Hundreds of people turned out Friday, Sept. 30, for the final “Reclaiming Black Joy” event of the summer.
Organized by I Am MORE (Making Ourselves Resilient Everyday), the summer series at Dawson Park in North Portland was the culmination of dozens of partnerships to celebrate Black community, togetherness, food, music, people, smiles, healing and reclaiming Black joy.
“This place” — Dawson Park — “is a really powerful place in history,” said Sunshine Dixon, a creative strategist and art community connector with I Am MORE.
“The dome was of course on Russell Street and was transported here,” she said, pointing to one of the park’s signature elements, a gazebo made from a cupola that was salvaged from one of the dozens of nearby buildings demolished 50 years ago in a wave of so-called “urban renewal” that gutted and displaced what had been a thriving Black cultural hub.
The dome and the park stand now as symbols of the neighborhood’s endurance.
“But the power of place in Portland and the power of having place-making events like this one, reclaiming Black joy and focusing on joy and what we want to see happen in the community is valuable.”
The events were a labor of love for I Am MORE and more than a dozen other organizations including Multnomah County’s Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH), Community and Adolescent Health, and Behavioral Health Division, as well as the Multnomah County Library, Legacy Emanuel Hospital, the Urban League of Portland, the PreSERVE Coalition, which empowers Black elders to improve their brain health, Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church, and many others.
Throughout the summer, the monthly event included free food, free haircuts, face painting booths, art stations and photo booths, alongside a circle of tents that provided everything from free produce baskets to plants for attendees.
“We’ve had healthy eating options with Black Food Sovereignty Coalition and Equitable Giving Circle giving away plants,” said Dixon. “It’s just a joy to be a conduit for representing the businesses in our community, representing the connectivity that’s possible when you think well about how to heal our community — not only of the disconnect related to displacement, but also the disconnect with COVID, which had people in their houses.”
“Reclaiming Black Joy” also included important health partners such as Multnomah County’s REACH and other programs that provided COVID-19 information, water bottles, and first aid and sanitation kits, among other health packages.
Legacy Emanuel Medical Center, just across the street from Dawson Park, provided ice and water for the event, and worked with the County to pay for the food trucks.
“We were just happy to partner with the County, Public Health and community-based organizations,’’ said Kamesha Robinson of Legacy Health. “This is across the street from us, so we needed to be here and we needed to figure out a way where we could support.”
Guests also relished the overall positive vibe at the event, with features like line dancing, poetry reading and musical performances.
The events have also honored Black community elders, including Paul Knauls, known as the “honorary mayor” of Northeast Portland. Last Friday’s gathering recognized Dr. Mariah Taylor, a pediatric nurse practitioner known for opening the first Black-owned, community-based nurse practitioner clinics.
“We all know what Black joy is, and Multnomah County is here to help,” said Chair Deborah Kafoury, who spoke at the event. “We want to ensure that healing communities have healthy children, healthy families and Black-owned businesses.”
Multnomah County’s Health Department also sponsored the event.
“It’s an honor to be here,” said Health Department Director Ebony Clarke, who also spoke at the event. “It’s empowering, and it’s inspiring to see our community step into action and joy.”
“As people, we hold the answer to educating, healing, empowering and so much more. When I reflect on what it means to be part of the Black community, we have been known for not just focusing on taking care of just ourselves; we are known for taking care of others. And that’s what this is about tonight. It’s about reclaiming the narrative.”
The “Reclaiming Black Joy” events began in June with an aerial photo of guests standing together to form the word “joy.” On Friday, it ended with attendees forming the shape of a heart.
“We started with joy, and we’re leaving with the love,” said Dixon. “We hope others who come to this event leave feeling that love.”
STAY TUNED: While the summer series ended Sept. 30, Reclaiming Black Joy in East County will continue the momentum at the Rockwood Market Hall on Oct. 30.