Vanport: On Loss, Displacement and Piecing Back Together

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Tonight is our final performance of Vanport, the Musical, written and directed by (my best friend and soul-sistah) Shalanda Sims. And I am feeling some kinda way because I still have problems with “good-byes”.

For the past three decades we the descendants of Vanport have had to say our good-bye’s. We have had to say “good-bye” to Ma and Pop restaurants, school buildings and parks. We have had to say “farewell” to Grandmother’s house, beauty salons and the unspoken hangouts like Walnut Park Fred Meyers and corner stops like 15th in Alberta. We have said “see you on the other side” of church buildings and funeral homes. We have grieved and recovered, grieved and recovered until our tear ducts have dried and there is nothing left to hold on to.

So I return weekly to Woodlawn Bakery the place that use to be Sis. Ransons dry-cleaners. I slowly drive down Prescott and I beg my mind to recall every memory of Granny’s house, Mt. Sinai Baptist Church and Marantha musicals. I sit in front of 3207 NE 11th and count every family member in place on the porch. I can see my neighborhood still in tact and all of my family members vivid in my head-however  these cherished visions are not the reality of what is staring back. And I feel lost all over again. Forgive the cliche-but I am -“we are -Vanport descendants and we are lost (again)-without a home”.

But for three little months-we felt found.

My family and I have had the privilege to dive deep into the sights, sounds and spirit of a “once upon a time” place created by The Sims. Our special place, free of princesses and castles has a foundation built on cultural traditions, oral histories, everyday legends, hard work and beauty of soul and art. It is a place Shalanda wrote about to honor not only her family journey but so many other’s-including my own.

As gentrification jungles continued to swing and expand on Williams,Vancouver  and Martin Luther Kings Blvd we built our set, our spirits and our community-alive again. Long meetings, late practices and lingering meals centered around representing our people strong, stabilizing our voices and re-connecting our youth to their history and who they really are- left us satisfied and recommitted to “the struggle”. The struggle being the very hard work of preserving the remnant of a people who have been flooded, pushed out and gentrified with not only one wave of loss, but three in the last three decades.

But we are still here. Deeply grieved we are no longer in a centralized neighborhood but we are centered strong in no longer keeping quiet, watering down or allowing others to speak for us about our story.

My parents and Aunt Jean, now a vibrant 70+ years of age (who was only six years when the flood hit Vanport) gave big hugs and proud knods of approval and praise for the hard work our cast took in preserving the integrity of Vanport last night.

“You made us so proud. You all keep telling our stories.” Aunt Jean beamed with pride.

With those words, I was instantly transmitted to the living room carpeted floor of my Granddaddy’s house. I was nine years old again and I was smiling back with pride in hearing the accounts of my grandparents  life in Vanport. My whole life I wanted to know what it felt like to live deep in community with people who treat you like family and will be there for you in times of trouble-the way Granddaddy had. And we had done just that!

So as the curtain falls tonight and my three children and I take our bows and hang our costumes for the last time-I will take the “spirit of Vanport” with me. My prayer is my children-our children have caught what was taught through the lives and the legacy of those who trailblazed before us. Here are a few survivor lessons that have weathered time, space and loss:

1. No matter what is taken from you- you can always rebuild.

2. You are only as strong as the respect you give to your elders-honor them always.

3. Long prayers, a song in your heart and good fried chicken can ALWAYS make everything instantly alright.

4. Love and longing is the only way to survive “the storms of life”.

5. A consistent hard work ethic will always set you high above the rest.

6. Always remember where and who you come from.

7. Live today as if tomorrow was never promised.

These are the ways we will once again piece ourselves back together.

These are the ways we will find peace and move on.

These are the ways we will honor those who blazed the trail for us to follow.

These are the ways we will keep telling our stories strong.

Bye bye Vanport…


Life As A Holy Remnant Keeper

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Ending the year with a final post at Deeper Story this week.

Have you ever felt invisible or erased from a place you once knew as “home”? Here are my reflections about a very special place and how I’m struggling to make since of the changes.

And I just wanted to take a moment to say. Thank you for all the support and an AMAZING year!!!

Cheers!!! Here’s to more healing, more truth and more possibilities…

Love you!



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We are the dream

We began our celebration with the viewing of 21 up South Africa: Mandela’s Children, a documentary that follows the lives of South African youth every 7 years and ended the evening with the The Butler.

Intentional Dr. King celebrations began when my oldest daughter was seven years old. I was disappointed with the take-home coloring sheets titled, “Celebrating The King”. The vague and colorless, pat on the back diversity assemblies to this legend and this movement were beginning to break my heart. Dr. King and the movement he laid his life down for deserved more.

The third week in January isn’t just another day for me and mine-it is a day to stop, observe, align the God-given-dream, given to a mere man, a people and a nation who were willing to sacrifice their lives to demonstrate the power of light and love.

This documentary, I chose as a template followed the lives of fourteen, 7-year-old South African youth (found it on Netflix) who have lived in and experienced the pain and struggle of apartheid. Yet with courage and resilience these same youth, now young adults, many began to make great strides in the life and world they had been given-in the face of hardship.

Some rich, some poor, but all South Africa’s children. I wanted my children, nephews and niece to see themselves. Wanted them to recognize that they (like I) are the children, the dream of a people who fought hard for freedom and equality-we are the living legacy of “the dream”,  Dr. King spoke into existence fifty-one years ago.

I wanted them to see the progress we too have made in racial pride and identity and the contradictions and prejudices we all carry, as a result of being human and living in a broken world. I think The Butler is a beautiful and real account of the progress and complexity civil rights had on the life of one man, his family and our nation as a whole.

But more then anything I just want them to remember.

I wasn’t quite sure if they would make the connections I had but I was willing to try. I wanted desperately for them to make their own. I was also worried about the effects certain scenes would have on the little kids-but since I had seen the movie before, I knew when to fast forward and when to”cover eyes.”

Protect…hmm. Can I really protect them from the pain and paralyzing effects racism has had and will continue to have in their lives. My parents weren’t able to protect me from it all, but they did prepare me as best they could.

And that’s what we’re doing today as we sit in circle and map out new roads of courage and connectedness- we must prepare them.

“What are your thoughts after watching these two films?”

It makes me sad and proud at the same time. I’m sad at how much women who were slaves got treated, but I’m glad they showed the real pain that happened. In school they don’t always tell you the whole story-like women getting raped and going crazy-you don’t hear about that.

I liked the part showing how one brother chose to fight for his country instead of fighting against his country.”

“Apartheid and racism are the same thing. It was like the same problem in two countries.


I feel like we are in school and history is our teacher.

We continued to go on. Round and round, using these eras in time to weigh in on our own modern day revolutions and social hopes and dreams.

I have clumsily, but with love and passion sought out creative ways to honor the legacy and life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with my children.

“What do you all remember from out Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.Celebrations of the past?”

“I got one-remember the statue of Dr. King you use to make us stand on and tell our dreams out loud. It would be soooo cold outside, too?!”

Laughter fills the room.

“Or how about the drumming we did at Reflections Bookstore. We use to get hot cocoa and pretty picture books there. Why is it gone now Momma? Seems like all the black people are gone now on Martin Luther King Blvd.”

(Ouch that one hurts…)

Hmmmm gentrification the newest form of segregation?

“Do you all remember the dream boards, the letters we wrote to Dr. King.” I asked to change the subject and avoid the question.

“Ahhh,noo, sorry Mommy.”

And although my son can’t remember-I do. And I remember the joy he had in making it. These are the words he wrote with his own hand and heart:

“Jalen’s dream to be a football star, basketball player, go to college, be strong and nice, be a police officer, a coach and teacher and marry a beautiful wife.”


It’s ok if he doesn’t remember right now. In time these deposited times of collective experiences of impartation will come back when he will need it the most.

Because I can’t recall all the poems, articles and books my Daddy, teachers and extended family made me read.

I can’t recall all of the words to all the speeches I use to hear at the King celebration that filled the auditorium of Whitaker Middle School, but I went and the legacy of remember, honor, and dream has stuck.

I remember the way my heart would warm with pride when I saw my community gather together-young and old. (Just like tonight).

I remember the strength in the words of the song, “We shall overcome” felt when we sang it- strong and loud. (Next year we will sing the Negro National Anthem song).

I remember the pain in the eyes of my elders, when on ocassion, they would share about the sufferings they and their loved ones had endured.(It was just like these movies but they lived it in real time).

I remember the hope that was poured down, like a mighty river,  into my mind, heart and soul from my NE Portland village of everyday legends. (That same baton of hope, called” take it further than we did”, husband and I take turns teaching them how to receive this hand-off).

Seeds of hope and truth my ancestors guarded and protected-carried close to their hearts for decades. Like mustard seeds-faith they patiently held, waiting to be planted and birted to receive crops of equality, faith and an equal education-at just the right time.  

And today with my children, my neice and nephews, my husband and my adopted sister we are living in this hope-living out this dream-right here, right now. 


…..never, NEVER, stop remembering, more of the dream is yet to be realized.