Black Americans have experienced oppression and suppression for more than 400 years. When Oregon was founded as a state in 1857, its constitution explicitly banned Black people from visiting, living, and owning property here.

To this day, navigating life as a Black American in our city and country does not come with the same privileges experienced by others. Systemic racism creates barriers to safety, health and wealth. And everyday activities often result in racist interactions. Despite the many barriers placed in front of them, Black Americans have showed time and time again, their resiliency, strength, wisdom, and courage.

Over the past week, my colleagues and I have been looking at ways the City can best acknowledge that history and highlight Juneteenth – an annual commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States. We want to formally recognize the significance of June 19 and observe it as a day of both remembrance and action. We are committed to making sure this holiday is more than a gesture. It must symbolize our commitment to eliminating anti-Black racism within the City of Portland’s workforce and community.

This Wednesday, June 17, the Portland City Council plans to adopt an ordinance that will:

  • Formally recognize and apologize for the atrocities Black people have suffered in this nation and in Portland, Oregon.
  • Formalize a commitment and plan to deconstruct structural racism, particularly anti-Black racism, through task forces dedicated to developing intersectional internal and external solutions focused on the workplace, public safety, mental health, housing, income inequality, economic development, and prosperity. The City’s bureau directors, guided by the Office of Equity and Human Rights and the Bureau of Human Resources, will also lead the development of internal task forces dedicated to deconstructing institutional and systemic racism through policies and systems and uphold core values that will lead workforce decisions and make a commitment to strive toward an anti-racist workplace culture.
  • Establish June 19 as a formal day of remembrance and recognition of Black American history and making it a paid holiday and Citywide shutdown (Black Out). This year, we are suggesting that City of Portland employees spend the holiday getting educated on the white supremacy that was foundational to American culture. The objectives of the day are to grieve, listen, learn, engage and heal.

We recognize that there is much work to do to build trust — this is just one step in a significant process.

In order to create a better tomorrow, we cannot wait another moment to change the ways we act, think, govern and live. Please join us in taking action in this moment of reckoning.


Ted Wheeler
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