Happy Birthday, Commissioner Charles Jordan!
Charles Jordan's height was legendary. But his legacy stands even taller.
Five years after his passing, and seven years after a Portland Parks & Recreation building was renamed in his honor, a crowd gathered at the Charles Jordan Community Center, 9009 N. Foss Avenue, on Saturday, Aug. 31 to celebrate the city commissioner's indelible impact on Portland history.
It was the day before Jordan's birthday.
"If pops was here, he would give each and every one of you a hug. He would make everyone feel special," said his son, Dion Jordan, the equity and inclusion manager for Multnomah County. "It's my hope and prayer that his spirit will continue to reside here."
Known in the history books as Portland's first African-American commissioner and a dedicated director of Portland Parks & Rec, Jordan led the acquisition of 44 parks properties and shepherded the passage of a $49 million levy during his many years at City Hall. Also among his accomplishments was the preservation of Leach Botanical Garden and the relocation of the Portland Children's Museum.
Michelle Harper, his long-time assistant, remembered how Jordan convinced the city's golfers to support a 50-cent charge supporting a youth trust fund, and established Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners with the fire and police bureaus.
"He saw potential in me that I didn't even recognize in myself," she told the Tribune. "He captivated your heart, and he moved you to action."
Joking about their difference in height, Harper recalled how she once was asked to fetch the commissioner's Buick 225 Electra, but didn't adjust the seat — and ended up getting pulled over by a patrol officer who thought the car was driving itself.
After choral renditions of one of Jordan's favorite songs, "Total Praise," and the Stevie Wonder version of "Happy Birthday," attendees cut the cake, and enjoyed a number of activities showing off the community center's capabilities.
Isaiah Ford-Lucas, a technology assistant at Faubion School, volunteered to give out free haircuts for the day, saying he wanted to be a role model like Charles Jordan. "It takes a village to raise a village," he said.
Another attendee clad from head to toe in imperial purple, who goes by Joseph or "King J," said he was always impressed by Jordan's mild manner and "the way he carried himself."
King J, a historian of local black history, grew up playing basketball at what was once known as the University Park Community Center.
Though the gym is now light filled, the building began its life as a military facility, and in J's youth it was a windowless bunker, where buckets caught rain and holes went unplugged in the walls.
"This building was a dilapidated, raggedy building," he said, "but it was somewhere to go."
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