Neighbors decry Menlo Park graffiti, vandalism

Find out why Menlo Park Elementary parents and area neighbors gathered, and discover the action steps they laid out …

Here at Menlo Park Elementary, in the Hazelwood neighborhood, parents and neighbors meet to discuss vandalism at outer East Portland schools.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

The idea was to hold a “Community Dialogue and Vigil” on the evening of October 2, in the Menlo Park Elementary School Cafeteria – to condemn acts of vandalism and graffiti at four David Douglas School District (DDSD) campuses.

Enthusiasm for the vigil part lagged, but the community dialogue had the wholehearted participation of about 40 neighbors and parents of students at the affected schools.

Unite Oregon Communications Manager Lisa Loving says she is glad to see so many people come to help address problems at the schools.

“This community dialogue was in response to graffiti and vandalism at Menlo Park Elementary, Mill Park Elementary, Ventura Park Elementary, and Lincoln Park Elementary Schools,” explained Unite Oregon Communications Manager Lisa Loving.

“Not long ago, apparently two men burned down a portable restroom, and left racist graffiti on the wall of a school,” Loving told East Portland News. “And, then over the weekend, three more elementary schools in the DDSD were hit with graffiti, and it’s thought to have been put up by the same two men.”

DDSD and community leaders sat in with the neighbors to learn what was sought as long term plan to address hate crimes.

The attendees gathered into two facilitated groups, and talked about their feelings about what happened, and their ideas for how to address these issues moving forward.

Debby Smith, concerned DDSD resident, parent and Instructional Assistant at Menlo Park, listens intently and seeks clarification on positions taken by others in her group.

Both groups were asked to consider three primary questions:

  1. What do you need from the community to feel safe?
  2. What do you need from your school to feel safe?
  3. What do you need from your school district to feel safe?

About community safety, one of the groups reported back that an “inventory of resources, organizations, and elected officials” as a quick reference for who residents can contact would be helpful.

East Portland Neighborhood Office Executive Director Victor Salinas (standing far left) listens, while facilitating a group.

Feeling safer at and around school could be accomplished through bulletins and emails sent home to inform parents; but one participant commented that greater parental involvement was needed.

Providing an “open door counseling service” for community and students when incidents like these happen could also be useful, it was pointed out.

It was suggested that DDSD can help by continuing to celebrate diversity in the district they serve; and by providing faster turnaround for interpretive services to get letters to parents translated more quickly.

Outer East Portland neighbor Marge Crawford reports back to the general assembly about their group’s ideas.

A consensus opinion by the other group was that “moving away from, and separating yourself from [those that caused the damage], is bothering us,” the group’s spokesperson reported. “Finding a way to engage with those people, and get them to be part of the community and understand the effect of their behavior on the community would be helpful.”

Group facilitator Babatunde Azubuike (standing far right) listens to presentations.

Another suggestion was the development of community activities for children with parents and families with children, and even more importantly, it was stated, for households without children – to help everyone feel welcome and part of the school community.

“It takes connecting with one person at a time,” a participant said. “You can send flyers out, but you need to go talk to people; that one-on-one connection is important.”

After the meeting, many participants linger to network.

The idea is, it was explained, once people in the neighborhood enjoy connecting with their neighbors, they’ll feel like they’re working together to create a positive community.

The threat of a downpour cancelled the vigil, but judging by the number of participants who stayed and networked afterward, the meeting’s purpose seemed to be met.

© 2017 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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