This black-owned Portland business will disappear without your help.

Members of the Lodge in front of the food cart pod under renovation on Mississippi Avenue (Intisar Abioto)

Last month we announced the Portland Independent Chamber of Commerce. Today we are sharing our first call to action.

One of the last remaining black-owned businesses in the Mississippi neighborhood needs the community’s support to stay open. The Sons of Haiti Masonic Lodge is raising $7,000 to expand the capacity of their food cart lot, and to bring it into compliance with city code. Without these funds, they’ll lose their property. Integral members of the neighborhood will be displaced. If you’re concerned about the effects of gentrification in Portland — and North Portland in particular — this is an opportunity to help.

Donate now. Then, please spread the word.

(Your donation is tax-deductible. They have $6,095 to go.)
(Update: goal reached in one day. Thank you so much. With $10,000 the Lodge can buy new tables and benches.)
(Update: $10K goal reached in a week.)

Here’s how the project came to our attention. Alex Mahan, a local web developer, saw an article and suggested the cause could use PICOC’s support.

We spoke with John Bryant, Grand Master of the Masonic Lodge and a TriMet bus driver, and Stephen Gomez, a board member of the Boise Neighborhood Association. They shared their progress and outlined how PICOC could help. We determined the project met the criteria we set for ourselves, and that we hope to uphold moving forward:

  1. It has a concrete goal ($7,000) that, with your help, is achievable in a month. This money will go to renovate the lot’s sidewalks, install lighting, and build proper storm drainage.
  2. It is spearheaded by the local community. In addition to involvement from the Boise Neighborhood Association, it includes local investment: the Portland Development Commission is contributing $40,000 to this project from their Community Livability Grant fund, and nearby Mississippi businesses have pledged more than $15,000, led by Brian Steelman, owner of ¿Por Qué No? Taqueria.

Here’s what we’ve learned to give the story some context.

John Bryant’s parents moved to Portland from the south, following the promise of opportunity in the Pacific Northwest. The Bryant family lived in Vanport. His father worked at a foundry, and his mother as a maid. In the early 1950s, not long after the flood, the Portland Realty Board reversed its racist policy that disallowed members to sell property to blacks. A couple of years later, in 1954, a group of African-American Freemasons came together to buy the building and create the lodge.

In 1990, the African-American population in the Boise neighborhood was 82%. In 2010, that had decreased to 22%. This isn’t surprising considering that Portland now has the highest gentrification rate in the country. Most of these displaced residents of color have moved eastward:

“Displacement is a real issue,” says Stephen Gomez. “Sometimes it’s hard to know, ‘How can I make any difference?’ The Association realized we can make a difference in this one case. Talk is cheap. This is something tangible. That’s why we’ve rallied.”

Lodge volunteers serve food to the poor and needy during the holidays. They provide underprivileged children with school supplies throughout the year. They offer affordable space for community events. When a neighbor dies, they mobilize their members to attend the funeral, carry the casket, and comfort mourners. They have been the stewards and caretakers of their neighborhood for more than fifty years. Today they are asking for our help in return.

Once the site renovations are complete, the Lodge will accommodate five carts, up from the previous two. It will double its income, reach sustainability, and increase its impact in the community.

“This is a piece of history,” says Bryant. “They call this historic Mississippi Avenue. But this is one of the few historic sites left on this entire street.”

Support the The Lodge if you believe, like we do, that it, its members, and the businesses it supports deserve a place in Portland’s future.


Update & Ask:

A week after this post went up, the Sons of Haiti met it’s $10,000 goal (and then some). To all of you who supported it: thank you, from the bottom of our hearts. We are looking for suggestions for future monthly projects that benefit Portland commerce and community. Please send ideas to hellopicoc@gmail.com or tweet us your ideas @hellopicoc.

Stay tuned for what happens next:


Thank you to photographer Intisar Abioto (you can find more photos here), John Bryant and members of The Sons of Haiti Masonic Lodge, Stephen Gomez and the Boise Neighborhood Association, Alex Mahan, Troy Campbell and the Portland Development Commission, and PICOC’s supporters.


PICOC Housekeeping: Here is our website. Join our mailing list to be notified of the next month’s call to action. Follow us on Twitter. If you would like to tell us about a project that would be a good fit for our monthly call to action, tweet a link with the hashtag #picoc and we’ll be sure to take a look. As always, you can reach us at hellopicoc@gmail.com. Also, this.