Over 50 people showed up in the Cully neighborhood on Sunday, Oct. 17, launching the beginning of a multi-pronged process of community-building to curtail violence. The Fire + Water Cully Community Celebration is one of many recommendations that came out of a series of meetings — hosted by Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal last spring — that focused on responding to violence and driving community safety in Cully. The event kicks off a larger response to develop and implement “Community Demonstration Projects,” funded by Multnomah County’s Board of Commissioners.
Community Demonstration Projects bring together a neighborhood coalition of residents, services providers, government agencies and other key stakeholders to implement programs and strategies to build safer neighborhoods. They also employ place-making strategies or the re-invention of public spaces to create welcoming, safe areas for community members to gather.
Investments made by the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners made three hyper-localized Community Demonstrations Projects possible in neighborhoods particularly affected by violence including the Cully, Rockwood and Hazelwood communities.
The Cully neighborhood in Northeast Portland — which has experienced a steep rise in violence over the past 19 months — will be the first neighborhood to see the County-sponsored project.
“A year ago, many of our partners in Cully came to me and asked If I would partner with them,” said Commissioner Susheela Jayapal. “We had just lost two beautiful young people. And [the partners] wanted to work on ways to address violence, to prevent violence, to respond to it, that didn’t involve policing, per se, but was about a community coming together to make each other stronger and prevent violence that way.”
Sunday’s celebration, themed “Fire + Water,” included representatives from the Cully Association of Neighbors, Habitat for Humanity, Latino Network, the Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization, the Somali American Council of Oregon, Native American Youth and Family Center, Morning Star Church and Multnomah County’s community health programs. They gathered at Kʰunamokwst Park in Northeast Portland.
“Fire symbolizing the chaos and destruction of gun violence, and water symbolizing community and how communities can come together and put out that fire,” said Jayapal.
“Individually, each of us is like a little river or tributary. But if we can all come together as a community and be that mighty river — we have power. We can come together and put out that fire.”
The event included a moment of silence to honor the lives that have been lost to violence, as well as a “living memorial” on which attendees could write the names of those lost, as well as uplifting messages for the rest of the Cully community to provide hope.
“There are many things that need to happen in order to prevent violence,” said Jayapal. “We need to take care of basic needs, housing, jobs, get kids back in school and keep them there. The other thing that came up over and over again is that we need to reconnect with each other.”
“We decided we need community events so we can all reconnect, honor and mourn the lives that have been lost to violence,” she continued.” We can come together and ourselves take control of our community and make it safe again.”