African American leaders unsatisfied with Portland’s attempts to spread its prosperity into their neighborhoods took over a public meeting at the Portland Development Commission.
More than 90 people, most of them African American, watched Sen. Avel Gordly, a Portland independent, and Baruti Artharee, a former PDC executive, push the agency’s board to do more for African Americans who’ve been neglected through what Gordly called “institutional racism.”
Gordly; Artharee; Marcus C. Mundy, president of the Urban League of Portland; businessman James Posey; and Dr. LeRoy Haynes Jr., pastor at the Allen Temple church, raised gentrification that’s displaced African Americans, construction projects that overlooked minority workers and a home-ownership gap that leaves African Americans lagging.
“This isn’t about any single issue,” Artharee said after the meeting Wednesday night. “It is one of being ignored and not caring.”
The PDC’s board listened quietly and agreed to act. Charles Wilhoite, a PDC board member, said that as an African American he liked the group’s dedication and that he shared their concerns.
The PDC’s central charge is to reverse blight. No urban renewal agency in Oregon has more money than the PDC, $247 million this year.
But members of the group that showed up Wednesday see too few of those dollars making their lives better.
Before an overflow crowd, Gordly started with a reading assignment to help educate the PDC board: “The Covenant with Black America” and the Oregon Progress Board’s report on minorities. The report shows that African Americans statewide remain far behind whites in home ownership and that African Americans are more likely to live in poverty.
Among whites, about two-thirds owned their homes and 13 percent lived in poverty in 2004. But among African Americans, just over one-third owned their homes and nearly 25 percent lived in poverty.
The PDC, Gordly said, falls short for African Americans in “every area we can be concerned about.”
With cranes spinning above condo towers in the mostly white South Waterfront and Pearl districts, Gordly said: “When we want to see something happen, the powers that be make it happen.”
Not so in Portland’s traditional African American neighborhoods in North and Northeast Portland, she said.
The group’s visit to PDC’s Old Town offices has been months—if not decades—in the making. The urban renewal agency has struggled with community frustrations since African Americans were moved out of Northeast Portland to make way for Legacy Emanuel Hospital & Health Center’s expansion in the early 1970s. Scars remain, too, from when they were moved out to make way for Interstate 5 and Memorial Coliseum.
The meeting’s tone was polite, but Artharee pushed hardest when he said: “People have told me more and more that PDC means People Don’t Count,” then he prompted people to hoist signs with his modified name.