IME, Spiritual Life host Cameron Whitten for MLK Jr. event

Illustration by Sofia Reeves

On Feb. 16, the Office of Spiritual Life and Office of Inclusion & Multicultural Engagement (IME) held a Martin Luther King Jr. Week keynote event featuring Cameron Whitten from Brown Hope, a Portland-based organization.

Cameron Whitten founded Brown Hope in 2018, a non-profit dedicated to the prospect of a world of racial healing and hope. 

“Inspired by the words and legacy of Dr. King, Brown Hope’s wild dream is that the seeds we plant will flourish to the fruits of justice, healing and love for every person, every community in the entire world,” Whitten said. 

Brown Hope launched their first program, called Reparations Happy Hour, in May 2018. This made headlines all over the United States and sparked national conversation. 

The Reparations Happy Hour started as a small $5,000 fund, but within 29 days became a million dollar fund and up to this date has raised and distributed up to $3 million dollars for Black Portlanders. 

Later, Brown Hope launched their second program Black Street Bakery, partnering with Black bakeries in Northeast Portland. Northeast Portland has historically been a central place to the Black community, but due to gentrification of Northeast Portland in recent years, the Black community is at risk of displacement. 

 “Blackstreet Bakery was created in 2018 to serve as a jobs program that provides extensive training, creates good jobs, and combats poverty for Black Portlanders through plant based baking,” the Brown Hope website states.

Brown Hope also started the Black Resilience Fund (BRF) which, since its launch in June 2020, has raised over $2.5 million for Black Portlanders. Brown Hope believes BRF demonstrates the power of hope and action by building community and spurring  reparations-inspired action, which gives directly to Black Portlanders.

Whitten emphasized that the mission of Brown Hope is to foster community beginning with the individual and culminating in systemic change.

Brown Hope aims to act as a bridge between people from different backgrounds to inspire action and a world of healing and justice. This is reflected in Brown Hope’s core values 

Healing Justice and planting seeds of change.

Gabirel Huerta ’22, who is the volunteer project leader for the Center of Social Change and Community Involvement, has worked with the office since fall 2019, when it was called Student Leadership and Service. He worked with Brown Hope over this past summer through their Racial Justice Internship and suggested that Whitten be this year’s MLK keynote speaker. Huerta appreciated how many people came to the event, especially since the event was over Zoom. Huerta also said he was happy that students asked Whitten how they could get involved with Brown Hope.

“The best way to get involved is just go to the website and do the volunteering because they will really put you wherever they need you, they are always in need of volunteering,” Huerta said. 

The Center started partnering with Brown Hope at the beginning of this year, but have yet to work with them in person. Huerta also encouraged attendees to get involved with the Center and start attending more of their events. 

Towards the end of the event, Whitten encouraged Lewis & Clark to make their own reparations. 

“We should celebrate everything that we have done as progressive people,” Whitten said. “All of the positive steps forward that we’ve done with the arc fit towards justice. We also need to look in the mirror and acknowledge that the benefits of our progress have not been equitably shared.”

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