restricted access Chapter Eleven: Growing and Stretching
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133 chapter eleven Growing and Stretching Amazing. As many times as I have told the story of how I entered the legislature, the retelling still has me pinching myself. In 1991, I was working at the Portland House of Umoja. I had served on the board and was asked by board members to assume the program director role. Iris Bell was the brilliant executive director and we worked together to get the program off the ground. Like our Philaldephia-based parent organization, Umoja’s residential program transitioned young men coming out of the juvenile justice system back into the community and also did prevention and outreach. We also wanted to prevent young people from ever having contact with the system. I focused a lot of energy on this work, in response to concern in the community about gang activity. Some of the violence had taken lives and had people in a place of fear. We located the program in a central corner of the community, Northeast Seventeenth and Alberta, to focus on hope. We were busy on that corner. In fact, in the early days, I had an apartment right upstairs in the house. I actually lived there in order to build the program and to develop a presence in the community and in that corridor. The site had also been the former location of the Black Educational Center Bookstore. I had volunteered in that bookstore back in the 1980s, so living at Umoja was a homecoming—in a new role—to a special corner in my community. I was also still active with the Black United Front. I took part in the offshoot organization we started, the Black Leadership Conference, which focused on a political agenda. The Conference developed a process that engaged with folks who were running for office: an interview, questionnaire, and endorsement process that was very deliberative and thoughtful. One day at Umoja, I got a call from Thalia Zepatos. I knew Thalia through our work together with the Rainbow Coalition. Thalia had also worked on Barbara Roberts’s 134 successful campaign for governor in 1990. She called to let me know that she was aware that a vacancy might come up in the Oregon House of Representatives in northeast Portland and to ask me if I would be interested in looking at that position. I was dismissive. I joked about it. I was so focused on the work at Umoja it just was not a serious consideration for me. Some weeks later, I attended a meeting of the Black Leadership Conference that took place at the Urban League, in our well-used conference room. I was seated across from Carl Talton—a friend and civic leader—who at the time worked with one of the utilities and who was also well versed in economic and community development issues and the legislative process. At one point in the conversation around the table the subject of the vacancy in the legislature came up. Carl leaned over and said to me that he thought I would be great in that role. Other people around the table piped up in agreement. And I did the old: “Not me. No, not me.” I heard their words but I didn’t allow myself to really go there. I then attended a Black Women’s Spiritual Retreat in Colorado. This was Women of Color as Warriors of Light, a retreat I would participate in for a number of years to come. A couple of friends from home and I went together: Adriene Cruz, my artist friend, and Guyanne Herndon, Ronnie’s wife; Adriene had learned about the retreat from a friend while visiting family in New York. We traveled to Estes Park, Colorado, in the Rocky Mountains. On the first evening, which was a Thursday, the women all gathered in a circle. We were over a hundred Black women from all over the country, from every spiritual path and walk of life. And no pretense: that’s why I was drawn to Warriors of Light. The retreat was about nurturing, self care, affirmation, and again, no pretense. No pretense. On this evening, after our wonderful meal together, there was sharing. Each person spoke about what had brought them. It went on for hours, into the early morning. There was rich sharing and deep listening. People revealed all kinds of things. Some didn’t pay their rent or put off paying bills so they could come and be a part of this 135...


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Subject Headings

  • Gordly, Avel Louise, 1947-.
  • Women politicians -- Oregon -- Biography.
  • African American politicians -- Oregon -- Biography.
  • Oregon -- Politics and government -- 1951-.
  • African American women -- Oregon -- Biography.
  • Community activists -- Oregon -- Biography.
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