Giving Thanks: Celebrating Distinguished Portlanders

November 16, 2009 · by pcriadmin · PCRI

“Today we eat, we celebrate, and we honor people,” said Maxine Fitzpatrick, opening a celebration November 12, 2009, at Portland’s Urban Plaza.

Maxine Fitzpatrick, PCRI Executive DirectorFitzpatrick, Executive Director at Portland Community Reinvestment Initiatives (pictured at right), praised the day’s honorees: “in their own unselfish ways [these people] have contributed mightily to the livability and the fabric of this great community.”

A full crowd packed into–and spilled out of–the Urban Plaza conference room where PCRI honored Oregon State Senator Margaret Carter, Judge Aaron Brown, Jr., and posthumously recognized PCRI resident Corene Harris.  The luncheon also celebrated recently-completed renovations of the residences and common areas of PCRI’s Urban Plaza building at N. Russell Street and N. Williams Avenue.

Mrs. Harris, the afternoon’s first honoree, was celebrated by Fitzpatrick and by Harris’ niece, Pamela Bates.  Both Fitzpatrick and Bates both recognized Mrs. Harris’ courage and strength.

“The first thing that came to my mind about my Aunt Corene was courage,” Bates said.

TGregory Brownhe luncheon also honored Judge Aaron Brown, Jr..  Though he was not able to attend, Gregory Brown, his son (pictured at right), and attorney Ernest Warren, Jr., spoke on his behalf.

The younger Brown shared stories of Aaron Brown, “the man, not the judge” who offered wise paternal advice like “Get rid of those California tags,” after his son moved to Portland from California.

Warren, on the other hand (pictured below left with Fitzpatrick), remembered Aaron Brown, the attorney and judge, and shared history milestones of Oregon’s first African-American judge.  The milestones Warren cited included Judge Brown’s graduation  from Northwestern School of Law in 1959–four years after another famous Brown was in court: Brown v. Board of Education.

Ernest Warren, Jr., and Maxine FitzpatrickTen years later, Aaron Brown made history as the first African-American judge in the state of Oregon.

“And that’s big,” Warren remarked.

Judge Brown was a bit more humble about making history.  In a conversation that Warren recounted, he stated, “That’s no big deal.”

The celebration continued by honoring another of Oregon’s first:  State Senator Margaret Carter.  In 1984, Carter became the first African-American woman elected to the Oregon Legislature.  She continued her legislative career, moving to the State Senate in 2000.  Carter portraitEarlier this year she retired from her Senate position and now serves as Deputy Director for Human Services Programs at the Oregon Department of Human Services.

Before Carter took the podium to describe her challenges as Oregon’s first female African-American legislator–and her determination to deflect crude jokes and criticism for future public servants–Roy Jay took the podium to offer his praise.

“If you’re not at the table, you will become the appetizer,” Jay said, recounting a comment spoken by Carter.  Jay shared stories and thanked Carter for advocating for traditionally under-represented communities–in essence, bringing them to the table.

PCRI Project Manager Travis Phillips followed Jay and Carter, offering his own praise of the Senator including her work to preserve the units of affordable housing at Urban Plaza as well as the history of its namesake tenant, the Urban League of Portland.Aaron Brown, Jr. & Corene Harris

After the crowd dispersed and the lunch dishes were cleared, the spirit of the honorees lingered.  Newly-commissioned portraits of Mrs. Harris and Judge Brown (at left), unveiled at the celebration, will soon join the existing portraits of Senator Carter (above left) and other influential individuals on the Russell Street face of the Urban Plaza building.

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