04 17 2014
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A young boy defiantly holds a sign declaring "No More Stolen Lives" at a rally at Westlake Park in Seattle, Sunday, July 14 to protest the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin. Over 500 people showed up at the rally and march. Susan Fried photo

Two Portland forums, this week and next, offer locals a chance to talk about what the George Zimmerman acquittal in the Trayvon Martin killing means to them.

The first, held Tuesday at Portland Community College Cascade Campus, was hosted by the McKenzie River Gathering Foundation, a grant making organization that supports social justice and community organizations around the state.

The event featured Rep. Lew Frederick; social and racial justice activist Kathleen Saadat; and Portland Black PFLAG organizer Khalil Edwards. It linked the big three Civil Rights issues that have been in the news lately: two tragedies -- the Zimmerman verdict, the weakening of the Voting Rights Act; and one victory -- the Supreme Court's ruling legalizing same-gender marriage.

Also, coming up Tuesday, Aug. 6, 6:30-8:30 p.m., in the Jefferson High School cafeteria, the Portland Public Schools Office of Equity and its new program RACE TALKS 2 is holding "Trayvon Martin's Death: A Catalyst for Change."

MRG Foundation Executive Director Sharon Gary-Smith says pre-registration for the Tuesday panel event almost filled the hall before it started.

"There has been a lot of response to not only the defeat of the key components of the Voting Rights Act, but there's also been disappointment, anguish and organizing around the death of Trayvon Martin," she says.

"We saw that there was an important conversation that needed to be had – a critical conversation as community."

Gary-Smith says the MRG event brings together an array of significant Civil Rights milestones that all happened in quick succession over the past few weeks: The U.S. Supreme Court's strike-down of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965; the Court's nullification of the Defense of Marriage Act, paving the way for same-sex marriage around the United States; and Zimmerman's acquittal in Martin's death.

The Tuesday night event poses these questions: What are the connections between these seemingly separate events? Why should these setbacks in our quest for justice matter to Oregonians? And, how do we channel our confusion, frustration, passion, and even anger into a broad movement for social change?

"A lot of our allies might think African Americans are the people who are primarily affected by the Voting Rights Act," she said. "We wanted to raise it up because we think it is a critical rail of foundation for all our rights as citizens in America.

"The right to vote, to vote for democratic ideals, the right to exercise your participation, your civic engagement, in crafting and working towards the country we all deserve -- we didn't think it was elevated enough," she says.

"And truthfully, it came just after the appropriate striking down of the Defense of Marriage Act, where there was a lot of joy, jubilation, celebration, communities all over. And then came this striking down of the key underpinning of the Voting Rights and it stayed only for a moment in the public's attention. It wasn't twittered about after a short period of time, the media didn't talk about the significant implications. So the assumption is, that was just us.

"We want to talk about that and how we have to make 'together' be about unity."

At the Tuesday, Aug. 6 event at the Jefferson High School cafeteria, listen to community organizer Teressa Raiford talk about the Zimmerman verdict, and catch the first frames of a film-in-progress, "Respect My Gangstah," created by Portlander Anthony Gispson and loosely based on his experiences with gangs, drugs, and attitudes about black on black crime.

The event is open to all ages, and is free of charge. Part of the presentation is about volunteering with local youth programs, and participants can sign up to do that there.

Local youth groups represented there so far include Self-Enhancement Inc., SEI; EMBODI; the Robotics Program; the Youth Aviation Program and more.   

Audience members will have a chance to discuss the topic in a safe environment under the guidance of small group dialogue facilitators provided by Uniting to Understand Racism, the City of Portland's Intergroup Dialogue Program and Resolutions Northwest.

RACE TALKS 2 is an off-shoot of RACE TALKS: Uniting to Break the Chains of Racism, An Opportunity for Dialogue held monthly the second Tuesday of each month in the McMenamins Kennedy School Gym, from 7-9 p.m.  

RACE TALKS 2, sponsored by Portland Public School's Office of Equity, is held in Jefferson High School's cafeteria, 5210 N. Kerby Ave. between Killingsworth & Alberta in the Cafeteria, 6:30-8:30 p.m.

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