"Transformation" Mural Brings the CCC Story to Life

Jul 30, 2019

The mural is located in the second floor lobby of Blackburn Center.Baba Wagué Diakité fills in a pattern. Portland artist Kendra Larson assisted Wagué throughout the project.Ronna Neuenschwander, a professional artist represented by Froelick Gallery and Wagué's wife, worked by his side and was a constant presence throughout the entire mural project.

"Transformation" is a wall-length mural in CCC's Blackburn Center, designed and painted by Baba Wagué Diakité, and partially funded by Regional Arts and Culture Council. The mural is based on the stories of CCC clients and staff. Click on a photo to begin the slideshow.


The walk up the steps from the main lobby of Central City Concern’s (CCC) Blackburn Center to the second floor is an exercise in slow revelation. “Transformation,” a new mural created for Blackburn Center by renowned Portland artist Baba Wagué Diakité, is positioned at the top of the stairs to meet all visitors — less a gatekeeper and more a welcoming party.

Upon the very first stretch of the upper floor wall that comes into view, it takes a second to register the figure of a vibrantly colored tree, evaporating any expectation of a sterile, sparse waiting room. Your eyes can’t help but trace left to follow the procession of animals large and small, winged, scaled and legged. Bright music notes pop out from what you quickly realize is a mostly black and white, wall-length mural of a fantastical scene framed in earthy gold.

As you reach the top of the steps and approach the wall, you notice the impossibly intricate patterns that fill in the animal outlines. Only now do you find a mandala of words: “hope,” “caring,” “journey” and “joy,” among others. And as much as you want to press your nose up to it, you feel similarly pulled to take several steps back to take the entire mural in at once.

There’s no wondering what would be said if this wall could talk. This one proclaims the CCC story.

Months before Wagué first laid his brush to the wall, CCC Art Task Force volunteer Alice McCartor came across a Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC) grant intended to support projects that invite the community to participate, including underserved communities. With the Art Task Force — an all-volunteer group of community members who procure donations of and curate fine art to beautify CCC buildings — already in the thick of procuring art for Blackburn Center, Alice immediately saw a golden opportunity.

“I thought a mural here could be a good match because RACC makes an effort to bring art to the public in multiple ways,” Alice shared. “I could envision many people walking into the clinic — people who don’t have easy access to galleries or the museum — and being able to see fine art in a mural.”

There’s no wondering what would be said if this wall could talk. This one proclaims the CCC story.

The rest of the Art Task Force agreed and began discussing local artists whose style and experience would be right for such a project. Wagué, whose work and reputation as a writer, illustrator, ceramicist and muralist is eclipsed only by his truest artistic identity as a storyteller, quickly became the group’s first choice.

Growing up in Mali, Africa, the power and magic of stories settled deep into Wagué’s bones as he listened to stories told by his grandmother and village elders. These stories often depicted animals as the characters to represent our human foibles, our strengths and our resiliency.

As an established artist, he developed a storytelling program called “What’s Standing on Your Soul?” that allows participants to exchange ideas based on their own lives. What better person, what better way, to bring to life a mural based on and in CCC’s community of clients who receive support to find stability and wellness, as well as the staff who offer that help?

“I first learned of CCC’s work when an artwork of mine was donated to the organization’s Healing Through Art collection a few years back,” Wagué shared. “I was absolutely humbled when I was approached about this project.” A few months later, RACC notified CCC that they would award the grant for a mural project.

CCC arranged three sessions for Wagué to facilitate his workshop: the first for a group of Old Town Clinic patients, the second for a group of CCC staff members and the last for staff members specifically from CCC’s Eastside Concern program, which would soon be absorbed into Blackburn Center to provide substance use disorder counseling and peer support services.

Over the course of a few hours, Wagué shared about storytelling’s capacity to connect and challenge, recounted stories he’d heard growing up in Mali and set the stage for participants to share stories based in their own experiences.

“It meant quite a bit for me to be a part of that,” shared Zibby, an Old Town Clinic patient. “To me, it meant that my story has value. It recognized my love for art.”

Though a skilled facilitator, Wagué knew that participants would have to meet him halfway to fully unlock the power of storytelling. “They have beautiful ambitions of many good things they want to accomplish, but I would have never learned any of that without them trusting me. So I’m grateful,” he says. “It was also evident how much pride they have in their daily progress. They are determined and grateful for the opportunity to become the best they can be. That really stuck out to me.”

"It meant quite a bit for me to be a part of [the storytelling sessions]. To me, it meant that my story has value. It recognized my love for art.”

At each session, Wagué was accompanied by his wife, Ronna Neuenschwander, an accomplished and well-known artist in her own right. She listened alongside Wagué, documenting phrases and narratives the participants shared. After the workshops, Wagué and Ronna reviewed her notes, identifying themes that emerged across the conversations. Then he got to work translating the collective story of CCC staff and clients into imagery steeped in Malian traditions.

“I focused on the positive direction people want to shape their lives toward, such as ‘being well and doing well in life,’ ‘being able to trust again,’ and ‘helping others so they will not experience what I went through.’

“Some things we heard are represented by words, others are represented with images of favorite animals and scenes of nature that have helped them through hard times.”

The resulting design was a sprawling, 30-feet by 10-feet mural, as bold in its entirety as it is delicate in its individual elements. Creatures of all kinds march, fly or catch a ride on others toward a lizard playing music.

“I wanted to include animals that are metaphors for the stories that they shared: in my culture, Elephant represents strength, Turtle represents courage and endurance, Hippo is the symbol of large vision, Birds are symbols of knowledge, Lizard represents welcoming and happiness,” Wagué explains. “All of them are carrying others on their backs, symbolizing diversity and acceptance. The bird’s nest shows nurturing and caring. The baobab tree carried on the back of the tortoise is the sturdy and long-living tree of life.”

Transferring the design on paper to the wall was a month-long endeavor that, like the best of stories, took a few unforeseen turns. Wagué and Ronna worked side by side nearly every day in June. They initially invited one other Portland artist, Kendra Larson, who wanted to learn about mural painting techniques.

“They have beautiful ambitions of many good things they want to accomplish.... It was also evident how much pride they have in their daily progress. They are determined and grateful for the opportunity to become the best they can be.”

As the weeks passed, many others came along to help, delightfully mirroring the caravan of creatures in the mural itself. Ronna recounts, “One of Kendra’s students was interested in helping, so he joined. Construction workers and electricians and CCC’s own tech people would comment on the job daily, explaining our mural to us as it progressed. Then they began asking if they could paint a little spot in the mural. We felt honored that they had taken on ownership of the mural and wanted to leave a visual mark of their hand in the building.”

Blackburn Center staff — in the building to prepare for the start of services— popped by between meetings and tasks, eager to fill in a pattern here, widen a line there. CCC’s Art Task Force volunteers joined in, too. Wagué hadn’t set out for the painting to be a totally communal task, but he and Ronna readily embraced it. “Many helping hands involved in the mural to me is a symbol of love and harmony and the mural itself is now a monument of our accomplishment together.”

No Blackburn Center staff member would take credit for more than the tiniest contribution, but the opportunity to make a mark colored how they view their own experience at the new program.

“Many helping hands involved in the mural to me is a symbol of love and harmony and the mural itself is now a monument of our accomplishment together.”

“I painted one tiny orange circle and one tiny blue circle,” says Lydia Bartholow, Blackburn Center’s Associate Director of Behavioral Health. “But painting these circles felt very much to me like my involvement in the overall Blackburn project: there was a larger vision that centered the stories of our clients, and I was lucky enough to get to contribute to something much larger and more beautiful than myself.”

Dalando Vance, a peer case manager for Blackburn Center Apartments, shares, “I felt a great deal of gratitude. Even though the part I painted was super small, I got a feeling of empowerment and togetherness.”

Wagué made his final dabs and strokes on June 28. Since then, scores of staff members, clients and community partners have stopped in their tracks in the second floor lobby, pausing to interpret the images for themselves. Often, what they hear is their own story spoken back.

Alice, the Art Task Force volunteer who first set this project in motion, couldn’t be more pleased. “Wagué's story-telling process, his resulting design and his welcoming of all comers to share in painting the mural is just what we hoped for — a joyous reflection of the healing process at CCC for and by clients and staff.”



CCC Public Policy Mid-year Update

Jul 23, 2019

In December 2018 Central City Concern’s (CCC) Executive Leadership Team and the Board of Directors approved the 2019 CCC Public Policy Agenda, intended to guide our public policy and advocacy engagement efforts. Since then, CCC has sought engagement opportunities for staff, clients, residents and patients that aligned with the agenda. Dozens of staff and nearly 100 current and former clients have participated in advocacy activities across local and regional efforts, Oregon’s 2019 state legislative session and the 116th Congress and federal administration.

During the first six months of the year the state legislative session has dominated our public policy team’s attention; we reviewed and tracked more than 40 bills through the legislative process. Dialogue about any of our policy focus areas often circled back to two main issues: affordable housing and the needs of communities impacted by the criminal justice system. For example, the State of Oregon is currently working on a waiver update to the substance use disorder 1115 Medicaid waiver. When this effort was initially announced in January 2019, housing was not part of the expected changes; seven months later, we expect supportive housing and better engagement with reentry populations for the purpose of improving access to substance use disorder treatment.

Our public policy team, other staff and clients have also participated in a number of legislative activities since the beginning of the year:

City of Portland passed the Fair Access in Renting (FAIR) ordinance

  • Two CCC staff members attended regular meeting for seven months to support the crafting of this legislation
  • CCC’s Flip the Script program staff and participants provided public testimony and a joint letter of support during the council’s review of the legislation

Multnomah County Budget hearings

  • 100 clients and former clients from the Recovery Mentor Program, Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD® program) and Puentes attended to advocate for substance use disorder treatment, mental health care and housing investments
  • Eight clients and former clients provided direct testimony to county commissioners

State legislative session

  • CCC staff, clients and program alumni took 31 meetings with 14 of the 17 legislators that represent CCC programs/properties and sent in more than 140 emails to senators and representatives
  • CCC’s Health Service Advisory Council, a group of current patients, sent a budget letter seeking more funding for behavioral health and palliative care
  • Staff and clients participated in four lobby days with our community partners at, the Housing Alliance, Partnership for Safety and Justice, Oregon Primary Care Association and Oregon Council for Behavioral Health
  • Staff provided public comment at five committee hearings to advocate for palliative care, supportive employment, opposing criminalization of homelessness, supportive housing and self-sufficiency/wraparound services for families on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  • Significant state budget and policy changes for which CCC advocated include:
     
    • – $334 million in new revenue for Oregon Health Plan
    • – $13 million to increase reimbursement rates for behavioral health
    • – $54.5 million capital and rental subsidy investment for permanent supportive housing
    • – $20 million for TANF recipients to access stable housing, employment and behavioral health services in addition to standard TANF benefits
    • – Substance use disorder was declared a chronic illness to support more health focused responses over criminalization
    • – 1% increase in the Oregon state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for low-income families
  • CCC sent in letters to the federal registry opposing federal administrative changes that will hurt our communities

    • Public Charge: CCC opposes the federal government changing its policy on how low-income immigrant communities can use social services, including access to urgent care clinics and food stamps. While the “public charge” rule has been in place for several decades, the current administration seeks to make it even more penalizing for community members to seek assistance in times of crisis. We believe the current rule is burdensome enough and doesn’t need to increase targeting of low-income communities.
    • Mixed Status in affordable housing: CCC opposes evicting immigrant families from subsidized housing. Current rules prohibit non-citizens (including immigrants in the US with legal status) from using housing benefits. The current rules allow for parents of citizens or spouses of citizens receiving housing benefits to also reside in the same home. The current administration seeks to remove allowances for families to stay together in the same household even if the non-citizen member is not receiving the housing assistance directly.

    CCC advocated for some bills, including SB 179 for Palliative Care and HB 2310 for supported employment, that were not successful this session and we are committed to continuing the work needed to make these services available to those most in need. In the big picture, we saw great movement toward solutions for the communities we serve during this first half of the year.

    There is always more work to be done and more advocacy that will be needed to secure the future we know our communities deserve. For the remainder of the year we will stay focused on our priorities, including the Coordinated Care Organizations (CCO) 2.0 roll out, funding for Community Health Centers in the federal budget ($1.68 billion), ensuring equitable access to housing developed by funds from the Metro Bond, additional improvements to our criminal justice system and the statewide strategic plan for improving access to substance use disorder treatment.

    As we move forward, we aim to involve friends and supporters of CCC even more in our advocacy work! Check in regularly with our newly refreshed Advocacy and Public Policy page to find out what we're working on. You can also sign up below for our periodic advocacy emails to learn about ways to get involved, including attending meetings, contacting elected officials and spreading awareness about the legislative issues that affect those we serve.   

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CCC Partners with The Oregon Clinic to Welcome People Home

Jul 18, 2019

A message from Westbrook Evans, Central City Concern’s (CCC’s) Volunteer Manager:

On Tuesday, July 9, 2019, nearly 300 people gathered for the grand opening of CCC’s Blackburn Center, a six-story facility where many residents of East Multnomah County will receive housing, health care and job services. Just the day before, employees from The Oregon Clinic (TOC) stayed late into the evening, volunteering their time to prepare for new residents by making up rooms and writing thoughtful welcome cards placed in each unit. We are so thankful for TOC staff who organized a bedding drive, volunteered their time, and donated extra items to make this project happen.

For many people who move into the Blackburn Center, it might be the first time they have a place to call their own in quite some time. Thanks to the donations and hard work of TOC volunteers, new residents will get more than a plain bed and a clean room. Not only did TOC donate bed linens for all 175 single residence occupancy and studio apartments, they also organized a drive to collect towels, handwrote welcome cards, and provided 155 hours of volunteer time to sort linens and make up the rooms. They brought their friends and family to volunteer and donated other items like hygiene and laundry supplies.

     

As we celebrate Blackburn Center’s grand opening in CCC’s 40th year, I want to recognize our partnership with TOC. In 2016, TOC made a commitment to community service by becoming an Oregon Benefit Company and, in 2018, chose CCC as their partner. TOC recognized that the lack of affordable housing and health services strongly impacts their patients, staff and the Portland community, and chose to team up with CCC to make an impact.

TOC staff have supported us in a variety of ways: they attend our fundraising events, organize donation drives, volunteer their time and even bring their families along! While the official partnership began in 2018, the earliest record I found of TOC donating supplies for our clients was in 1991. It is quite exciting to recognize that for more than half of CCC’s time serving Portland, TOC has been a valued supporter.

     

Just in my short time with CCC, I have seen the massive impact various TOC projects have had, including a pots and pans drive, back to school supplies donations, and most recently, preparing Blackburn Center. I recently had the privilege of getting to know several TOC volunteers and was especially moved by those who stayed late or returned for another day of service, brought extra donations, and asked for other ways to get involved. When I saw TOC CEO Scot Gudger breaking down boxes with his staff, I knew that TOC values a culture of service and giving back, all the way up to their top leadership. I was very honored to work on this project and can’t wait to see what amazing idea they come up with next to serve our clients and our community.

     



CCC Celebrates the Grand Opening of Blackburn Center!

Jul 16, 2019

On the afternoon of Tuesday, July 9, Central City Concern (CCC) welcomed nearly 300 community partners, funders and friends of the organization into our Blackburn Center in East Portland for a grand opening event.

The day marked a celebration of the building's completion, the start of services, the incredible breadth of partners and funders who made this possible, the impact Blackburn Center will make on the lives of thousands of people, and the tremendous amount of work that has gone into the project. Blackburn Center is the final and flagship project of the Housing is Health initiative.

As CCC's President and CEO Dr. Rachel Solotaroff reminded the guests, everything about Blackburn Center points back to the people we serve. "This beautiful space is a testament to the dignity and potential each person we serve holds, with an elegant and elevating environment to prove it," she said.

Blackburn Center is located at the corner of E Burnside and 122nd Ave.      CCC President & CEO Dr. Rachel Solotaroff opened the program.

Julie Smith, an apprentice laborer who worked on the building for Walsh Construction, shared her story, revealing that she had herself received CCC's services to find the path of recovery and stability. Working on the building that would serve thousands of people on similar paths as her own was so meaningful, she said.

Ed Blackburn, CCC's president & CEO emeritus after whom the building is named, reflected on what the services we offer here will mean to those we serve. Pain and hurt would enter through our doors, yes, but healing and hope would be shared back out into the world.

Other speakers included Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, Metro Councilor Shirley Craddick, and representatives from funders Portland Housing Bureau, Corporation for Supportive Housing, U.S. Bank, Oregon Housing and Community Services, Oregon Health Authority and the Hazelwood Neighborhood Association.

Representatives from each of the six Housing is Health initiative partners, who came together to provide a trailblazing $21.5 million gift to fund Blackburn Center and two other affordable housing projects, spoke as well: Adventist Health Medical Group, CareOregon, Kaiser Permanente Northwest, Legacy Health, Oregon Health & Science University and Providence Health & Services - Oregon.

Julie Smith spoke about CCC's recovery and housing services crucial to helping her find stability. She was the event's honorary ribbon cutter.      Ed Blackburn, CCC president & CEO emeritus, was instrumental in bringing the six Housing is Health partners together under a common cause.

The first two floors of Blackburn Center are a community health center that will eventually serve 3,000 people each year with comprehensive and integrated primary care services, mental health and addiction treatment care, employment assistance, housing resources and a pharmacy.

The third floor is the new home of CCC’s Recuperative Care Program (RCP). Since 2005, RCP has offered respite care to 30 people at a time, offering medical care, case management and housing to people discharged from local hospitals with nowhere else to go and heal. With their move to Blackburn Center, RCP can now care for up to 51 people. Mental Health RCP will start in the next month, while 10 beds for people in palliative care will be added in the future.

Blackburn Center also includes 80 units of alcohol- and drug-free transitional housing on the fourth and fifth floors, and 34 permanent homes on the sixth floor. Integrated resident and health support services will help residents stay housed and in recovery.

Ankrom Moisan Architects, Inc. did an award-winning job on the design of the building; Walsh Construction Co. brought it into touchable, walkable, livable reality.

Thanks to all who joined in our journey to open Blackburn Center. And now we get to the real work of helping people find home, healing and hope.

Learn more about Blackburn Center’s services here. View the complete set of photos from the event here.