Student film 'Lake No Negro' sheds light on suburb's history
The homegrown documentary "Lake 'No Negro'" explores not only Lake Oswego's racially-exclusive past and the present ideology insisting there is no problem, but also the changemakers in the community who insist there is.
Mya Gordon, the film's creator, is a senior at Lakeridge High School. She's the founder of the Equity Council at Lakeridge High School and the co-chair of the district's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Committee. Her involvement in equity work stems from the experiences she had when she first moved to Lake Oswego from New Jersey in the seventh grade.
"Growing up in Lake Oswego has been really difficult as a person of color," Gordon said. "When I was younger I didn't quite understand why."
She said she felt alienated and different from everyone else and seeing that virtually no one else felt that way made her feel crazy. It wasn't until she interacted with other people of color that she realized what she was feeling was valid.
"I kind of started to realize that I wasn't alone," Gordon said.
The documentary started out as a desire to tell a story about the racially-exclusive history of Lake Oswego. "Most people know about Lake Oswego's history but they don't pay attention to it," Gordon said.
Gordon went to her AP U.S. history teacher, Karen Hoppes-Fischer, to hear her thoughts on the idea. Hoppes-Fischer helped her create an outline and get access to equipment.
She started by learning everything she could about black exclusion laws in Oregon and in Lake Oswego that gave the city the nickname "Lake No Negro."
She said an earlier cut of the film included a lot more history, including the racial exclusion laws. She said though a lot of that information didn't make it into the final product, it was helpful for her to wrap her head around the black exclusion laws that created an ideology that exists in Lake Oswego today.
She wanted to show that though Lake Oswego still has a long way to go in terms of equity and diversity, important steps have been made in recent years.
"I was hoping that people would recognize that there are people who are trying to make a difference in the community," Gordon said.
Her involvement in the community made gathering interviews easy. Her interviews include Willie Poinsette, president and co-founder of Respond to Racism, Lake Oswego School District's Director of Equity and Strategic Initiatives David Salerno Owens and LOSD School Board Chair Rob Wagner.
"Everyone had so much heart and so much to say," Gordon said.
She said her goal was not to make a cinematic masterpiece — it was to tell an important story.
"At first I wasn't going to put myself into the documentary. I didn't even want to narrate it," Gordon said.
Her teacher encouraged her, saying that it would be more powerful.
"I'm telling a story that is also my own, that is personal to me and personal to a lot of people," Gordon said. "It was a story that needed to be shared … there are a lot of people in Lake Oswego who think that Lake Oswego doesn't have a problem."
Gordon said saying Lake Oswego has a problem doesn't mean she doesn't like Lake Oswego. In fact, it's because she cares about Lake Oswego that she criticizes it.
"I do appreciate a lot of what Lake Oswego is," she said.
She said when she felt isolated, she didn't think anyone was advocating for her.
"I really wanted to make sure that students knew that someone was doing something," Gordon said.
The documentary can be viewed here.
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