Portland teams celebrate Black History Month through advocacy

Illustration by Faith Gallegos

For years, Portland has celebrated Black History Month with vibrant festivals such as the PDX Jazz Festival and the Cascade Festival for African Films. But this year, with the COVID-19 pandemic shuttering many famous local celebrations, the city’s professional sports teams have decided to get creative and do their part to fill the gap.

The Thorns, Portland’s two-time National Women’s Soccer League champions, and the Portland Timbers, Major League Soccer’s 2015 champions, can be seen wearing special edition warm-up tees inspired by their mission to “Educate, Elevate, Engage.”

The Thorns and Timbers are selling their Black History Month tee in the team stores, with all proceeds benefiting KairosPDX, an award winning, Black-owned nonprofit dedicated to enhancing educational equity in early childhood and beyond.

Timbers star forward Jeremy Ebobisse, who also plays for the U.S. Men’s National Team, has been heavily involved in the Timbers’ Black History Month proceedings for years. Ebobisse and his teammate Eryk Williamson encourage fans to never stop educating themselves on Black issues, both current and past. In an interview with Timbers.com, Williamson noted that any dialogue about Black history and culture should be focused on Black voices such as Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and James Baldwin. Both players make it a personal tradition to get involved in local Black History Month traditions every year.

Ebobisse also advocates for the centering of prominent women of the civil rights movement, who all too often seem to be left out of the discussion.

“That is the next progression in broadening our understanding of African American history in our country: empowering the female voices of the past,” Ebobisse said. “Because they were at the forefront of the civil rights movement, and they continue to be at the forefront of Black Lives Matter and all these movements that are promoting equality and bringing black people up.”

Both of Portland’s soccer clubs have also come together to sponsor educational programming designed for young kids to critically engage with topics concerning race and racism.

One such program is conducted by A Kids Book About, a Black-owned media company that is hosting a series of panels with Black authors Kohen, Jelani Memory and Jordan Thierry, on IGTV. These award-winning children’s authors will be hosting two programs, A Kid Asks About Racism and A Kid Asks About Black History Month.

The Portland Trail Blazers are also frequently involved in social and racial justice in the local community. Blazers star Damian Lillard was an active leader in this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests in Portland, leading marches from Revolution Hall across the theMorrison Bridge.

Blazers Guard CJ McCollum hosts a talk show series titled, “ReMaking America: A Conversation with CJ McCollum,” that was featured in a November 2020  Pioneer Log article.

McCollum aims to raise community awareness for racial issues, while also encouraging his fellow athletes to speak up on inequality.

The Trail Blazers are hoping to support the causes of their players, organizing virtual celebrations of Black History Month during their games against the Washington Wizards on Feb. 12, and against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Feb. 20. The game against the Cavaliers will focus on Black health issues in partnership with Moda Health.

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