Ashland Sunrise Project continues Speaker Series: “What it means to Belong”

ASHLAND, Ore.- The Ashland Sunrise Project is continuing its Speaker Series with its second presentation titled, “What it means to Belong”.

The Ashland Sunrise Project is a part of the Oregon Remembrance Project, which aims to help former sundown towns develop new identities as sunrise communities. The Sunrise Project’s Speaker Series works toward that goal by providing platforms to educate, empower and encourage communities into becoming more racially inclusive.

Local Artist Micah BlackLight says getting that acceptance is easier said than done.

“I was taught a long time ago that there would be moments and people and energies and forces that don’t want me being me,” BlackLight said.

“What it means to Belong” is the second presentation in the Speaker Series. The presentation featured speakers such as BlackLight, Community Activist Cassie Preskenis, Founder of the Oregon Remembrance Project Taylor Stewart, and OSF’s Community and Engagement Manager Tara Houston. The presentation focused on the importance of black art in context to the approval of a “Say Their Name” memorial, which honors the lives of people of color killed by systematic injustices. Preskenis says even though past displays have been ripped down, they’re not standing down.

We’re going to put a permanent installation in this city, you know? We’ve been getting there, we’ve been going through this process and finding a ‘yes’ time and time again in the face of many ‘no’s and there is tremendous joy in that.

BlackLight designed a statue to act as a permanent monument after t-shirt displays at Railroad Park were vandalized multiple times. He says with a permanent installation that cannot be so easily ripped down, the black community can feel more heard.

Sometimes power can show up as just showing up and just being in the face of folk who don’t like you, who don’t want to know you, who don’t want to resonate and it can also be showing up in front of people who do love you.

Preskenis says once they brought the monument’s concept to the Ashland City Council, it was an easy vote for the councilors.

“It was a unanimous vote of approval for the installation and the city council stopped the meeting, they all stood up, and they, everyone in that room, I think, all the city councilors were crying,” Preskenis said.

Stewart says this memorial is just one step in the right direction, but the future always holds more. He says we have to consider how we represent the black community that live here and create a welcoming environment for newcomers.

“What can we do to create anchors and what can we do to create magnets that invite people into the community?” Stewart asked.

You can find out more about the Ashland Sunrise Project at Ashland Together.

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NBC5 News Reporter Lauren Pretto grew up in Livermore, California and attended University of California, Santa Cruz, graduating with a double major in Film/Digital Media and Literature with a concentration in Creative Writing. Lauren is a lover of books, especially Agatha Christie and Gothic novels. When her nose isn't buried in a book, she knits, bakes, and writes.
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