If 27-year-old Cyreena Boston wins the Democratic nomination for Oregon House District 45, she will be on a fast track to entering the Oregon House as its youngest member and probably the only African American state representative.
Boston already has secured support from some big name players in Oregon politics, who say she has a solid track record of advocacy, a mature grasp of community and state issues and the ability to get the work done.
State Sen. Margaret Carter said Boston deserves the nomination to this safe Democratic seat.
"She went to work for the Democratic Party and paid her dues at the bottom level and worked in the community and everything else, so I believe that she will serve our community very well," Carter said. "She's a very deserving young woman who will be able to make a difference in our state through legislative leadership."
State Rep. Chip Shields who represents House District 43 said several good candidates have shown interest in the job, but he too has decided to support Boston. "She knows how to get things done for working people in Portland," Shields told The Skanner. "She has a lot of energy; she has experience, both in public affairs through a television show that she ran in Atlanta as well as her work with SEI (the education nonprofit, Self Enhancement Inc). I think that she'll be a passionate advocate for justice."
Also among Boston's long list of supporters are: Erik Sten, Avel Gordly, Susan Castillo, Lew Frederick, and Tony Hopson.
"In politics you have to have a broad network," said Carl Talton, board chair for Portland Family of Funds and another of Boston's supporters. "Cyrena has that broad network. She has been visible and actively engaged for years."
Boston announced this week her intention to seek the Parkrose seat, currently held by state Rep. Jackie Dingfelder, who in turn is looking to fill Avel Gordly's shoes as state senator for District 23. Filing for next year's legislative elections opens Sept. 13 and closes next March. Other Portlanders who have been suggested as candidates include: Michael Dembrow, a Portland Community College English instructor; Jefferson Smith of the Bus Project and Chris Garrett, a former aide to Senate President Peter Courtney.
Boston's community activism has long roots. Her father Lou is a prominent Northeast Portland business leader and her mother Clariner Boston is executive director of Better People, a social service agency that works to rehabilitate released prisoners. Longtime community activists, they exposed to advocacy work when she was a child.
"I've had an awesome example set for me," Boston said. "I am definitely the community daughter because every person who has worked in community organizing in Northeast Portland has had a hand in raising me, because from a young age board meetings and community gatherings and organizing projects and rallies were my babysitters."
Aged 10, Boston was going to door collecting emergency services data for her church St Andrew and the Portland Organizing Project, a North/Northeast coalition working on neighborhood crime prevention and provision of emergency services. By age13 she was volunteering with the Neil Kelly summer youth camp program and on voter registration drives.
Boston attended and graduated from the prestigious, historically Black, Spelman College in Atlanta, Ga. Later she produced and presented a community affairs television program in Atlanta, before returning to Portland, where she worked with children in the Sun Schools program and with middle school girls at Self Enhancement Inc.
Then the Democratic Party hired her as their Constituency Director, a job that put her on the national stage, as she pioneered a new way to reach out to Oregonians. The job came about after Boston contacted the party to ask what they were doing to help the children and families she worked with. During a lunchtime discussion, Boston criticized the party's failure to reach out.
"I stressed that as the Democratic Party, they needed to have somebody engaging communities and people from all walks of life," she said. "By the end of the conversation I had totally talked myself into a job and it was a wonderful job."
Now, while many of her Spelman friends are making six-figure incomes on Wall Street or as high-powered lawyers and doctors, Boston is choosing an uncertain career in politics.
"I really felt called to come back and give back to this community," she said. "There are other more glamorous and lucrative professions, but this is important work ... It was about following my heart and I don't think I could in good conscience have done differently."
Her experience as a party leader, a community organizer, a social worker, and as a young African American woman will be an asset as a legislator, Boston said.
"I think that when we have persons who make laws that have been the users of programs or who have helped sustain programs, they bring a very accurate and credible perspective to making laws for all Oregonians."
Many effective legislators — Earl Blumenauer and Peg Jolin, for example, -– took office in their 20s, Talton said and, like them, Boston has the capacity to combine youth and energy with a mature outlook.
"She's very bright, very articulate and has a good understanding," Talton said. The most important thing to me is someone who really has an understanding of community, who can clearly grasp the issues that the community is dealing with. I think she certainly has demonstrated that – just in her involvement with the Democratic Party. She certainly convinced me that she would serve our communities very well."