A brand new day

January 14, 2016

Dr. Alisha Moreland-Capuia delivered the keynote speech for Wednesday's Martin Luther King Jr. celebration
Dr. Alisha Moreland-Capuia delivered the keynote speech for Wednesday's Martin Luther King Jr. celebration

When the proverbial storm arrives and attempts to upend human dignity, the world must hold tight to hope. Maintain hope, even as prayerful people are murdered in a church. Even as social service providers are cut down at a holiday party. Even as revelers are massacred at a music concert. Even, Dr. Alisha Moreland-Capuia said, as a child is killed while playing with a toy gun.

“The harsh winds have left some rubble and have left some of us feeling emotionally raw and exceptionally vulnerable,” said Moreland-Capuia, a Portland physician and the keynote speaker at the Multnomah County Managers of Color tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Wednesday.

Moreland-Capuia used the story of Dorothy in the recent, live broadcast revival of “The Wiz” to encourage the audience to slowly and steadily “ease on down” the metaphorical yellow brick road, on the way to meaningful and purpose-driven lives.

“We must stay in motion. We must stay engaged,” Moreland-Capuia said. “And we can not, shall not give up. Don’t run. Don’t sprint. But ease on down that road.”

Moreland-Capuia’s call for hope in the face of despair brought the crowd in the Multnomah County board room to its feet.

“We are on the precipice of something amazing…,” she said. “A brand new day is here and I kindly invite you to join me in seizing it.”

Case manager Rochell Hart (left) recieves the 2016 Arthur S. Flemming Award from Managers of Color members Mark Lewis and Irma Jimenez.

The Martin Luther King Jr. celebration includes the Managers of Color’s annual presentation of the Arthur S. Flemming Award, given to people committed to social justice. Flemming worked under President Dwight D. Eisenhower as the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He was appointed Chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and worked to educate others about racial inequality. He later served as president of the University of Oregon.

The Managers of Color presented the 2016 Flemming Award to Rochell Hart, a Department of County Human Services case manager. An activist and author, who also goes by the name Ro Deezy, Hart was recognized for her devotion to social justice issues both on -- and off -- the job.

“I live to serve people. It is something I have done since my childhood,” Hart said. “They say you get it right when you find a way to get paid to do what you love.”

In keeping with the theme of this year’s event, “Things that Matter,” Hart also answered the event creators’ call to reflect on what she finds most important in life.

“For me, what else matters is creating and contributing to a world where Tamir Rice, Eric Gardner and all the other names we can list are no longer stories that become common. What else matters is waking up in a world where I am not fearful for my son simply because he’s black,” Hart said.

She called on people of all backgrounds to work together to fight racism, discrimination and other social ills. Rice and Gardner both were killed by police officers, in cases that have contributed to a national discussion about police violence, particularly against black men.

Commissioner Smith at Wednesday's celebration.
Commissioner Smith at Wednesday's celebration.

“It is not a black struggle. It is a human struggle affecting black people, disproportionately.”

Commissioner Loretta Smith said Dr. King continues to inspire her own work at Multnomah County.

"It's not about (skin) color all the time," Smith said. "It is about the values that we all care about."

The hour-long event also featured performances by Justice English and Jasmin Oliver. The Roosevelt High School freshmen are members of Spit/Write, a youth-empowerment movement. English and Oliver each delivered poems titled “I Am” that explored the beauty, confusion, delight and uncertainty of growing up as an African-American girl in America.

“I am that girl who carries herself with high hopes, dreams and respect…,” Oliver read. “They always tell me I dream too big.

I just say, maybe you’re thinking a little too small.”