By Jimmy Wilson, Co-Chair of Eliot Neighborhood Association
Having lived in this community all my life, which is 60 plus years, serving as co-chair of the Eliot Neighborhood Association, and being one of only three members of color in the association, it has become increasingly clear that my voice and presence is critically necessary as we seek to preserve our sense of community in an environment of gentrification and social change.
From my early years, as a kid living and walking the streets of my neighborhood, I have fond memories of the streets, parks, schools, churches, community centers, the families, the neighbors, the local grocery stores, the black-owned gas stations and auto repair shops that represented my community. At that time, over 250 black-owned businesses occupied North Portland from Mississippi, Vancouver, and Williams to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Looking back, I see how we took for granted the sense of a village and community we enjoyed.
Gentrification has brought about enormous changes some good and some not so good. Recognizing that change is inevitable in a community, the question becomes how is the change managed in such a way as to provide a balance between those who are new to the community and those who have been longtime members? Extremes in either direction are harmful to a healthy, harmonious community.
For many of us who have been longtime members, we fail to see the value in high-rise structures, traffic congestion, garbage on the streets, and an increased homeless population that we must address because it is a safety and health issue. We ask ourselves, what happened to the 250 black-owned businesses? What happened to the institutions, the cultural centers, the local hangouts, and other places where the community would meet? They are all gone! All except Dawson Park. What’s more, it is the failure to recognize the harmful effects of the forced displacement when gentrification occurs. For example:
· 10,000 black residents of the inner N/NE core have been removed over the last 15 years
· In 1970, 50-84% of N/NE neighborhoods were African American
· In 2010, only 18-30% of N/NE neighborhoods were African American
· In 1960, 4 out of 5 African Americans lived in the Albina area, and since 2000, less than 1 out of 3 African Americans live in the Albina area.
· The vast majority of our residents were uprooted by no choice of their own; but were systemically, forcibly displaced via an intentional, multi public sector plan to divest in the inner core while simultaneously making plans to reinvest and turn our neighborhoods into bastions of greater wealth for White Americans.
With this in mind, as Co-Chair of the Eliot Neighborhood Association, I have identified three primary goals as my priority in the association.
1) Create an environment of mutual respect and inclusiveness. This association must resist tribalism and understand that it represents the broad constituents in our community.
2) Be a proponent of equity. Our association must seek fairness, evenhandedness, impartiality, and justice. 3) Diversity. Our association board must vigilantly pursue the cultural variety and mixture of our community if we are to have legitimacy.