PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Ahead of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, community members have organized a gathering at Portland Public Schools’ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School Friday to fight against gentrification and systemic racism, which the school’s PTA said threatens to dismantle the historic school.
As a result of Black student-led efforts, the NE Portland school became one of the nation’s first to be titled in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. after his assassination in April 1968.
While the school has been home to generations of families within the historically Black Albina neighborhood for over 50 years, the Portland Public School Board has considered it as a potential location to move Harriet Tubman Middle School, another historically diverse school that is also facing relocation.
“Our grandparents weren’t allowed to live anywhere but in Albina, and by now they’ve driven most of us out,” PTA President Tiffany Robinson stated in a press release. “Dr. MLK Jr. School is one of the last homes we have here and now they’re trying to shut it down.”
PPS is actively looking to relocate HTMS over growing health and safety concerns for students, which have been exacerbated by plans to widen the Interstate 5 freeway even closer to the school.
PPS has viewed dozens of locations within the area, including MLK Elementary, but has admitted that none of those options have met the board’s criteria for the HTMS relocation.
Despite this, the school’s PTA told KOIN 6 News they are still concerned, as their community has witnessed continued shifts and merging of predominantly Black schools.
“In this community, we don’t want schools to be moved which are predominantly Black,” PTA Vice President Tyler Brown said. “With Oregon being a historically white state, we feel that we need to preserve what the Black community has fought for and continue to use our voice to uplift the schools that need to stay in our community.”
Both Robinson and Brown told KOIN 6 News they did not think it was a coincidence that the two diverse schools named after Black leaders are both undergoing potential forced transitions.
“Pitting two historically Black schools against each other just doesn’t feel right,” Robinson said. “Especially when these are some of the only predominantly Black schools left in our community.”
As the PTA president and mother of children who are third-generation MLK Elementary school students, Robinson said this is about more than just a building.
She told KOIN 6 News if the transition is approved the move would not only displace hundreds of students and staff – but it would also dismantle generations of family and community.
“For me, like a lot of our Albina community, we have been displaced and we have been moved out,” Robinson added. “Dr. Martin Luther King is a family, so with them targeting us – and this not being the first time – it just feels like they’re trying to take our home away from us, when you already took most of the black communities our homes away.”
“It feels like the city doesn’t want us here anymore,” Brown added, “And if PPS decides to move Harriet Tubman and MLK, it will feel like PPS doesn’t want us in the community either. Our kids have to have somewhere to go. We need to preserve our historically Black schools.”
The PTA said they don’t want HTMS or any other school to have to be displaced, and they would prefer PPS build a new school if needed.
Brown added that for his children’s sake, protecting historically Black schools is critically important to their wellbeing.
“It is important for me that they go to predominantly black schools and that they’re able to see themselves not only in the reflection of the name of the school but also in their staff and peers,” Brown explained. “I feel like it’s equally important that the board understands how vital that is for African American kids.”
Community members, students, staff, and families gathered to show support at the school located at 4906 Northeast 6th Ave. just after 3 p.m. on Friday.
In a statement to KOIN 6 News, PPS Chief Operating Officer Dan Jung said, “At the moment, PPS is beginning to review potential options for relocating Tubman and has begun community engagement sessions. Ultimately, the decision to relocate Tubman will be made by the PPS Board of Education.”
He added, “No time table has been established as to when this decision will be made, and many discussions need to take place before a decision can be made. PPS values and will rely upon the input of all impacted community members before making any decisions.”