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Anti-gang group rides to rebuild

'Take Back' rally hopes to pave way for peaceful community


Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Jason Washington and Craig Ford are helping to organize a Take Back the Streets bike ride and rally Aug. 24 at the Community Cycling Center in North Portland. Kids rode scooters and played tennis at Alberta Park on a recent Thursday morning.

There was no drug dealing, no violence or gangbanging like there used to be at the height of Portland’s gang wars in the 1980s and ’90s, when Jason Washington and Craig Ford were growing up.

Washington, a 1989 Jefferson High alum, lived across from Alberta Park. Ford, a 1988 Wilson High alum, lived across the way near Unthank Park.

“There were shootings, stabbings,” says Ford, 43, son of the late Charles Ford, the iconic community organizer who instituted the city’s long-running Anti-Gang Violence Task Force under then-Mayor Vera Katz. “I found a guy dead at the corner of Haight and Shaver in the bushes, on my way to basketball practice.”

When they saw or heard shots in the park, there was only one thing to do, they said: “Run!”

As avid basketball players who were raised with two parents in the house, both Ford and Washington never succumbed to the lifestyle. But they have friends and relatives, including Washington’s own brother, who were involved in and affected by gangs.

When they heard about the recent spate of gang-related shootings in North, Northeast and Southeast Portland last month — especially one that sent a 5-year-old boy to the hospital — they were moved to do something.

They and a few other men, all African American and in their 40s, are working with the nonprofit Community Cycling Center to plan an Aug. 24 bike ride, barbecue and Take Back the Streets rally.

“Man, it’s getting too crazy out here,” says Washington, 42, who spent his high school years tutoring his peers and picking up trash along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

He became a community activist with a group called Brothers Gaining Equality Through Excellence.

Now, 20 years later, Washington thought he’d get back to the way he got around the neighborhood as a kid — by bike — both for fitness and to be a visible, positive presence in the community. He rides three or four times per week, zigzagging through North and Northeast Portland, sometimes up to 25 miles.

Last month during a ride he happened to get a flat tire just outside Community Cycling Center at New Columbia in North Portland, which opened its Bike Repair Hub in September 2012 and its Bike Skills Park last July.

Washington talked with coordinators at the Cycling Center and posed the idea of holding an anti-violence rally this summer.

A positive mission

It’s hardly a new idea. Several similar rallies happen every summer: on July 11, McCoy Park neighbors came together for a “Stop the Violence” rally; July 12 and 13, police enhanced patrols and resources for “Operation Cool Down”; and July 14, Portland Parks and the Office of Youth Violence Prevention held a community meeting at Peninsula Park called “Enough is Enough.”

City and community leaders spend a lot of time and effort organizing dozens of National Night Out events, which are still happening at many neighborhoods throughout the month. And the police and parks bureau put out a guide called Operation Safe Summer each year, listing scores of safe, structured activities for youth.

Ford, who’s coached youth basketball for 20 years, believes public officials should do more to connect families with existing resources and invest more in programs like the Boys & Girls Club and SUN Schools.

“I’ve seen it all,” Ford says, noting that he’s spent holidays letting student athletes stay at his house to escape violence in their families. “The breakdown of families is the biggest problem in this all.”

Portland has seen 11 gang-related shootings since June 30, killing two men and injuring five, including the 5-year-old who was hit by gunfire July 9 outside a Southeast Portland apartment. No arrests have been made in the cases.

Organizers of the Aug. 24 rally say their outreach efforts will be worthwhile even if they reach just one person.

“Obviously we can’t save every kid, but hopefully there’ll be some there that want to be saved,” Ford says.

They say this event is different because it comes from the community, and centers on an activity — bicycling — that’s cheap, easy and accessible.

“The Community Cycling Center believes in the power of human connection,” says Zoe Piliafas, the center’s program director, who worked with the men to organize the event. “We are excited to see a group of people engaging in a healthy bike ride together with a positive mission. Sustainable solutions lie within the community and we are here to ask and support facilitation.”

Demarcus Preston, a friend of Washington and Ford, also couldn’t stand the recent spate of violence and thought he’d take a stand. “I’m stepping up as a former gang member. I’ve seen friends and family killed,” he says. “I’ve been lucky enough to make it out and I want to help others do the same.”

jenmomanderson@twitter


Take Back the Streets Bike Ride and Event

11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Aug. 24.

The ride starts at the New Columbia Bike Repair Hub, corner of North Trenton and Woolsey.

At 2 p.m. the event starts, with a short documentary about life after incarceration, guest speakers, music and barbecue for $5 per plate.

Booths will offer resources on health, gang prevention, afterschool programming for youth, transition services and more. All proceeds will benefit Stop the Violence Foundation and P.I.L. Reunions.

For more: www.Facebook.com/events/472695576198210/; spots are limited so register by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..