An enthusiastic crowd whooped out far more than three cheers for Gresham's newest councilor, Vince Jones-Dixon, during a celebration outside City Hall on Wednesday evening, July 29.
Jones-Dixon, 31, a licensed funeral director by trade, is believed to be the first Black man to ever serve on the Gresham City Council, and the first Black person to sit at the dais since the term of Claudette LaVert more than three decades ago.
"Representation matters," Jones-Dixon said in an interview. "I'm not looking for a pat on the back or a thank you. I'm just looking to be here — be at the table — and create opportunities for other kids who look like me and other kids who are being overlooked."
Jones-Dixon, his wife, mother and hundreds of well-wishers masked up and gathered in the plaza outside City Hall for a peaceful family gathering replete with performances by local poets and renditions of "Lift Every Voice and Sing," commonly known as the Black national anthem.
After leading chants of "Black Lives Matter," Jones-Dixon told the audience how his brother, Andreas, was shot and killed in Rockwood in 2013 after falling in with the wrong crowd. Now the councilor's priorities include building bridges between the police department and the community to create a new definition of community policing.
"I have two kids, and they see me," Jones-Dixon added. "My nine year-old is like, 'When can I give a speech?'"
Councilor Eddy Morales said City Hall can be a lonely and frustrating place for people of color. He has urged the council to keep the Black Lives Matter flag flying above City Hall for longer than just one month.
"We're not for racism in the city of Gresham," Morales told the Outlook. "My goal is, regardless of your skin tone, regardless of your sexual orientation, regardless of your ability, your age, that this city is equitable."
Dr. Stephen Graves, a 30-year Gresham resident who helps lead the local nonprofit Troublesome, said he attended the event to advocate for better access to housing stability, education and health care for the city's underserved communities. "We need affordable housing for people in this community that is not only affordable but decent as well," he said. "There's a lot of good things that are being done, but there's definitely some areas where the equity could be better dispersed."
Not everyone came out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, however.
Counter-protesters have gathered at Gresham City Hall tonight to protest the cityâ€™s Black Lives Matter flag and a celebration the city is hosting pic.twitter.com/YU5IX9TPdG— Zane Sparling (@PDXzane) July 30, 2020
After rumors spread online of a counter-protest, Gresham Mayor Karylinn Echols implored citizens to remain peaceful and respectful, saying in an message that "our focus tonight is to allow all our residents to exercise their right to free speech, in a safe environment, free of violence."
While a handful of counter-protesters did attend, they stayed away from the plaza and gathered around the flagpoles, soliciting honks from passing motorists on Eastman Parkway.
Jane Hays, who is running as a Republican in a race against Rep. Janelle Bynum for House District 51, was one of the counter-protesters, and was joined by her 15-year-old adopted daughter, Tanya, who is Black.
"I do not want America to go into socialism or Marxism," said Hays. "Black Lives — yes. But Socialism and Marxism? Not for my Black kids."
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