02-19-2017  3:56 am      •     

Tom Boothe (right) and Darrel Griffith (left)

Two old friends sit in a corner of Reflections Coffeehouse. If you closed your eyes to listen to their exchange, you'd think the place was packed. However, there are only four people in the room, including this reporter.

Suddenly one man calls over to the counter.

"Young man come over here," says Darrel Griffith. "You remind me of my grandson."

He and longtime friend Tom Boothe are regulars at Reflections. They come to drink coffee, talk about current events and trade jokes. The men have become known personalities at the store. However, their days of convening at Reflections/Talking Drum Bookstore are coming to a close.

After 17 years, the store will be closing at the end of June, to the dismay of many in Portland's Black community.

Reflections/Talking Drum owner Gloria McMurtry
Photo by K. Kendall

"This means the demise of one more Black business that will shrink the community even smaller," says Boothe. "I'm just glad someone is covering this. So often these things just happen."

Reflections/Talking Drum has served as a Black hub and meeting place for a variety of community members in Northeast Portland. Neighbors, community organizers and politicians alike have come to embrace the store as the place of choice to gather and exchange the news of the day.

Boothe has been a regular at Reflections for the last two years but he's resided in Portland since 1963. Throughout his years in Northeast Portland, he says few Black businesses have survived as long. He notes that the surrounding community has transformed over the years, with many Blacks moving out to East Portland and Gresham.

Discussion sessions for 'The New Jim Crow'
were held inside Talking Drum Bookstore

Photo by K. Kendall

Boothe has to get his points out in bits and pieces because Griffith constantly prods him with jokes and the insults that someone would only accept from a true friend.

"We piss each other off and have a good time," says Griffith. "We come in here and solve all the world's problems."

Griffith's company Dagri helped install the countertop for Reflections and painted the original green floors when the store opened in 1995.

It's not long before he's trading barbs with Reflections owner Gloria McMurtry.

After relocating to the Talking Drum Bookstore to get away from Griffith, who McMurtry affectionately calls a "loudmouth," she describes the history of the business she "fell into by chance."

She moved to Northeast Portland from Detroit by way of Jackson, Miss., about 20 years ago.

McMurtry collaborated with Eddie Bryant, O.B. Hill and Joe McHenry, who ended up bowing out early, to start Reflections and take over the bookstore. She says she has run the business singlehandedly for the last eight or nine years.

Although the demographics have changed drastically over her time here, she says the store has never ceased serving an integral part in the community.

"As a Black book store, we have books you wouldn't find at Barnes & Noble or Powell's," says McMurtry. "The community uses it to communicate, as well as have meetings."

The store has been forced to close at the end of June because the business is no longer able to support itself. A combination of gentrification and exhaustion on the part of McMurtry, have led her to decide it's time to leave.

Ahjamu Umi participating in a foreclosure forum

Individuals and groups that have utilized the bookstore vary and represent different pieces of the community.

Ahjamu Umi of Occupy Northeast "The Black Working Group," says the group got its start at Reflections in December of last year. They meet at the store every Saturday afternoon to plan actions around foreclosure resistance and stopping police brutality.

Although their work against foreclosures lends them people's homes to operate out of, Umi, who is originally from San Francisco, says Reflections provides a safe space where people can express themselves.

Groundwork Portland has been holding its
meetings in Talking Drum Bookstore

Photo by K. Kendall

"Every city has a Reflections," says Umi. "Unlike the Bay Area, Reflections is one of the only ones here. It's going to leave a void in the community because there aren't that many places where African-Americans can meet. There are a lot of places we can go but people don't feel as comfortable."

Reflections/Talking Drum has also supported the work of Groundwork Portland, a group that works with neighborhoods with concentrations of low-income individuals and people of color to give them a voice in developing and planning.

According to program director Cassie Cohen, the community hub has been involved in Groundwork's efforts interact with youth from King and DaVinci schools to develop the Emerson Street Garden and outdoor learning center. Also, their monthly meetings at the store have given the group more opportunities to reach out to community members they might not otherwise interact with.

Chabre Vickers, co-chair of Groundwork Portland

"We've spent time there getting to know folks," says Cohen. "We've recruited a board member or two from meeting at Reflections."

Her colleague and co-chair of Groundwork, Chabre Vickers, adds that the store has yielded a space for people living outside of the community to come back to and stay involved.

Although she grew up in Northeast Portland, when she moved back to Oregon after college, she settled in Tualatin.

Vickers heard about Reflections "haphazard" but says McMurtry made her feel at home.

"I always made a point to come to Reflections," she says. "The atmosphere puts the community at ease.  You always see someone you know."

Vickers says the space helped bring the community to take a serious look at brownfields, a term Groundwork uses for land that might be contaminated.

Rep. Lew Frederick of House District 43 has had a number of events at the store, most notably his monthly "Chat with Lew" town halls.

He found out about Talking Drum back in the 70s and started coming more regularly when Reflections opened. Echoing others' sentiments, he says it has provided a space where it is easy to talk with his constituents.

Rep. Lew Frederick of
House District 43


Frederick has even brought political figures Gov. John Kitzhaber and gubernatorial candidate Chris Dudley to the store, which he says made an incredible impression on both.

"For people not in the community, it helps them to understand the community better," he says. "It's different when you have to deal with people face to face in their comfort zone."

A number of people have expressed interest in maintaining the space. Although she acknowledges the store as a vital part of the community, McMurtry says she doesn't want its next incarnation to be a giveaway. If someone can take over the business and make money, she would love to see that happen.

Frederick has said he would take it over if he had the money. Griffith expressed interest but admitted he has concerns about running a business with his heart condition. Capuia has suggested renting the store out as an office space for aspiring entrepreneurs trying to get their businesses off the ground. According to Vickers, there have been some impromptu meetings at Reflections with concerned community members to brainstorm what the best options will be.

Everyone acknowledges that having a community space for African-Americans is a priority, wherever that may be.

Above all, they express gratitude to McMurtry and the others who started the business 17 years ago for providing them with a meeting place that will be missed by many in the community.

"I just want to say thank you to the community at large," says McMurtry. "They've always shown their appreciation. They've been great customers."


Recently Published by The Skanner News

  • Default
  • Title
  • Date
  • Random
  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. "I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do," says an approving Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin. "That never happens." Disrupt Trump has. But there may be more sound and fury than substance to many of his early actions. Trump did select Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives. But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee program and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travelers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect. Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, oh, Trump was only kidding with the wall,'" the president told a group of police chiefs recently. "I wasn't kidding. I don't kid." But the Republican-led Congress is still waiting to see specifics on how Trump wants to proceed legislatively on top initiatives such as replacing the health care law, enacting tax cuts and revising trade deals. The messy rollout of the travel ban and tumult over the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn for misrepresenting his contacts with Russia are part of a broader state of disarray as different figures in Trump's White House jockey for power and leaks reveal internal discord in the machinations of the presidency. "I thought by now you'd at least hear the outlines of domestic legislation like tax cuts," says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. "But a lot of that has slowed. Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. At his long and defiant news conference on Thursday, Trump tried to dispel the impression of a White House in crisis, squarely blaming the press for keeping him from moving forward more decisively on his agenda. Pointing to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Trump said, "You take a look at Reince, he's working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires. I mean, they're fake. They're not true. And isn't that a shame because he'd rather be working on health care, he'd rather be working on tax reform." For all the frustrations of his early days as president, Trump still seems tickled by the trappings of his office. When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited the White House last week to discuss the national opioid epidemic over lunch, the governor said Trump informed him: "Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.'" Trump added: "I'm telling you, the meatloaf is fabulous." ___Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac
    Read More
  • FDR executive order sent 120,000 Japanese immigrants and citizens into camps
    Read More
  • Pruitt's nomination was strongly opposed by environmental groups and hundreds of former EPA employees
    Read More
load morehold SHIFT key to load allload all