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Young Gifted and Black/Brown (Y.G.B.) spotlights and shares community for Black and Brown Portlanders—a reminder that Portland’s perpetual “white” narrative leaves out entire groups of people living, working, and creating here. Started in 2015 by Natalie Figueroa, Vaughn Kimmons, Renée Lopez, and DJ Lamar Leroy, the group’s name came from a Nina Simone song, “To Be Young, Gifted and Black,” and kicked off with a dance party. Or as the group sees and feels it, the healing space.
While their mission began with music—Y.G.B has also curated for Portland’s My People’s Market—the group has grown into artist advocates and a uniting voice for the city’s marginalized communities. We spoke with Y.G.B. organizer RaShaunda Brooks about the group’s impact now, and how it might expand in the near future.
What kinds of stories has Y.G.B found to be shared among its community?
The Black and Brown communities that existed before us had a rich history; yet, so many families were pushed out. Those who are still here grapple with ways to keep their communities alive. Gentrification has swallowed up a lot of Portland, and this is also reflected across the nation. As the art/creative scene grows, many companies source Black and Brown talent, but don’t help them access community outside of their work life. The inception of Y.G.B Portland arose from the need to connect with people who look like us, share similar stories and backgrounds as us, and can share the experience of being Black or Brown. There is still a lot of community here! Whiteness is a thing, but people who look like us will show up for us.
Why is music integral to Y.G.B?
Music is such an innate thing; it resonates on many levels. Music is like breath. It’s always there and always connecting. It is a healer, motivator, truth, and conversation—literally, the vibratory frequency of language before words.
How does Y.G.B hope to address Portland's notorious reputation as "so white"?
We do what we can to change that narrative. Portland has so many (new) storylines, yet the one about “so white” keeps getting perpetuated. We come together to host many events for the BIPOC community, so people know their is space for them. Y.G.B also curates entertainment around the city, and one of our favorite events is My People’s Market (MPM). MPM is a biannual market that highlights entrepreneurs of color, and thousands of people attend. We’re amazed by the vendors and artists of color who attend and perform. We also enjoy doing things like this because it lets people know the BIPOC community is still growing, adapting, and finding ways to thrive. We want to reflect the beauty of the Black and Brown people we see here every day. If you keep sharing the story of Portland’s “whiteness,” then it erases the other forms of cultural expression that still exist!
We also reach out to the community in person and via social media by connecting with other organizations, businesses, and individuals that share a similar mission. We partnered with Gentrification is Weird, Deep Underground, and Friends of Noise in 2018 on an artists’ residency called Art Saved My Life #ASML. We received a grant from Metro and selected three BIPOC artists who were displaced by gentrification. We gave them a stipend, planned community events, and shared the artists’ work on social platforms. We also received funds from Regional Arts and Culture Council to host workshops and a retreat this November and December for women and femmes of color. We partnered with Dr. Montserrat Andreys of Heart Healthcare and other practitioners of color to curate these events. Collective healing is important, as is its continual expansion within the BIPOC community. We find different ways to support and uplift the Black and Brown community here.
If you keep sharing the story of Portland’s “whiteness,” then it erases the other forms of cultural expression that still exist!
What does long-term success look like for Y.G.B?
It’s working with other Black and Brown people who want to keep sharing stories, their art, and their lives. It’s cultural and financial expression with longevity. It’s space to keep showing up for people who identify as BIPOC in Portland and in other cities. It’s traveling the world and sharing the talent consistently showing up here. We want to have room to grow our business and community without major complications—to have the resources to do it. We want to continually share love, space, and resources, leveling up with those who are on a similar trajectory.
What role does personal expression play in fueling a community?
It’s top of the list! When people aren’t given room to express themselves, it breeds chaos and/or stagnation. So many people have been stifled, and they don’t ever realize their expression has been, too. We want to see people grow and become better versions of themselves. Personal expression takes time to cultivate, and when you are focused on survival, you often don't make room for it. How can you prioritize it when you are focused on how you will eat or where you are going to live? If your community is not doing well, it can be hard to focus on yourself. Not everyone in your community will support your personal expression, though. Sometimes, people just don’t understand or care to, but each person still has the right to it.