Gresham Council: A new perspective
The newest member of Gresham City Council has a poster in his home, created by loved ones for his brother who was fatally shot in Rockwood.
Written on the poster, which is filled with bright colors, is the saying, "You can if you will, you will if you can."
For Vincent Jones-Dixon, newest member of the Gresham City Council and the second Black person to serve in that role, it means he has a responsibility to work with the whole community and support all of the residents in Gresham.
"It is truly an honor to serve in this capacity," he said. "I'm looking forward to participating with this council."
Jones-Dixon did not apply for the vacant Council Position 3 lightly — it has been something he has been thinking about for the last half decade. He was initially going to apply for Lori Stegmann's vacant seat after she was elected as a Multnomah County Commissioner, and had a lot of support from friends encouraging him in that decision. Eventually, however, he decided he wasn't ready.
Instead Jones-Dixon continued to meet with people throughout Gresham and figure out what his priorities would be as a leader. He said he likes to be extremely prepared before committing to something as important as serving his community.
"You have to listen and ask questions — create a space where everyone is comfortable," he said.
Jones-Dixon was selected Tuesday, July 21, after a long public interview process that included 15 applicants representing diverse parts of the community. But Gresham Council chose him for the opening left by Mayor Karylinn Echols because of everything he brings to the role.
"I think he brings a perspective having worked within the community and in a small business environment," said Councilor David Widmark. "We (needed) to round out council in some areas that none of us bring to the table."
Jones-Dixon has learned a lot about East Multnomah County through tragedy.
His brother, Andreas Prince Jones, was shot and killed while hanging out at the Rockwood Station apartments, along East Burnside Street, in 2013. The family learned of his death while together at a gathering.
Jones-Dixon said his brother had spoken with him before his death about tutoring kids in math and helping to deter them from "getting plugged into the gang lifestyle." Following the death of his brother, Jones-Dixon began working with the Rockwood CDC, holding conversations around gun violence.
"I've experienced loss in Gresham — not only my brother but three other people to community violence," Jones-Dixon said.
Jones-Dixon has lived in Gresham for a little more than nine years, after growing up in Northeast Portland. He and his wife, Mesha, are raising their two children in the community.
He spent more than a decade working in the funeral industry, which also helped him learn more about this community. He began as a removal technician before transitioning into being a funeral director and working with families to ensure the services for loved ones were perfect.
"I loved to hear the stories and write the obituaries," he said. "I learned what people were passionate about in this community and learned more about the amazing people who called Gresham home."
Eventually Jones-Dixon said he felt God calling him into a new line of work, which led to a transition to his current job as the team trip program manager with Africa New Life Ministries. Jones-Dixon helps prepare travelers for their time visiting the East African country of Rwanda.
"When you hear Rwanda — most think of the genocide," he said. "But when you visit you see the progress they have made."
Along with volunteering with the Rockwood CDC, he has been supporting Beyond Black CDC and Play Grow Learn, which hosts camps and activities for homeless and foster children. He is active in his children's' schools, serves on the Gresham Charter Review Committee and was a community liaison for the Rockwood Rising development, which was rebranded as Downtown Rockwood. He also has been involved in conversations with law enforcement around community policing, hosted by Pastor Steven Holt.
"I am a convener of people," Jones-Dixon said. "I want to continue to contribute to those conversations and serve everyone in this community."
Though his appointment only runs through the end of the calendar year, Jones-Dixon will have a busy start to his political career.
Gresham is a community facing some daunting challenges. Budget concerns were pressing before a global pandemic exasperated things further, and cuts are most likely coming to services across the board.
COVID-19 remains a major priority for the city, with the safety of residents and supporting of small businesses being key. For the duration of the pandemic, Jones-Dixon wants to keep educating the community on resources available to them and continue the work helmed by Gresham Deputy City Manager Corey Falls in creating a robust response throughout all departments at the city.
"Educating business owners about the options available to them and also working with landlords and state legislators to put things in place to support small businesses," Jones-Dixon said.
Marches and demonstrations have continued across East Multnomah County with citizens calling for reforms to be made in the Gresham Police Department. There have also been internal accusations of systemic racism within City Hall. Police reform is a major focus for the newest councilor.
"Systemic racism is a national issue and is here in Gresham," Jones-Dixon said.
He wants to bring diversity, equity and inclusion to the city, as well as continue conversations within all departments. Part of his plan is building a bridge between the city and community with an emphasis on public safety.
"We have to create a space for folks to share their truths and own experiences," he said.
His first days as a councilor have been all about gathering information and attending meetings — he described it as "drinking from a fire hose." But Jones-Dixon said the support from the community has been encouraging.
And he doesn't plan on making this a short-term appointment — he will run in the November election.
"I will be championing the underrepresented," Jones-Dixon said. "I'm excited to get started."
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