Over the years, a large amount of the Black community in north and northeast Portland have been pushed out to East County due to gentrification and other socio-economic factors. This year Multnomah County-REACH was able to help bring the city of Gresham, Oregon its first community recognized Juneteenth celebration. Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating when slavery was abolished throughout the entire United States. Traditionally the largest local celebration of Juneteenth in the Portland metropolitan area had taken place in northeast Portland. Through partnership with Beyond Black CDC, the City of Gresham, and many other culturally specific organizations, we were able to host an event that we hope will strengthen the sense of community for Black residents of East County for years to come.
According to an article titled “Displacement in north and northeast Portland – An Historical Overview” that was published by the Portland Housing Bureau, between 2000-2010 the population of African Americans living in north and northeast Portland declined by 7,650. This displacement of the Black residents of Multnomah County has taken people from neighborhoods, resources, and businesses that were traditionally Black owned and operated. Evidence of this can be found in the problems with food access Black residents of East County are experiencing. According to an analysis by the City of Gresham over a survey administered by the Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon in 2013 (235 residents of multifamily units in Rockwood were surveyed), “respondents indicated that on average they were traveling 6.3 miles to get their groceries with 59% of respondents traveling at least five miles.” With this mass uproot of the Black community, it was our group’s goal to provide an alternative Juneteenth celebration to better accommodate the Black residents of the city of Gresham and to use social cohesion and culture as a means of supporting health.
We saw great attendance at our Juneteenth celebration, with an estimated 2000 individuals in attendance. At our event, we were able to bring together over 20 local vendors in order to provide a Black marketplace where attendees could get access to local food, goods, services, and resources. This event increased economic development opportunities by supporting African and African-American vendors, entertainers and contractors. All vendor fees were waived and paid for with 11 retail, five food vendors and four barbers/stylists all in attendance. Free participation in the event made it easy for vendors to grow and promote their businesses. Along with the commercial vendors who were there, we also created many opportunities for local organizations to collaborate on Black economic development and health by tabling at the event. Participating organizations included Mudbone Grown LLC., Aspire/Stay Clean, The Portland African American Leadership Forum, and many more.
“Juneteenth means a lot to the community. We’re celebrating the freedom of Black people during that period and also acknowledging how people are getting more opportunities in the City of Gresham after dealing with historic racism for years,” said Germaine Flentroy, Beyond Black CDC board member.
On June 13, 2019 City of Gresham Councilor Eddy Morales, Gresham Sr. Urban Renewal Project Coordinator Robyn Stowers, REACH Program Manager Charlene McGee and Beyond Black Board Member Germaine Flentroy presented to Multnomah County Commissioners for the first ever Multnomah County Gresham-Juneteenth Proclamation. Through this proclamation, we have ensured the continued support of future Juneteenth celebrations from local government, Multnomah County stakeholders, and the community at large. Strategic planning and implementation by community organizations will support the continuation of this event. By creating culturally specific spaces for the Black community to engage with one another, we will increase access to healthy food and, ultimately, create better health outcomes for residents. Through the use of social cohesion as a means of improving health, we will help re-establish the sense of community that once existed for Black residents in Multnomah County.