Thursday, March 30, 2017

I Was a Stranger, Day 30: Jo Ann Hardesty

Yesterday, I wrote about "Badass Black Women," and today I have another one!

Last night, Jo Ann Hardesty, president of the NAACP Portland chapter came to speak at our church, Spirit of Grace. She was amazing!

She spoke to a full room of mostly white, middle class adults and a few teens about what it's like to be an African-American in Portland. Sharing some shocking statistics from the Unequal Justice series in the Portland Tribune, she stunned us out of inaction by telling stories and waking us up. For example, in the past 12 years, African-American residents have paid $21.5 million more in fines than they would have paid had they been whites. Black residents are charged 27 times the amount as white residents for the "crime" of spitting on the street. And the list goes on. I encourage you to read the article.

She called on us to become "co-conspirators" instead of "allies" (more active rather than passive) and to come to an NAACP meeting. She shared tips on how to engage people in conversation and find common ground (e.g., ask lots of questions, rather than going on the defense!), and offered lots of excellent, tangible advice on how to get involved and what to do if we see a hate crime. And she kept us laughing, and moved, through the hard topics. She also invited us to join in her monthly vigil for Keaton Otis, a young man with mental illness who was shot by the police.

When one teenager from McMinnville (a friend's granddaughter)  about what she could do in her predominantly white, conservative, small town high school full of "white boys"), Hardesty suggested she start a racial justice club and offered to come speak at the first meeting. I spoke with this young woman afterward, and she's nervous and excited...and said Hardesty left her card.

Hardesty served as an aide to former Multnomah County Chair Bev Stein before winning a House seat in the Oregon Legislature. Previously, she was among the first female sailors assigned to an American naval vessel on sea duty. Aboard the USS Samuel Gompers, she was one of 155 women among 5,000. Although petite and slim, she is a powerful presence. She’s served as the director of Oregon Action and has her own consulting firm. She also has a regular show on KBOO, Voices from the Edge. I will be listening!

The Portland NAACP Branch, founded in 1914, is the oldest continuously chartered branch west of the Mississippi! As Hardesty said last night, "can you imagine how brave they must have been back then?" They meet every 4th Saturday from noon-2pm at the American Red Cross, 3131 N Vancouver Ave. I hope to be able to get there soon!

An evening SOOO worth my time!

Read more of my "I Was a Stranger" entries here.

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