Word is Bond Walking Tour Project

By Kris McDowell

Word is Bond is a Portland-born, Black-led nonprofit started by Executive Director Lakayana Drury in 2017 that works to empower young Black men as they transition from boys into adulthood and find themselves navigating a world that provides very few answers to unlocking their highest selves. During Black History Month (February), they hosted their annual walking tour project, In My Shoes, that highlighted the stories and experiences of young Black men across Portland. 

The uniquely curated tours reflected the rich diversity of Black stories and experiences of the communities. The tours were led by Community Ambassadors sharing their stories and the history of the neighborhood; they also addressed topics of race, class, community investment, gentrification, community safety and equity. 

The “82nd Street” tour went through the Montavilla neighborhood, led by ambassadors Noor and Mubarak who touched on their upbringing in the neighborhood being Muslim and Black. Noor invited participants to view growing up in the neighborhood from his perspective, one in which he called the neighborhood “home” but one that others have called “dangerous.” He shared the ways he reminds himself that his home is safe to be in. 

Mubarak, Somalian and Ethiopian, showed the group spaces where he finds windows of what feels like home to him. From the Mosque to a Somalian food spot, he explained what it has been like to fight against Islamaphobia and shared where he has found safety from that hate.

The walking tours are designed to create opportunities for community members to learn about the experiences of young Black men around Portland, creating a dialogue around racial equity and inclusion, as well as a way for their Community Ambassadors to become more engaged in their community. 

In addition to creating their tour, Community Ambassadors are required to conduct a walking audit of their community, attend two neighborhood association meetings and present the findings from their audit and community meetings to an elected official to help improve conditions in their community. They are a part of the next generation of Portland leaders with aspirations, ideas and courage that this program helps cultivate.

The Community Ambassadors are all in their first year of the organization’s Rising Leaders program and have had training in public speaking, leadership development, community dialogues and more. They attend public, private and alternative high schools across the region and come from many different backgrounds including African-American and African-immigrant communities. The walking tours are a requirement for their advancement into their second-year rank in the program and will be followed by a trip to Washington, DC this month to learn about public policy and tour Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

In addition to the tours that happened in February, private tours can be scheduled throughout the year on a sliding pay scale for organizations and businesses. A month’s notice for private tours is appreciated, but they try to be flexible and accommodate shorter time frames. The location of the tours is dependent on the availability of the ambassadors in each neighborhood; generally, private tours occur in the Albina neighborhood, giving an overview of the history of its Black residents past and present.

The organization is also in the process of hosting a 5k community tour in September. Planning is in the early stages, but they are hoping to have one that goes through downtown and showcases transportation of Black community members in the area. For more on the organization and details on the September walk as they develop, visit mywordisbond.org.

Photo by Elle Hygge

Word is Bond Walking Tour Project

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