A Time to Heal - An Afrocentric Breakfast in September 2014

organized by the Portland African American Leadership Forum

Photo by Azizi Rushdan

Pulse Check. Pulse check.

Where u at?

(c) 2014 S. Renee Mitchell

Pulse Check.

Pulse check.

Are u with me?

     I am here!


Pulse Check.

Pulse check.

Are u with me?

     I am here!


my brothas

my systahs

i’m calling out to u

each & every one in this room

cause this morning

it's just us - for us

& I’m about to lay out some issues

on the table in full view


see we keep pretending it's normal

that we no longer have places to gather

like it don’t matter

when this once was the only place we had

it's sad

now we don't know where we belong

once our primary home was n & ne portland

for five or so oppressed decades

we raised our families there

owned businesses social clubs

filled our ribs at black owned cafes


we visited each other’s houses

had a say in the way each other's kids were raised

our babies daddies played cards in the back yard

our teenagers were safe dancing at the YWCA

when black musicians played in our black clubs

we danced laughed flirted & swooned

& when we needed to rally or protest

we did it in our own unofficial living room

dawson park on North Williams Avenue

was the spot to be if u telling our truth


Vancouver Avenue Baptist registered us to vote

we'd catch the holy spirit up in there too

especially after we partied hard

at Paul Knaul's Cotton Club

listening to that devil's music called rhythm & blues

we lived up the street from our dentist our doctor

our school teachers were black & lived nearby too

& we were never too far from the reach of a preacher

or a raised-fist revolutionary an artist or two


whatever we did or didn't do

it happened on both sides of our streets

we depended on our own social network for decades

before the posts the likes the tweets

it was the one place where everybody knew our faces

if you grew up in Portland's black community


Pulse Check.

Pulse check.

Are you with me?

     I am here!


Pulse Check.

Pulse check.

Are you with me?

     I am here!


our hood wasn’t all right

but it wasn’t all wrong

we didn't mind knowing where we belonged

that is

until it was gone

as Spike Lee pointed out:

they done Christopher Columbusized our hood

acting like Williams & Mississippi didn’t exist

til white explorers discovered it

& made it all good


now what once was a place

outsiders used to fear

mostly contains those who don’t look like us

but look at us with obvious attitude

like “what are you doing here?”


these days

diversity is treated like a rare delicacy

served in bitesized doses

because too much would be silly

sure whites claim all are welcome

we love Obama we don't see color

reality check: wait not really


so instead of concentrated black

we live from northeast to the numbers

we lost the places that we related to home

so we pick up our disconnected pieces

& try to recreate a sense of togetherness

while feeling all alone

not even a new trader joe's

could have sold enough natural medicine

to solve the depths of our woes


what do we do with the notion

that we don't belong where we belonged


Pulse check.

Pulse check.

Are you with me?

     I am here!


Pulse Check.

Pulse check.

Are you with me?

     I am here!


when black families are forced to move

our children have to change schools

disrupting their education by beginning again & again

depending on which month we can't afford to pay rent

we miss out on walkable access to family & friends

single mothers don’t know their neighbors

don't know who to turn to when they need a favor


momma momma how come

i can't play til the streetlights come on

anybody know how to play bid whist

where can I get my hair did 'round here

can somebody give me a ride to church

why u keep following me around the store

who's gonna look in on Ma'Dear u know she old

anybody out there



rents raise

no community norms

crime & violence increase

segregated isolation

lessened hope

no familiarity

no peace 

no sense of rhythm to our habits

we're forced to live in cheap housing

without parks or paved streets

we missing our hair products social clubs

& our corner grocery stores

selling fresh-cut pig's ears and pig's feet

everytime we turn around we can't find ourselves

our memories have been butchered into fresh grief


Pulse Check.

Pulse check.

Are u with me?

     I am here!


Pulse Check.

Pulse check.

Are u with me?

     I am here!


where in Portland can I find my reflections

that place in my heart is empty abandoned

I feel empty, too

am I abandoned

where do I fit in?


see belonging is a primal human need

it’s fundamental to our happiness & well-being

because when we encounter stress

that is overwhelmingly relentless

& we don't feel settled

not even in our place of residence

it wreaks havoc on our minds bodies & spirits

we feel marginalized depressed hopeless


we start to think the people who look like us

are unimportant too

so we gladly serve them the blues

with extra helpings

it's not just the boys in blue

gang violence kills our black children too

& our black silence is deafening

now swallow that truth


Pulse Check.

Pulse check.

Are you with me?

     I am here!


Pulse Check.

Pulse check.

Are you with me?

     I am here!


some believe

gentrification is just a multilayered term

for when whites move in

& swiftly change our landscape

racially economically even spiritually

& bring in their bikes dogs & backyard chickens

that’s an incomplete definition

we get distracted complacent & impressed

by the condos restaurants coffee shops

that keeping chasing after the shift in wealth

shame on us for overlooking the obvious signs

of how gentrification affects our mental health


but hey

don’t just believe me

pick up the report from the federal CDC

u know

the Centers for Disease Control

it says when gentrification redefines communities

it makes black folks around the country

die before our time

it ushers in higher rates of diabetes

it increases cancer

birth defects

infant mortality

it also escalates stress


cardiovascular disease

& it’s linked to the asthma

that makes black babies wheeze

please pay attention

we're dying out here

while suckling on our own ignorance


we don't need marvin gaye

to ask us what's going on

what u didn’t know

now u do


Pulse Check.

Pulse check.

Are you with me?

     I am here!


Pulse Check.

Pulse check.

Are you with me?

     I am here!


see it’s time we come together revolutionally

& we need to take care to do it intentionally

marcus garvey said

chance has never yet satisfied

the hope of a people suffering

in other words

u can't hope change into being

u can't hope change into being

u can't hope change into being

i wanna repeat it 'til you're listening

now it may be a waste of my time

to try & educate folks who are sleeping

but i'm trying to wake u up to the reality

that our collective survival as a community

depends on us depending on each other

honoring each other

respecting each other

understanding it is the sum of our parts

that make us completely free

so my brotha my systah next time

give me a head nod or something

when you walk past me on the damn street


Just like in war

when you separate a people

it’s easier to kill them off without protest

Bang. Bang. Oscar Grant. Unarmed. Dead.

Bang. Bang. John Crawford III. Unarmed. Dead

Bang. Bang. Kendra James.  Unarmed. Dead.

Bang. Bang. Aaron Campbell. Unarmed. Dead.


& the bang bangs and the gang banging

will go on without protest

when we refuse to notice recognize & demand

that our black sons are worthy

our black daughters are worthy

they are so worthy worthy worthy worthy

honor them honor them honor them honor them


Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang.

Michael Brown. Unarmed. Dead.

his death will eventually cycle out

of the online news media creep

but we who care about the worthiness

of our black children will always remember

our anger about this should forever run deep

& this time we’ve got to do more than just be sad

Malcolm X said:

usually when people are sad

they don't do anything

they just cry over their condition

but when they get angry

they bring about a change


Pulse Check.

Pulse check.

Are u with me?

     I am here!


Pulse Check.

Pulse check.

Are u with me?

     I am here!


revolution begins within

revolution begins within

revolution must begin

within the black community NOW

how the hell y'all feeling?

u angry yet?

are u with me?

       I am here!


© 2020 by Renee Mitchell Speaks. All Rights Reserved.

   "Words have power.

Choose them wisely."