnomah County. 

The proclamation — co-sponsored by Chair Jessica Vega Pederson and Commissioner Susheela Jayapal — celebrated and recognized the role and contributions of Black and African Americans in our history and our future. 

While originally planned as an in-person event, the event was held online due to an historic late-February snowstorm that brought almost a foot of snow to the Portland metro area the night before.

“Today is our chance at Multnomah County to highlight the incredible impact of Multnomah County’s Black community on our lives and culture,” said Chair Vega Pederson. “This impact is seen and recognized, and it is also happening every single day in so many ways across every sector of our lives.”

Black History Month has historically recognized the past achievements of Black and Brown people. However, there has been a more recent movement led by Black leaders and visionaries to also recognize February as Black Futures Month as a forward-looking celebration of Blackness that envisions a world where equality and liberation are a reality for all.

“We always need to share Black history narratives and connect those stories to our present-day lives and events, as well as look forward to the Black futures that we can and must create,” said Commissioner Jayapal. 

In honor of Black History and Futures Month, the Board recognized two Black-led community-based organizations, Kairos PDX and Experience Life Science Outdoors, Inc. (ELSO, Inc.), for the work they are doing to uplift Black communities.

Experience Life Science Outdoors, Inc. aims to provide an “affirming and uplifting space for Black and Brown children to explore science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) fields,” Dr. Kellianne Richardson, the organization’s co-founder and head of operations, told the Board.

At ELSO, Inc. youth are introduced to design thinking and iterative design as early as kindergarten, Dr. Richardson said. At their after school programs, young adults are paid to learn about design as a tool for social justice.

Last spring, ELSO, Inc. and other community partners convened more than 100 diverse youth from across Portland to provide input on the restoration of the historically Black Albina community.  “This is just one example of honoring the Black perspective,” said Sprinavasa Brown, the executive director of ELSO, Inc.

Brown shared numerous examples of successful investments in Black excellence and futures, including the recent redesign of the Black United Fund of Oregon building and Albina Vision Trust’s Community Reinvestment Plan, as well as Word Is Bond’s “In My Shoes” walking tour campaigns led by young Black men.

On Saturday, April 22, ELSO, Inc. will host another Youth Design Forum, where young people can help further advance restorative justice and economic development for Albina.

“I believe our city can bring together our unique talents and perspectives to work across our differences to design a vision for Albina, and for all of Portland, to walk a pathway to restoration, prosperity and justice for Portland's Black community,” Brown said.

Another program helping shape Black futures in the community is KairosPDX. 

Founded in 2012, KairosPDX aims to “dismantle structural racism through education,” said Lakeitha Elliott, a policy and community engagement advisor to Chair Vega Pederson. It’s a “space that truly values Black history, Black futures, and Black lives,” she added. 

Their work includes policy advocacy, non-discriminatory training, and professional development services. The non-profit also provides hands-on learning through its flagship school and serves its community through partnerships and family engagement programs.

“Just seeing young people in there and the impact it has on them and their entire family has been so valuable,” Elliott said. “What we have the opportunity here to do is to really work and make a difference for the next generation of folks.”

When Multnomah County launched its Preschool for All last year, KairosPDX was one of its inaugural partners. Its Early Learning Academy is a pilot site for the universal preschool initiative. In the last year, KairosPDX also became an official Schools Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN) site. 

“The work that you all are doing should be the standard of how we educate our youth,” Commissioner Lori Stegmann said. 

“It should be the standard for how we do preschool and school throughout our definitely our city, our county, I’d say our state and country,” Commissioner Sharon Meieran added.

Following the presentations from ELSO, Inc. and KairosPDX, Monique Smiley, an office and engagement specialist for Commissioner Jayapal, read the proclamation

Board members expressed their gratitude and commitment to recognize Black and African American communities — not only each February, but 365 days a year.

“It’s important to have this dual purpose today acknowledging the shameful history of racism and setting not just aspirational goals, but something we can live every day for the future,” Commissioner Diane Rosenbaum said.