This summer, activists across the country and around the world marched in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. USF student and president of the Culturally-Focused Clubs Council (CFCC), Jada Commodore, joined together with two friends from high school, Ha-Lan Van and Sophia Mork, who felt it was time to introduce a different form of protest to their community. Together, they co-organized a rally in their hometown of Portland, Oregon that diverged from the intensity of the movement.
The Portland Artist Rally was held July 18 in Portland’s Peninsula Park, otherwise known as the “living room of North Portland,” Commodore said. After a painful and exhausting summer of active protesting, the organizers of this rally wanted to provide a celebratory space for the Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) community and its allies, or, as Commodore referred to them, “companions.”
One of the main goals of the rally was to attract companions of the BIPOC community who would not normally attend typical marches or protests. “Protesting at the justice center, or the injustice center as we affectionately call it here in Portland, does not attract everybody, especially with health and family concerns,” Commodore said. By creating a safe environment for all members of the community to gather, the organizers of this event were able to bring approximately 400 people together to celebrate the BIPOC community through art.
The event included a diverse array of artists. “Bands, poets and comedians at the gazebo, people showcasing their art like stickers, t-shirts, photography, everything you can possibly think of was there except sculpting,” Commodore commented. “Our city was really hurting. The vibrancy had been sucked out, and we were in mourning of a system that has been brutalizing its citizens for too long. Having a show that both did and didn’t have to do with BLM definitely served as a space of healing.”
Each of the three organizers brought unique abilities to the table; Van is a product design student at Parsons School of Design and a visual artist, Mork is a marketing student at Loyola University New Orleans who had access to much of the gear that was needed for the event, and Commodore is a natural leader and public speaker. “Jada was our student body president [in high school],” Mork explained. “Our team was really strong.”
Van and Commodore are both BIPOC individuals. “We took inventory of our talents and resources and just decided that this was something that we could do,” Van expressed.
In order to get volunteers, food, and supplies, the three organizers each posted on Instagram and were able to accumulate 300-400 shares, Mork stated. The event was entirely crowdsourced through social media platforms and community members who were in contact with the organizers. “We asked friends and coworkers and everybody we knew,” Commodore said. “Having the connections that we did with the community made it really easy for us to put on an event like this.”
The organizers were adamant about the importance of recognizing artists from the BIPOC community, not only by offering them this platform but by making sure they were paid. They raised money through donations for this purpose and donated the remainder of what they raised to a Black and LGBTQ+-owned art gallery. In explaining her thoughts on how artists should be acknowledged for their crucial role in effecting change, especially during the pandemic, Commodore said, “If three 19- or 20-year-old girls can pay all of these artists to show them that their time is worth it, then so can a corporation.”
By uplifting BIPOC artists through this event, the organizers not only curated a showcase in support of the BLM movement but one that worked with the BIPOC community to create an authentic experience. “You know who should be at the forefront of these events, and whose voices should be amplified? BIPOC artists,” Van said.
Echoing this sentiment, Mork added, “It’s important to be aware of how much space you take up, and to ask yourself as a white person, is my voice too loud over other peoples’ voices?”
Despite the success of this event and the rejuvenating sense of community it created, Commodore held that there is much more work to be done. She quoted writer James Baldwin as he was asked what views he had of the future: “I’m forced to be an optimist because we have always survived everything that we were meant to survive. To be pessimistic is to view life as an academic matter when it’s not.”