Music and Activism Intersect
Civil rights leader fronts new CD with Pink Martini
Danny Peterson | 2/21/2018, 11:39 a.m.
Longtime Portland civil rights leader Kathleen Saadat has a hidden musical talent that the rest of the city is about to experience. A respected and admired advocate for African American, women, and gay and lesbian rights since the 1970s, Saadat has a debut album of jazz classics “Love for Sale’ coming out on March 1. The recordings were made with long time friend, Thomas Lauderdale, founder of the internationally renowned Portland jazz band Pink Martini.
The two serendipitously met back in the summer of 1991 when Lauderdale got a job working at City Hall between his junior and senior years in college and was supervised by Saadat who was an assistant to the office of former City Commissioner Gretchen Kafoury.
Before forming his multi-million record selling group, Lauderdale, who was born in Oakland Calif., was on track to a budding political career as a Grant High School student in Portland and later as a Harvard student in his early 20s.
“I guess the thing I remember first about Thomas was his enthusiasm and his sense of humor and great spirit. And I liked him immediately,” Saadat remembered.
The city office was in the midst of drafting a civil rights ordinance to prohibit housing discrimination against gay and lesbian people and to protect families and individuals denied housing based on legal sources of income like housing assistance, a first of its kind for the city.
Lauderdale was learning to build coalitions in support for the ordinance, under Saadat’s tutelage, when he heard her melodic singing fill the office; she had a habit of singing while she worked.
“I loved her voice. I loved the way that she phrases every single word,” Lauderdale said. “It's as telling and meaningful as any of her speeches that she gives at a rally.”
Originally from St. Louis, Mo., Saadat graduated from Reed College in Portland in 1974 with a degree in psychology and made history as one of the organizers of Portland’s first gay rights march in 1976.
Over the years she has supported organizations such as the Freedom Socialist Party, Radical Women, Lesbian Community Project, the African American Alliance, and African Americans Voting No on Nine—a 1992 ballot measure that would have permanently made members of the LGBTQ community in Oregon second class citizens.
“It's always been, for me, a matter of helping people to learn that they have a voice and how to use it,” she said. “Helping people to understand that if we are not united in our efforts, we will fail.”
Saadat has worked at all levels of government, including supervising compliance with federal employment and training laws, directing Affirmative Action programs in the state and city; as diversity director for the Cascade AIDS Project; and as chair of Portland’s Community Oversight Advisory Board, the panel charged to help monitor reforms in Portland police practices.
She has received lifetime achievement awards from the Portland Human Rights Commission, Portland PFLAG Black Chapter, Portland’s Equity Foundation, and from the World Arts Foundation, among many other accolades. Last year, she was a commencement speaker at her alma mater, Reed College.