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Donovan M. Smith

Stories by Donovan M.

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Kidz On Da Track

Coaches look to push appeal of BMX further

Longtime BMX coach is looking to push appeal of sport to more inner-city youth and kids of color in general with a new team he's composing called "Kidz on Da Track".

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Fighting Displacement

Skeptics say housing investment will not cure gentrification

A plan to increase public monies for the construction of more affordable housing units in the gentrified neighborhoods of north and northeast Portland is drawing a mixed review.

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Born For This

Rhymesayer spits purpose through the microphone

Talilo's debut album "Born for This" is highlighted by a style of rap he refers to as "chopping" and frequent moments of introspection.

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Portland Youth Conference Rescheduled

Activist asks for help to make event successful

A winter snowstorm that postponed a youth summit during Black History Month will take place over two days, April 11 and April 12 at Portland State University with a concluding concert at the Blazers Boys and Girls Club. Portland activist Imani Muhammad is looking for help to make the annual event a success.

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Jazz from the Past

Historic neighborhood flickers between the bricks

Blended into the façade of Innovative Housing’s newest housing complex are literal lenses to Portland’s African American history. Between the bricks at The Magnolia, 3250 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., are four iPod Touch units that run continuous loops of historical photos mixed with recent footage.

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Building Community

Business owner and community stalwart Sharon Maxwell launches a campaign for City Council

Sharon Maxwell makes it clear that as a long-time advocate for her community, she has been on the front lines of making Portland a better place both in terms of an improved economy and improving social conditions.

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Hip Hop and the Police

Director of Independent Police Review Board updates investigation

The turmoil that has erupted between the Portland Police Bureau and a community of entertainers catering to the Hip-Hop scene has gained new eyes and ears.

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Jefferson Wins Back-to-Back Titles!

The Jefferson Democrats are once again sitting on the throne, as state champions. The 5A boys team was able to claim victory against Churchill, outscoring them 69-64. The Democrats win came at the heels of the suspension of six players that same-day for what’s being reported as “conduct detrimental to the team” by Jefferson coach Pat Strickland.

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Rose City Women Tell Their Own Stories

Women of Color Zines group fosters self-made publications

Women of color in the city are telling their own stories using a popular self-publishing artform called zines.

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Recasting Trader Joes

Mayor meets with community to revive controversial project

The public outcry that led to specialty grocer Trader Joe’s pullout of a city-negotiated economic development project in the heart of Portland’s historic African American community may get reversed if the mayor and other city leaders are successful in new efforts to recast the project. Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Dan Saltzman met with leaders of the African-American community, neighborhood, and business representatives at City Hall in an effort to bring the popular retail chain back, perhaps with more compromises for all parties at the table.

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“16 Bars” Going WorldWide

Local emcee boasts global exposure following debut release

Rapper/songwriters has amassed a huge following of fans across the states and the world at large following the release of his debut project "16 Bars". This output finds Bars exhibiting his often eclectic range, spinning on the usual braggadocio-train that’s expected from rappers, to moments of humbleness and vulnerability.

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Hip-Hop Shakedown

Show comes to abrupt end after police swarm club

The shutdown of a Hip Hop show in SE Portland sheds light on a longstanding complaint that "Hip Hop is being targeted by the City of Portland".

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The Black Experience

Local author weaves personal tales into fascinating read

A debut book of poetry about the pain of political prisoners and the power of the black American experience intricately weaves personal tales into a fascinating read. The author, Walidah Imarisha, is local activist and professor of Black Studies at Portland State University. The Portland Observer’s Donovan M. Smith sat down with Imarisha at Powell’s Bookstore to discuss the inspirations behind “Scars/Stars” and to dig into the nuances behind her work.

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PCC Men's Basketball Win First Title

Coach shatters losing ways with PCC's first ever post season birth

Portland Community College's basketball squad has earned their first title in school history after defeating Pierce College in a 92-86 bout. The win is highlighted by the fact that just two seasons ago, the PCC basketball squad capped of their season with 0 wins.

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Drawing to a Final Verdict

Ancer L. Haggerty reflects on journey to and from the bench

Judge Ancer L. Haggerty seems to prefer to let his distinctions and accomplishments shine for themselves. The journey that saw him go from just another face in the Marines to making history as both the first African-American federal judge and first black circuit court judge in Oregon was not necessarily what he envisioned for himself early on.

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Oregon as ‘Whitelandia’

Film examines the state’s racial dealings past and present

Two Oregon filmmakers looking to examine the state's tumultuous racial dealing with documentary "Whitelandia".

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Trader Joes deal collapses after public outcry

It's back to the table for PDC and the community

After Trader Joes decision to pull out of a deal that would have brought the specialty grocer to a prime piece of land in the heart of of Portland's historic African-American community, leaves the community, leaders, business owners, and the city questioning what is next for what has one of the most complicated and controversial sites in town.

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And Then There Was 4

Bridge name finalists rooted in cultural significance

After a fierce search for the right name for the new light rail bridge under construction over the Willamette River, a committee of 10 has finally narrowed the list of possibilities to four names that meet criteria for cultural and geographic significance.

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Running for County Commissioner

Teressa Raiford kicks off election campaign

Teressa Raiford kicked off a new political campaign to the backdrop of heavy nostalgia, and promises of a stronger community should she be elected Multnomah County Commissioner this year. Raidford, a civil rights activist and north Portland business woman who ran for the Portland City Council two years ago, announced her candidacy for county commissioner on Wednesday, Jan. 15, Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.

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Black History and Hip Hop Culture

Educator brings mobile museum to Jefferson

Scholar Khalid el-Hakim brought his Black History 101 Mobile Museum to Jefferson High School Thursday to help shine a light on how black history plays into the lyrics and images of hip-hop culture.

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Purveyor of African-American Pride

Joyce Harris reflects on King; service to the community

Decades ago, Harris left her African-American hub of Harlem, N.Y., for Portland, a town she had barely even heard of because of a free-ride scholarship at Reed College. Her review from the initial Rose City landing, “I hated it,” she says, pinpointing blame on culture shock, Reed students’ bohemian lifestyles, and the distance from her family. As she actively looked for a way to escape, she was stopped in her tracks by Portland activist Ron Herndon, currently the longtime director of Albina Head Start who was then working on another Portland project, the Black Education Center.

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Building Support for Revolution

Activist furthers Black empowerment tactics

In a land where sunny days and black bodies are sparse in numbers, California-bred activist Ahjamu Umi sees 35,000 rays of opportunity. The Portland transplant is leading a civil rights campaign in his new hometown with the recruitment of members to the All African Peoples Revolutionary Party (A-APRP).

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Fighting for Justice with Police Reforms

Portland Activist follows path of Martin Luther King Jr.

Too many lives have been cut short by violent confrontations with Portland Police and a northeast Portland activist has made it her mission to reform police department policies to bring about a change in the way police deal with the public, especially members of the African American and other minority communities. JoAnn Hardesty is a former state lawmaker whose mission of justice is to prevent any further officer-involved deaths while also keeping those who’ve passed alive in the hearts of their loved ones and the community.

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East County Uplift

Prominent youth programs coming to Gresham

The Rockwood neighborhood in Gresham will soon become home to two of the most prolific youth-service programs in the country.

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Elevating Portland

Gymnast helps kids, adults soar

What’s that flying in the air? Well, it very well could be you, momentarily denying the laws of gravity, if only for a moment once you become engaged in a sport coached by a Portland gymnast. Meet, Saidah Wilson the energy-charged founder of Bridge City Acrobatics, a new acrobatics and tumbling school that operates out of the Peninsula Park Community Center in north Portland.

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Healing Hurt People

Trauma-informed program assists males of color

How do you heal hurt people? Dr. Alicia Moreland-Capuia would like to think she has an answer for young men of color who have been scarred by traumatic injuries and need help to escape a life of recurring violence and retribution.

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Holiday Rush Hour

Watching your dollar as the holidays close-in

Spending money is a familiar scene from one of America’s favorite past times. But shopping for Christmas in an economy that is still far from healthy, with many-a-pocket hollowed out, also raises concerns. How do you make sure that when the spell of the holidays where off on Jan 1, you are not left with unsavory ends?

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A collage of news reports detailing shootings in north Portland with a haunting chant of “bang! bang! bang!” is how Glenn Waco, an upcoming young rapper in the city’s hip-hop scene introduces listeners to his second project, fittingly titled “NorthBound”. Untrained ears may hear glorification in such a chant, but a closer listen to the entire project reveals the tale of a 21-year-old man balancing the struggles and joys of coming from what was once treated as a forgotten part of town.

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Racism Ignites College Protest

Lewis and Clark students call for more diversity

Lewis and Clark students and their Black Student Union are calling for more diversity on campus after a string of racist incidents. Despite bitter cold temperatures, around 200 Lewis and Clark College students showed up Friday morning for an on-campus sit-in. Organized by the Black Student Union, the event generated major support from the southwest Portland school’s mostly white students.

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Nurses in the Spotlight

Program aims to dismantle myths of nursing field

What do you picture when you think of a nurse? Sonya Justice’s theory is that if you’re like a lot of people she’s encountered during her 15 years as a registered nurse in an Intensive Care Unit, you equate her profession somewhat to a second-rate role to doctors, a notion she is trying to destroy with her new television program Reel Nurses Talk Show.

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Free Land Deal

PDC defends controversial project

Does a Trader Joe's on MLK Blvd. foster gentrification?

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Improving Lives

Dress for Success expands with career center debut

Dress for Success, a northeast Portland program designed to help disadvantaged women break into the corporate world with style, celebrated the debut of their brand new Patricia Whiting Career Center on Thursday.

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Driving a Social Agenda at the Bus Project

New executive for youth advocacy group

There’s a new driver at the Bus, well at least a new leader. The social justice and activist group, the Bus Project, recently named Tara Sulzen as their new executive director.

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Surviving Hell

Tuskegee Airman recalls horrors of World War II

“War is hell,” that was the constant reframe from Alexander Jefferson, one of the last living members of the historic all-black military air-squad, the Tuskegee Airmen. During a veterans forum at Portland Community College’s Cascade Campus in north Portland, Jefferson shared his World War II accounts of seeing heaps of human bodies set aflame, friends being torn away by gunfire before his eyes, and even becoming a prison of war where worms and sawdust were not an uncommon part of his diet.

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From Service to the Classroom

Portland State opens Veterans Resource Center

With a growing number of men and women in the military returning to civilian life after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Portland State University is looking to accommodate them with educational services and resources. Home to over 30,000 students, PSU boasts the highest number of military veterans of any other school in the state.

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Model School

SEI Academy earns high score on state report card

Self Enhancement Academy is taking its bows after the middle school serving local African American kids was named a “model school” by the Oregon Board of Education.

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New Visions for the Techmen

Benson principal moves to shore up signature programs

Benson's new principal, Curtis Wilson Jr, says he wants to return the 96-year-old tech-centric institution to a place that has historically been associated with academic rigor and excellence. “I want to bring back Benson to where people are challenged to come here, where they know if I come to Benson I’m gonna work. Because it’s hands on, the courses are very intense, and it’s a very rich tradition school,” he says.

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Saving Our Boys

Symposium focuses of reframing the narrative

African American parents and other parents of children of color gathered for a symposium Saturday to find new ways to elevate the academic achievements of their seeds. The 5-hour symposium hosted by Black Parent Initiative was held at the disbanded Marshall High School campus in southeast Portland. It was the fourth year the group has sponsored a range of workshops promoting equity and excellence in the classroom through increased parental involvement at school and at home.

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Incense Blamed

Fire damages Muslim Community Center

A fire broke out at the Muslim Community Center on Martin Luther King Boulevard Friday and now leaders of the center are looking to get re-settled.

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King School 'Hoodies' Call Mystery

PTA and school clarify position

If someone wanted kids at King Elementary to wear hoodies in solidarity with the family of slain teenager Trayvon Martin, no one is taking responsibility for it.

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Relating to Race

Educators convene to learn about culturally responsive teaching

Over 300 educators from across the state of Oregon convened on the campus of north Portland’s Roosevelt High School for the fourth annual Teaching with Purpose conference. Teachers attended various workshops over two days on Friday and Saturday that were intended to increase their ability to instruct students in a culturally effective manner and help students of color excel academically, closing an achievement gap between white and black students.

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New Lease on Life

Funding raises hope for ‘Village Market’

A community grocery store in the New Columbia neighborhood of north Portland has a new lease on life thanks to an economic development boost from government agencies. Village Market, operated by the nonprofit Janus Youth, was awarded $75,000 by the Portland City Council on Thursday in the hopes that the store can survive financially and continue to bring healthy food and jobs to low-income residents.

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Inspired by Dance

North Portland dance center reaches out

A north Portland dance teacher who's performed alongside the likes of Madonna, Celine Dion, and Pink, seeks community support for her north Portland dance studio.

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On The Brink

Head Start watches the shutdown clock

Leaders at Portland’s Head Start program are worried about the possibility of shutting down for the year if Congress does not soon reach an agreement on the budget and the looming debt ceiling. Ron Herndon, the director of Albina Head Start, said when the federal funding for Head Start runs out at the end of the month, the Portland program will no longer be able to continue serving its preschool children of low-income and poor families.

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Rose City Connections

Rapper Tech N9ne makes Portland stop

The Portland Observer caught up with recording artist Tech N9ne when he came to town during his current 50 city tour. The “Something Else” tour, entitled after his latest album features hip hop industry heavyweights such as Wiz Khalifa, B.O.B., Cee Lo Green, and Kendrick Lamar, his longtime collaborator Krizz Kaliko and many more. As the founder of his own record label, Strange Music, which currently pulls in more than $20 million annually, Tech N9ne is often labeled as the “the most successful independent rapper of all time”.

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‘Sneakerhead’ Turns Love into a Brand

Portland entrepreneur starts own fashion line

Setting foot in the city of sin turned out to be the start of a dream for one Portland man. A 2009 visit to Las Vegas for a street wear fashion tradeshow shifted David Jefferson’s whole career path. Jefferson says the show was the inspiration he needed to take him from being a local retailer of various big name brands in urban fashion to his newfound passion, selling his own clothes.

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Let’s Get Down to Business

Big personality entrepreneur has advice for the next generation

Entrepreneur and Portland civic leader Roy Jay is synonymous with success in the Rose City. Once considered a prime candidate for mayor, the accomplished Jay is quick to share his insights and open doors for the next generation. “There’s opportunity sitting out here, all people have to do is go and apply themselves. And I’m not saying it’s easy, nothing’s easy"--Roy Jay

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Life is 2Real

Promoter on cutting edge of rap scene

Unfortunately not many can claim a successful transition from the harsh realities of a notorious gangbanging past to true entrepreneurship. Jonathan Norman, also known as Big Smurf, a.k.a. Smurf Lucciano, is one of the exceptions.

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Amber Starks Builds Community Esteem with Business

Salon owner an expert in natural hair styling

As a child, Amber Starks used to “beg” her mother to let her perm her long locks of hair. It proved to be a fruitless pursuit. By the time Starks was a fresh face on the campus of the University of Oregon, wearing her hair chemical-free was only, well, natural. Now, the 32-year-old Starks owns her own salon and is exclusively focused on natural hair styling.

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A Sense of Belonging

Moorish Science embraces African roots

Temple teaches people of African descent their history through ancient tradition and knowledge.