I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, before serving in the US Marine Corps for over 19 years. My then-wife was offered a job in Portland, Oregon, and I remember thinking, “Are we going to be the only Black people there?”
What was supposed to be a temporary stint ended in a more permanent stay. My first few years in Portland were spent doing a lot of reading, praying, and meditating on why I was here. The history of Oregon’s treatment of Black individuals shows that the state is in denial, hiding passive aggression under the guise of inclusive liberalism. The fact is, Oregon is still 70-80% white. In what is one of the whitest cities and whitest states in this country. Since my arrival I’ve met and engaged with many Black people. That’s when I realized if I can do unifying work here, then I can do it anywhere.
Today, I run the grant funded portion of the Addictions Counseling Program at Portland Community College (PCC) with a goal to diversify the workforce. As a PCC Alumni, I came back to be a voice for the experience at PCC’s Cascade Campus and to provide a place where people can come to be seen and heard.
Black individuals represent the most powerful, creative, beautiful, athletic, and empathetic people in the world. In the Addictions Counseling Program, our students’ differences are their strengths. Not only are we trying to diversify every workforce and provide our students with the curriculum and information to be impactful in the community, but we’re also aligning with community partners, Black-owned businesses, and Black-owned mental health and care facilities. We’re ensuring that these businesses and facilities are qualified and certified to be connected to PCC so we can build alliances and send our people to the places that will honor their cultures, languages, melanin, and the work they intend to do.
I believe that all rhetoric needs to be followed by action, and I’m proud of the positive and equitable changes we’re seeing. One of the reasons I joined PCC was to be a part of the healing process while being publicly and personally purposeful in creating safe spaces.
After getting my AA degree from PCC, I went on to get my bachelor’s degree from Portland State University. I’m now in the process of getting my master’s degree to become a certified counselor and therapist. Portland Community College was a safe space for me, so I want to make it a safe space for others.
- Shawn, Addictions Counseling Grant Coordinator and Outreach, PCC Cascade