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Jamal Dar HD 46 Spotlight

HD 46 Spotlight on Black Leadership & Black Futures – Jamal Dar, AYCO

The history and leadership of Black Portlanders shape our city and our future every day. During Black History Month, we’ve asked a few of the Black leaders in HD 46 to share a little about themselves, their work, and their vision for the future.

Jamal Dar, Founder and Executive Director of the African Youth & Community Organization (AYCO)

What are you working on right now?

A lot! AYCO empowers newcomers in the Metro area to connect with service providers and emphasizes community-based services and creating leadership through mentoring and athletic development.  When I came to Oregon as an immigrant and refugee from East Africa, I didn’t have many mentors throughout my high school and college, academically or athletically, especially as a Black youth.  When I started AYCO in 2009 we worked with 6 boys, and that number is now over 6000 students!

I want to talk about who we serve and why.  Our community is farthest from health, education, housing, employment, and technology.  We face poverty and discrimination based on race and religion.  That’s why we exist and why we serve.  Until we reach the goal that our community is not the farthest from health and well-being, we have so much to do.

One of the biggest things I am working on right now is the development of our Dream Center.  It was a horrifying moment when we were displaced from our old location at a time when we were serving over 20,000 immigrants every year.  We were so grateful to the legislators who uplifted our community and helped us find a new home, especially Rep Khanh Pham, Sen Michael Dembrow, and Sen Kayse Jama who were able to direct federal funding our way.  We learned through this that we can dream big and build our Dream Center.

Our recent fundraising has enabled us to pay off our initial $2 million loan in only 8 months and to completely own our current location – we have the deed!  Now the work is to develop the inside as a technical center, including solar energy and EV charging stations to create a clean environment and a model for our community on 82nd and for HD 46.  Our leaders and our community make us proud and we will make them proud.

What do you like about living or working in Portland’s HD 46 and what would you change?

I love this area. I’m very connected with 82nd.  82nd is a very diverse community and you feel like you belong here. I think the challenge is to take this area to the next area, to make it safe and friendly to youth, family, and elders of all backgrounds, races, incomes.  We are walking distance to everything, all these small businesses and schools.  My vision as a leader and as someone who can impact our community is to send a message that we are here and not going anywhere.  Our work is to translate our mercy, love and care for our neighbors into our cultural identity.  We can create a better 82nd to leave for our next generation.

As a leader and organizer in this time in our collective history, where do you draw inspiration or hope from?

Simple. When I look at the support from individuals who share our same vision, in our legislators’ offices, in our district, and see this shared vision of making our community stronger.  I have hope being part of a community whose members and leaders believe that when any of us have a dream to make something better we can translate that dream into a reality for our community.  I want to invite everyone to support that work with us too – stop by, volunteer with us, send a check, support any of our five different programs, help us complete the Dream Center.  Every penny counts.  Help us sustain our dream!

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