Charles McGee isn't your typical 20-year-old. With a campaign for the Portland school board already under his belt, he's already been exposed to a world that most people don't see.
McGee first made a splash on the local political scene when he launched his unsuccessful bid for a school board seat in 2004. He entered the campaign full of energy and ideas and ran smack into the rough-and-tumble arena of moneyed, connected opposition. The experience left him wiser and willing to wait for the time being before making another try at elected office.
"The best word to describe what I think I am is a conduit," he said. "I see myself as someone who wants to connect underserved communities with the folks who are part of the process and try to produce a product that everyone feels comfortable with.
"Will it lead to political office sometime soon? No. Maybe eight or 10 years from now. For now, I'm just wanting to do some good work with families and children, and help to build new leadership within the African American community."
Much of that process lies in simply building lines of communication, he said, in getting people to articulate what it is they want and need from government and industry.
"It's about having conversations and having the ability to go to the board rooms and articulate what people in the 'hood' are feeling. … It's not about 'I,' it's about 'we,' and it's about building a better community for all people. There is no singular leadership; it's about all the people."
For now, McGee is workingforthe Multnomah County Education Service District, helping to develop leadership training programs for young people. He's also working closelywithCity CommissionerSam Adams to organize the upcoming First Thursday open house at City Hall.
Hecontinuestobe involved with the Oregon Bus Project, a grassroots statewide effort to get ordinary people active in progressive candidates, causes and policies.
"In other words, I'm being a conduit," he said, laughing. "I'm looking at how we get folks in the community — not just Black people, but people in general — how do we get them to join the political world?
"We're at a very interesting time for the Black community in Portland," he said. "We're looking at a time of healing in Portland, a time when we really start to talk about race in education, race in the criminal justice system, race in economics …. We finally have a few people on the City Council that are ready to have a full and open discussion about that."