To Portland With Love

December 22, 2021

In 2020, at the age of 14, Isabella Hanson was inspired to launch a national poetry competition on Black Lives Matter. Powered by Gucci, Isabella’s “I Matter” poetry contest drew participation from students in 26 states. The top poems and art were made into a compilation book honoring the lives of Black people killed in 2020. This project followed her 2020 Juneteenth Celebration, which she hosted to bring racial healing to the community at the historic Fussell House – a site which helped lead over 2,000 slaves to freedom. Isabella is an Honor Roll student at Kennett High School in Pennsylvania. She holds a leadership role in her school’s Diversity Club and is a Youth Founder of the National Youth Foundation. She is a member of her school’s track team, Model UN and Humanitarian Club. In her spare time, Isabella takes sewing lessons, is a member of Live Like Blaine Leadership Academy and GirlGov.

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(Isabella is welcomed in Portland by students/Photo courtesy of Isabella)

As I boarded the plane at JFK Airport to head to Portland, Oregon, I was filled with a bit of angst.  The purpose of my visit was to speak with local students about my international poetry and art project.

I was anxious because the theme of my contest, the I Matter competition, is about social justice and equality.  When I was conducting research on Oregon, I had sadly learned that in 1844, all of the Black people were literally ordered to leave the state.  The exception to the racist law was for slaves. Slaves were permitted to stay for three years if they were female and for two if they were male. If they refused to leave, they could be severely whipped every six months. As a young Black female, this information made me hesitant about visiting Portland. In contrast, there was so much positive news about Oregon and specifically about Portland being a wonderful place to visit. The articles described it as one of the friendliest places in the world.  The question I faced was, “Did that hospitality and kindness extend to people of color?”

My first official stop in Portland was at the Boys and Girls Club of Portland Metro’s Oak Grove Center location. I do not know if words can adequately express the level of kindness I was met with from the staff and students.  The students had made me a beautiful sign that expressed the gratitude that they felt for me coming to visit them. The kind and supportive words on the sign melted my heart. There was an incredible current of positive energy as I began to meet the students and staff. The School Liaison Manager, Ms. Laurel Clohessy, even made me a colorful painting with the beautiful trees that Portland is known for.  She also painted three very powerful words onto the painting – Black Lives Matter.   

From the Portland International Airport to the Boys and Girls Club and the historic Portland Saturday Market, I was greeted everywhere with an exceptional level of kindness. At the Saturday Market, I was able to meet so many awesome people and buy the most beautiful lavender soaps. 

I also purchased a really cool cat-nip toy that my kitten Ivy absolutely loves. The people I met were all deeply interested in learning more about “I Matter” and with helping me to spread the word about the competition. Overall, my trip to Portland was amazing, and I learned that the people of Portland are very kind, genuine, and totally wonderful.

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