By Rob Cullivan | CNA Editor
When most people walk up 42nd Avenue toward Killingsworth Street next to the track and field that graces Fernhill Park, they see an empty grassy lot where both John Adams High School, then Whitaker Middle School, once stood.
When Clarence Larkins, however, looks at that lot, he envisions a vibrant community center that creates dozens of new jobs and where recreation and education can be offered.
Someday, Larkins wants to see P.O. Black Family Village on the site of the lot, and notes the “P.O.” stands for Portland, Oregon. He adds that “Black” in the village title doesn’t mean it exists solely to serve the African American community, but rather to honor Portland’s Black residents, many of whom have historically called Northeast Portland home.
“It’s for everyone,” he says of the proposed center, adding the name highlights the fact both the former schools and the Cully/Concordia area itself was— and still is—home to a large number of Black residents, even after many were displaced by gentrification in recent decades. “I just want African Americans to be represented in a way that we haven’t been,” Larkins said.
The empty lot has been considered for other purposes since the WhitakerAdams site was demolished, including a safe rest village for houseless people that eventually was rejected. Larkins believes in the wake of heightened social consciousness created by the Black Lives Matter movement, now is the time to seek both private and public funding for the village.
On Jan. 18, Larkins said he and other project leaders got good news when Prosper Portland, an economic and urban development agency, indicated it was interested in P.O. Black Family Village. Larkins added that he also has to discuss any plans for the site with the Portland Public School District, its owner. He welcomes any community support for the project, and urged possible donors to learn more about the proposal at StraightPathInc.org/po-black-familyvillage.
As Larkins sees it, P.O. Black Family Village would serve the Concordia and Cully neighborhoods and particularly serve the area’s growing population of younger people. He noted, for example, that Las Adelitas, a 142-multi-family affordable housing structure, opened last fall in Cully, and he wants its residents, as well as other Cully and Concordia families, to have options for their growing children.
“Our people need some place where the kids can be off the streets,” he said. “Already I’m seeing them gather on the streets with no place to land.”
Among the amenities at the center would be a trade school—possibly operating in conjunction with alreadyestablished construction education programs—a recreation/community center, a performing arts center, a library and retail outlets.
“Every building in our plan is named after local African Americans who have made significant contributions to the livability of the Portland community,” the site plan states.
Long time coming
Larkins is a longtime Portland resident and former president of the 42nd Avenue Business Association. His office is located right across from Fernhill Park, next door to MeRae’s, a hair salon operated by his wife, Marie.
Since 2009, Larkins has directed Straight Path, Inc., an organization that works with businesses and other service providers to offer ex-offenders and other marginalized adults job placement, ongoing training and support, and career advancement.
Straight Path holds job fairs and offers support not just to folks with criminal records but also to people experiencing homelessness and looking to stabilize their lives, people undergoing or who have completed drug rehabilitation, at-risk high school juniors and seniors, and underserved veterans.
As Larkins sees it, P.O. Black Family Village is simply expanding on his overall vision of a Cully/Concordia community that looks after its residents.
“The work that we do is about love of families and a positive future for our children,” he says.
CNews Editor Rob Cullivan is a veteran journalist, publicist and grant writer who has written about everything from rock ‘n’ roll to religion. He possesses a deep affection for writers and photographers who hit deadline.