In Her Own Words: Cyreena Boston (D) Candidate for Oregon House District 45
EDITOR'S NOTE: In the May 2008 primary races, Cyreena Boston won the Republican write-in vote and lost the Democratic primary.
I am running for state representative because I believe that the Oregon legislature can do some great things for my district, which is Northeast Portland, from Irvington to the Parkrose neighborhood.
This area is so geographically dense and diverse, the Oregon Legislature can help solve our community’s problems and make the district a much better place.
I am running with the belief that persons who have grown up in the neighborhoods they represent, have worked in the schools within their district, and have been frontline activists and who understand the historical legacy of their district can use the combination of experience and real-life perspective to make good laws to benefit the district.
As a young African-American who has grown up in the district and has worked on issues of human and health services, I have also worked on organizing and building better partnerships between the public and private sectors.
Our civic history in Oregon is not as entrenched as in other states. We have our own historical ills such as institutional racism, we’ve made mistakes and there are lots of things we can do better. Because our state is younger and we have westward forward attitude, our communities tend to band closely together for strong public interests. This city and our community have given me so much in terms of opportunities, and I’m really interested in giving back.
Focusing on issues
I see lots of issues facing this district, primarily around education, access to health and human services, and economic development.
Education is a huge issue because my district is served both by the Parkrose district and Portland Public Schools. While we have declining enrollment in Portland Public Schools, it’s interesting how class ratio sizes in schools in my district are increasing. Many classrooms have 30 students with only one teacher. I’m interested in addressing education issues in the way that the state formulates its budget for our school districts.
Another very important issue is providing support services for our teachers and classified employees, so they can do a better job teaching and supporting our students.
It’s important to me that certain programs receive funding to make sure our students receive a well-rounded education that will equip them to be more competitive in the workforce. What used to be part of what I consider as the traditional curriculum – fine arts and physical education – are now considered “extra-curricular.” Because of lack of funding, arts and physical education are scarce in a lot of our schools.
Over 20 percent of people in our district live below the poverty line, and access to human and health services is another important issue. According to Multnomah County, many of the people in our district live in environmentally hazardous zones. They’re exposed to air pollution, building decay, and other environmental hazards that prevent them from being healthy. In addition, there are serious health access inequities for seniors, people with disabilities, and persons of color. Many young people under age 35 do not have health care coverage or access to human and health services. Many can’t afford to pay for prescriptions or routine visits to the doctor. They’re spending $500 on an emergency room visit for the flu.
Economic development is also a top issue. Persons in our district are addicted to drugs, and are prostituting themselves or other people, and loitering in the streets strictly because they’re not skilled and trained in any particular job. Creating better partnerships between labor unions and apprenticeship programs, funding for skill centers and developing better partnerships with local small business will be a benefit to our district. For many young adults coming out of local high schools – Parkrose, Madison, Grant and Helensview – a four-year university education is not an immediate option. Making sure that our district continues to develop by having a skilled workforce is essential, so we’d like to offer opportunities for skills or apprenticeship training.
I also want to make sure that our district supports our small businesses, which have been a huge part of northeast Portland. Our district has a historical legacy of growing family-owned and operated small businesses that are closely woven into the fabric of our community.
I live in a neighborhood that is one of the most marginalized neighborhoods in our district. Up the street from where I live is the Sandy/82 nd intersection. The chair of my neighborhood association was told that he should move out of his apartment because the police said there’s nothing they could do about the drug sales and prostitution that are going on outside of his front door. There’s nothing they could do about the meth peddling that is going on up and down the street.
Part of our district is affluent, but completely poverty stricken in another. What is challenging is making transparent for persons living in more affluent parts of the district that providing human and health services for their neighbors 40 blocks away will benefit the entire district.
Being a young, black woman, I see the world from the critical lens of what women experience and what people of color experience in their everyday lives. When you come from a group that is underrepresented, you tend to look at things differently. When you come from that background, you don’t forget what it’s like to look at the world from the bottom up. When it comes to meeting people from opposing points of view, and people from different cultural backgrounds, I believe that I bring a certain ability to relate with and develop strong relationships with other people.
Being a black woman, I’m very interested in learning about the lives of people in my district, and how the Oregon legislature can help improve our community. I’m also not afraid to ask some difficult questions that people may take for granted.
There are serious issues that women of color face, especially in education and health and human services. For example, there are disparities in access to health care among women of color, and we tend to be diagnosed more frequently with certain forms of cancer. Rates of HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases are disproportionately higher in our communities. I personally know women who are struggling with these issues.
I also believe that women of color have to endure a lot more. We’re displaced because we’re women, and we’re displaced because we’re persons of color. We learn at a very young age that we will have to outwork anybody. I work harder and smarter, and afforded with a sense of resilience and integrity because I’ve had to constantly prove myself. In many ways, I feel like I’ve been running for office my whole life.
Designing mechanisms for public involvement
I believe that our district needs an adequate, real-life perspective. It’s important to create mechanisms of participation that work well for people from all walks of life. It’s important to design ways for the community to have input into their own legislative process.
By continuing to build better partnerships, we make sure that persons who have been underrepresented in public policy discussions have seats at the table at the very beginning. Not in the middle of the process, or at the end, when process doesn’t seem to have worked well. In Oregon, diversity is implemented in a reactive manner. People look at diversity numbers following an unpleasant outcome, to find out what went wrong. What went wrong is the fact that you didn’t get everybody on the table to find out their needs and seek their input.
Bridging the generation gap
One of the biggest problems facing Oregon is the generation gap. We have a generation of first-timers in the gay and lesbian, black, Latino, Native American and Asian communities who are the first from their community in positions of authority. When you’re a first in any arena, surviving and succeeding are beyond most people’s expectations. What has happened in Portland is that we have a generation of “firsts” in their sector to do extremely well and open doors for other people.
The gap between that generation and our emerging generation is awfully large. It’s important to build bridges, and making sure that we’re very deliberate in bringing emerging leaders to the forefront. I’ve learned much from the generation that is entrenched in the public and private sectors, while also empowering my peers to become leaders. There’s enough hard work to go around, and there’s enough successful results. Our generation is stepping up to the plate to bridge the gaps and share the responsibilities that are coming our way.