Kem Marks honored with ‘Spirit of Portland’ award

Find out why this Division Midway Alliance associate was honored, and what keeps him advocating for pedestrian safety in outer East Portland …

Division Midway Alliance AmeriCorps VISTA Service Member Kem Marks heads into the Division Midway Alliance office.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

The 31st Annual Spirit of Portland Awards ceremony got underway at Portland City Hall Council Chambers at 6:00 p.m. on November 17, honoring more people who have contributed to the betterment of the city.

One of the two awards presented by Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick was given to the “Division Midway Alliance for Community Improvement (DMA) AmeriCorps VISTA Service Member Kem Marks that evening.

Marks recently talked with East Portland News about his work, and this award.

“I was nominated for the award primarily because of my advocacy regarding transportation issues, representing outer East Portland through DMA, and also the East Portland Action Plan (EPAP).

“Being on the Steering Committee of the Powell-Division Transit and Development Project, and also being an EPAP representative for the Outer Powell Safety Project, are two of my ways of being actively involved in government,” he said.

“For example, with the Outer Powell Safety Project, which is taking the Outer Powell Conceptual Design Plan to the next level, we’re working with the City of Portland and Oregon Department of Transportation, to make improvements on outer SE Powell Boulevard.”

Of the two initiatives, he’s most proud of his work with the Powell-Division Transit and Development Project. “I do my best to make sure that the concerns of outer East Portland neighbors are vocalized.”

At DMA, Kem Marks works to increase community involvement in transportation issues.

This project is still in progress, Marks observed. “The projects will be determined fairly soon. There are two more meetings of the Steering Committee for the project. One on February 1 and another on March 28. There will be some decisions made then, that will determine the outcome of the project – even whether or not it goes forward.

“I encourage people here to be very much engaged in the process, an advocate for concepts they believe will benefit themselves, their neighborhood, and the greater community,” encouraged Marks. “They should be advocating for their issues at this stage of the game, and not be reacting later on when the program is set in stone.”

He was surprised – in fact, he thought it was a prank e-mail from a friend – when he heard he would be presented a Spirit of Portland award, Marks said.

“I found out the next day that they were not kidding,” added Marks. “I was very surprised. Actually, I tend to be a ‘bull in the china shop’ – I’m willing to say what’s on my mind. To be given this award was quite a surprise.

“I’m very pleased and honored to be presented with it, however,” Marks said.

2015 “Spirit of Portland” award honoree Kem Marks says he dedicates the award, and his work, to a pedestrian slain in outer East Portland.

At the awards presentation, Marks said he publically dedicated the award to 70-year-old Slavic immigrant Valentine Khubeyeva, who was killed in the crosswalk on Powell Boulevard at 133rd Avenue on December 13, 2013.

“I happened to be going past the accident site just after it occurred,” recalled Marks. “As I said at the ceremony, when I get discouraged I think of her, and it reminds me that I want to make sure that I can do all I can to make sure that that does not happen again. And it’s the God’s honest truth.

“I don’t always feel like we are making progress,” Marks went on. “But we have to keep fighting.”

Although his second term assignment with AmeriCorps VISTA will end August 2016, Marks said he plans – even if only as a volunteer – to keep helping with the 2016 DMA Festival of Nations.

“I could just walk away, because of all the work that needs to be done to make that event happen,” Marks reflected. “It does require a lot of effort. But we gave the area such a big lift last year, and we want to make it bigger and better this year.”

Learn more about the DMA, a Neighborhood Prosperity Initiative project, by visiting their official website: CLICK HERE.

© 2016 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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