Category Archives: Stories

Perspectives. Trends. Lifestyles

5 cool things about being on FLUX Magazine staff

By Josie Fey

As writers we try to create a picture with words, but this was the first time I’d had a photographer working with me to make the story really come alive. (Shout out to KJ!) It’s cool to see these professionally produced pictures alongside your story. And it made me more conscious as I wrote other pieces about how images can enhance what you’re trying to say.

You’ll become a better writer
Your story is going to go through a few iterations. It might sting a little to revise, but I’ve had to challenge myself to accept criticism in the quest for a more effective narrative. I had the opportunity to step in as a copyeditor for other stories during the later phase of the editorial process. Reviewing work my peers had also been laboring over was illuminating as well: seeing clever turns of phrase or catching small details. It’s all combined to be a learning experience and I’m grateful for that.

I’m a graduate student, and a few (several) years older than other Flux staff members. So when I was first assigned to a writing and photography team I was a little nervous that they’d think I was a boring old lady. This was not the case. I had the good fortune to be teamed up with a couple really fun and smart people who never judged me for being born in the 80s. We’ve collaborated on stories and eaten tacos and sang karaoke together. They even told me I looked a few years younger than I am. So basically they are my favorite forever.

There are stakes
I have experience in the corporate world, where things seem pretty serious. The people I’ve worked with at Flux have been some of the most professional I’ve ever encountered. Our editor, Emily, has kept us on track. Our faculty advisor, Todd, has been there for guidance. And every single person on staff has put an honest effort into what they’re doing and taken suggestions for improvement in stride. I’m consistently impressed at how productive we’ve been and how much we’ve accomplished in such a short time. And it hasn’t required even one awkward conference call.

Pizza parties
This doesn’t really need any further explanation but everybody (I) loves (love) free pizza.

The power of youth

By Leanne Harloff

As a relatively young journalist, I learn something new about reporting and writing every day. No that’s not an exaggeration; be it during classes, an interview or a casual conversation with a friend in the field, I am always digesting new information about my future profession.

Each of these sources gives me unique, thought-provoking ideas to consider, but in general they all have one thing in common: they are adults. Each is older than I am with more experience either in the field or in the world generally.

I cherish this passed-along wisdom, but it wasn’t until working for Flux on a piece about 21 young Americans suing the U.S. government that I realized just how much we can learn from young people as well. Youth are incredible.

I faced this fact when I interviewed teens Miko and Isaac Vergun. They are high schoolers, struggling to meet deadlines and keep up with cultural events like the Superbowl, but they are also dialed in to the problems their generation faces. They are not blind to the important events happening around them, and they are definitely not going to sit by and let older people negatively affect their future. Their voices may be young, but they are not uninformed.

Of course, they are not alone in their fight. Their parents have helped guide them to a life of fighting to preserve the planet, but along the way the torch was passed to them.

Kelsey Juliana was the same way. Her parents instilled in her a zest for life that she has developed and used to help others. Her earnestness about her struggles and successes inspired me to tell her story. Talks with her are informative and full of empathy for humanity. She always made me want to listen.

These youth have made climate activism a defining part of their lives and their knowledge on the subject proves that. They each made the conscious decision to take a stand at a time in their lives when many of them are not even old enough to vote.

I realized in interviewing them that I wasn’t just searching for high quality quotes for my writing – I was learning, and youth were the ones teaching me for a change. They know more about the subject I wrote on than I ever will. But that’s part of what journalism is: listening and learning from those who know more than us, no matter their age.

Youth does not mean ignorance. This applies to the incredible sources in my story and it applies to Flux as a whole. We are students, we are young, but we know how to make our voices heard in an incredibly sophisticated way.

Working on these in depth stories has been difficult and time-consuming. It has led to frustration and elation all in the same day. But learning from my sources and from my fellow FLUXers has made every moment worth it. I am beyond excited for the day that I will hold a glossy copy of this year’s magazine in my hands.

I am still learning each day about how to develop my writing skills, but the intelligent young people who I talked to for my piece reminded me that, as the cliché says, age is just a number.

Growing together

By Matt Gatie

Flux is a capstone publication. It is honestly an honor to be placed among the ranks of some of the smartest, most articulate people I have ever had the pleasure to meet, let alone work with.

This year we took on the most pertinent theme we could, democracy. We pushed ourselves to represent a something so innately tied to our profession that often one cannot exist without the other. It was a huge undertaking but in this political climate I don’t think we could have chosen anything else.

As aspiring journalists we sometimes have grandiose ideas of changing the world. We imagine we fight the good fight for truth, for fairness, for a better society spurred by our prose. We hope to make an impact on the world playing our part in democracy.

Sometimes I don’t know if I subscribe to this. I feel indulgent. Have I created a phantom creed that idolizes the end goals without thinking about the in-between, the ethical choices, and the voices of the people we hope to inform. We certainly don’t have the trust of those same people. Has the perception of journalism changed because of our ambition? Maybe I am just young and idealistic in my pursuit.

I don’t know the answer. I won’t pretend to be able to understand the feelings of the electorate, or a pollster’s data on people’s trust in journalism. But I’m learning what it means to have ambition undercut by self-doubt and cynicism. Through Flux I’ve experienced sources letting me down. Community members have looked in disgust as I expressed to them my hopes for a career. I’ve sat with an empty in-box for days paralyzed with disappointment.

It’s difficult, but these experiences have made me realize I am finally beginning to pay my dues and gain the skills that will take me to that idealistic place. The very act of being ambitious and pushing myself to be part of a team I feel utterly unqualified for, has pushed me to be ok with the grandiose ideas of changing the world. As Todd would say, I’ve got to put in some reps, and then just maybe these grandiose ideas will no longer be ideas but reality. I am confident that the other FLUXers will get there, and maybe I will too.

Reporting on Occupy Medical

By Duncan Moore

Reporting on Occupy Medical was one of the most rewarding stories I’ve covered to date, yet also the most challenging. It was a difficult place to work, building up trust was a major component of the process and I found myself going for hours at a time without being able to take a single picture. Considering the clinic was only a block from my house, I was taken aback by the diversity of people who sought treatment there. I talked to former convicts, drug addicts, patients who had gone off their meds, and ordinary people who were just down on their luck. While it made for a depressing scene at times, the determination of the volunteers and the gratitude of the patients always won out in the end.

A chance to be inspired

By Kenzie White

One of the greatest gifts that FLUX has given me was the opportunity to meet the subject of my story – a young man named Mohammad.  He provided incredible insight into what life is like as an international student for my piece; however, he had so much more to tell. His story was so fascinating and complex, but not everything could fit in FLUX.

Mohammad is from a small town in Saudi Arabia. Even though I just met him and he’s from thousands of miles away, I felt like I’d known him forever. He has the widest grin and the goofiest sense of humor.

Although he has a youthful and happy demeanor, he’s faced deep struggles throughout his lifetime. His hometown was the very first city to be attacked by ISIS. He told me that the mosque where the terrorist group shot into the crowds still bears the bullet holes and the faces of the victims hang upon the walls, to serve as a reminder for citizens as they walk by.

Having experienced this trauma has altered the way Mohammad lives his life—but not in the way you’d expect. He is stubbornly optimistic, and infectiously so.

Despite the hurt his hometown has suffered, the uncertainty he faces as an international student, and a painful back injury, Mohammad continues to smile and radiate genuine positivity.  So thank you, FLUX, for giving me the chance to meet such an inspiring human being.

A peek into Art As Action

By Caitlin Howard

From the outside the warehouse is a non-descript unit in a suburban complex west of Eugene. The door opens into a triangular room with walls painted a clumsy punk turquoise. A woman named Etain is getting her makeup done while another chats with her. The main–larger and mostly empty–room is dimly lit. A smoke detector makes it hard to see. On the far side is a garage door that a semi-truck could fit through; it doesn’t even take up a third of the wall.

Tracy Sydor is at the camera with her husband, Rob Sydor. One of their children is asleep on a divan in the corner, the other is waving around an enormous American flag that is attached–upside down–to a long wooden pole. Rage Against the Machine’s self-titled album is playing, including the expletive lyrics to the band’s lead single Killing in the Name: “F*ck you, I won’t do what you tell me,” which Sydor had posted on her facebook page earlier that day with a teaser photo of the set.

“This is a political piece,” Sydor calls it. “And very dark.”

The set includes a backdrop of six or sevens boards painted a dark, eggplant brown. In front of them is a tall mattress covered in silky blue, red and white sheets. Next to the set is a handful of sharp daggers and swords of varying sizes and a loaded crossbow.

Sydor grabs the crossbow and slings it over the shoulder of Etain, who will pose as Judith.

“I love Tracy’s vision,” says Etain. “I’m a simple creature and I love waving weapons and screaming. There’s been so much angst recently, it’s great to have a vent for that.”

Her costume echoes revolutionary army garb: a black collared jacket with thick black buttons that run in two parallel rows down the front. The long skirt adds a feminine spin. She’s got dark eye-makeup and her natural red hair is shaved on the sides and styled in a way that mimics a mohawk. Sydor helps her settle on the bed and selects a dagger for her to use as she practices posing, ready to slice the head off of Holofernes.

“I don’t want you to do that though, that’s just the story,” Sydor says as she recounts the greater context of her vision.

As the clock nears 6 p.m. more and more women arrive. Although close to 50 people agreed to participate on Facebook, Sydor expects around 15-20 to show up. They each come with a white nightgown, into which they all hurriedly change. Sydor has prepared a gaudy white ceramic pitcher filled with mud from her yard for the ladies to smudge over their garments.

“I’m a friend,” says Brandi Wilkens, who is pacing anxiously as she awaits instructions from Sydor on her specific role in the photograph. “I don’t usually get in front of the camera but this seemed important enough so I wanted to jump in.”

One by one Sydor places the women somewhere in the scene as scythes, pitchforks and a broom get handed out to the models. The one and only man is laid back shirtless on the bed. One woman holds his head in place by his hair. Etain looms above him with a large dagger aimed at his throat.

“Who am I missing? Who am I missing?” she keeps saying, scanning the room and directing the stragglers.

When everyone is in place, she gets behind the camera, shouting orders and trying to make sure she can capture every individual face in the photograph.

“The idea is that you’re all here, you’re all beautiful and you’re all participating in this,” she says.

The camera begins to snap.

“Show me what pissed off looks like,” she shouts as she draws her head back away from the viewfinder. “Get mad.”

The women start to yell as their bodies lean forward toward the bed, weapons erect, the upside down flag billowing behind them.

Sydor continues to maneuver onto the set between shots to move arms and props so that she can see everyone in the shot.

“I know this is uncomfortable,” she says apologetically as she gets back behind the camera. “But it looks fucking sick.”

She gets the shot she’s looking for in no time and everyone releases. The women are giddy with success and mill about the room looking for their clothes and belongings, giving hugs to one another and, especially, to Sydor.

“The political season that we’re in is pretty powerful so you don’t get much chance to have a strong voice,” says Crystal Morrison about her participation in the shoot. “I take every opportunity that I can.”

FLUX, an experience

By Justin Whitmer

My experience in Flux is difficult to put into words, and yes, I am aware of the irony of that statement. As one of the younger Fluxers on staff – or, as Todd has affectionately coined me, a “cub” – the constant stream of first experiences has been intense. I never knew what it felt like, for example, to sit down in front of my laptop, geared up and ready to write, and then realize, “oh dang, hundreds of people are gonna read this,” and then totally freeze. Scary stuff for a cub. But hey, growing pains are part of the game, and they were more than offset by the sweet, ever-inspiring relationships I was privileged to co-create with such a marvelous group of individuals. With Flux being the pressure-cooker that it is, you would be hard-pressed to find a more poised and creative team than the one we have here to navigate the chaos with grace, grit, and professionalism. They move me, inspire me, and sometimes, they just downright spook me. They’re wicked smart, is what I’m trying to say. Two individuals in particular who have left indelible marks on the way I approach Journalism are writer, Josie Fey, and photographer, KJ Hellis, two of the most talented, sharp, and all-around hilarious people I have ever met. With Josie’s dexterity as a writer, and KJ’s knack for capturing humanity in a moment, my job working as an assistant reporter on our story, “Political Pioneers,” was a rich and generative experience that will hopefully culminate in a killer feature, but has already landed me a friendship that outshines even its sparkling prose. As a first-time reporter with a youthful tendency to seek out role models and integrate their gifts, I gotta say, I got spoiled with these two.

Portland Women’s March January 2017

Building Trust

By Josie Fey

Last weekend I attended the Association of Alternative Newsmedia’s AAN Digital 2017 conference in Portland. Co-hosted by Willamette Week and The Portland Mercury, the event brought together journalists, editors and students in alternative media from around the country to discuss new trends and strategies in the field.

That Friday happened to be the day of the presidential inauguration, so with the election fresh on my mind, I first attended a session about rebuilding trust in the media. It was co-lead by University of Oregon journalism professor Damian Radcliffe, and JoEllen Green Kaiser, Executive Director at The Media Consortium.

Both presenters gave a plus side: people are interested in what’s happening within their communities and still have faith in their local, alternative papers. However, it is the corporate, national media that are having trouble retaining that kind of trust.

But no media outlets are immune to the occasional side eye, and it never hurts to re-establish trust with audiences. Radcliffe gave us a few strategies to consider in pursuit of this goal:

  • Be willing to rethink the old philosophies of journalism – prioritize creativity over objectivity.
  • Actually put these new ideas into practice.
  • Be cognizant of the evolving consumption methods of the audiences you’re trying to reach.

All great ideas, but I couldn’t help thinking about the paradox we formed in our breakout session. Here was a group of journalists sitting together, talking about how to be more effective for  their audiences while inauguration protests were amplifying just a few blocks away.

The following day, two fellow reporters and I made our way to the Portland sister march of the worldwide Women’s March on Washington to join in solidarity and document the historic event.

We went straight toward the speaker’s stage to be close to the action, and pretty soon we were enveloped into a muddy crowd that had begun to stretch all along the river and into the city. The sheer volume of people and the intersection of activism blew me away. I was moved by the experience and wanted to keep up the momentum.

Once I got home and took stock of it all, I wondered – in this new paradigm, how can a journalist really connect with people? And then I thought back to what I’d learned in Damian’s session the day before: simply, be trustworthy.

So, how can we put that into action? Luckily, he laid out some tactics to support those get-people-to-trust-you-again strategies we discussed before:

  1. Focus on reporting stories that you won’t find elsewhere, so your audience knows you’re going the extra mile to keep them informed. Don’t do what everyone else is doing.
  2. Celebrate successes more! Step back when you’ve done something right and take stock in it. Use that going forward.
  3. Seek out partnerships with “unusual suspects.” Try collaborating on stories with other media outlets or organizations with whom you’ve not worked before. Don’t isolate yourselves.
  4. Don’t be afraid of solutions or advocacy journalism. The way we tell stories must evolve. Objectivity isn’t necessarily the standard by which you should continue to operate.
  5. Be transparent with your audience about your story development processes. Secrecy is out and engagement is in. Events are a great way to facilitate this (and perhaps raise money).
  6. Get creative about the ways in which you tell stories. Work with local visual or performance artists. Again, ask your audience what they’d like to see. Think outside the column.
  7. Label your content. Be explicit about commentary vs. news or the difference between sponsored content and native advertising. Not everyone is familiar with these terms, and people should know what they’re reading.

But there’s something I would add. When I got to the march and found myself shoulder to shoulder with thousands of people, I put away my voice recorder and notebook and just absorbed what was happening. I watched, and listened, and commiserated with my friends about the relentless rain. In other words, I was present. I did connect with people.

Being trustworthy, in the context of journalism, means prioritizing our role as a member of society before “getting the story.” So here’s my additional tactic for getting people to trust you: If you find yourself in the middle of a historical march, get off your computer and get on your feet. You can always write about it later.

Things Ain’t What They Used To Be

Albina was once the hottest neighborhood for jazz in Portland, where Etta, Louis, and Thelonious jammed late into the night. But then the bulldozers came and took the music away—along with so much more

Photos Andy Abeyta | Video Christina Belasco | Words Reuben Unrau

Commuters on bicycles cruise by a row of yoga studios, cafés, and craft breweries along North Williams Avenue in northeast Portland. Subarus and Toyota Priuses fill the parking lot at New Seasons, the local organic grocery store. Across the street, shoppers pop in and out of high-end boutiques that specialize in faux-leather bags, handcrafted toys, and vegan soap products.

North Williams runs through the Albina district, a modern-day haven for trendy urbanites, reflecting the hip identity that has put Portland in the spotlight in recent years. The city frequently finds itself near the top of national lists for being the most livable, the most bike friendly, and the best city for beer, luring young, college-educated progressives along the way.

But fifty years ago, “hip” in Albina took on a different definition. “Hip” didn’t come in the form of baristas or breweries or bearded bicyclists. “Hip” was the word to describe the music that rang inside the packed jazz clubs that once dotted North Williams Avenue. And for many of the African-American residents who used to make up the majority of Albina, “hip” has long since disappeared.

Businessman Paul Knauls stands in front of the location of the former Cotton Club. Aside from his jazz venue, Knauls has owned three other bussinesses and served as a community activist in the neighborhood, earning the title as “The Unofficial Mayor of Northeast Portland.”

Businessman Paul Knauls stands in front of the location of the former Cotton Club. Aside from his jazz venue, Knauls has owned three other businesses and served as a community activist in the neighborhood, earning the title as “The Unofficial Mayor of Northeast Portland.”

North Williams Avenue was the hub of all the late-night action in Portland—the epicenter of an integrated, around-the-clock spectacle of swing dancers, be-boppers, and street hustlers. The musicians of the 1950s and ’60s who came to play there affectionately called it “The Stem.” Clubs like Fraternal Hall, Jackie’s, McLendon’s Rhythm Room, and Paul’s Paradise lined the avenue and attracted such talent as John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, and Louis Armstrong. “It was happening,” says drummer Ron Steen, who launched his music career at the tail end of Albina’s jazz heyday during the 1960s. “People from out of town would come up and couldn’t believe the energy. They said they’d never seen anything like this in other cities.”

On a Wednesday night in late winter, Steen, 65, wearing his graying black hair in a ponytail, has just finished performing at Wilf’s, a restaurant and bar in downtown Portland, about ten minutes across the Broadway Bridge from Albina. Sipping on coffee, he transports himself back to his teenage days learning jazz on Albina’s bandstands. He remembers seeing Bill Cosby smoke a cigar while sitting in on drums during late-night jam sessions at the Upstairs Lounge. He remembers the night he learned how to play softer after being scolded on stage by legendary soul diva Etta James. “Stop playing those damn drums and give me a backbeat!” Steen recalls her saying. He remembers frequently ordering a steak and eggs plate for $3.50 before walking home in the early hours of the morning.

As fond as Steen’s memories are as an up-and-comer in Portland’s bustling black entertainment district, he also remembers when those famous clubs and businesses in his neighborhood disappeared. “It’s all gone now,” he says, shaking his head. “They tore it all down.”


Drummer Ron Steen stands outside the Arabella Salon on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Fifty years ago, this was the location of the Upstairs Lounge, a popular jazz club where Steen spent his teenage years learning drums at late-night jam sessions. Today, he lives a few blocks from here and says that he barely recognizes the community he grew up in. “It was an all-black neighborhood, and now I’m the only black dude around. I live smack dab in the middle of Portlandia.”

The rise and fall of the African-American community—and with it the once thriving jazz scene in Albina—is an ongoing story of segregation, urban renewal, and gentrification. It’s a story that began decades before the first notes of jazz were ever played along North Williams Avenue.

During World War II, Portland established itself as one of the nation’s largest shipbuilding industries, attracting thousands of African-Americans to the city from the South to find work at the Kaiser shipyards. According to In Search of the Racial Frontier: African Americans in the American West, between 1940 and 1950 the city’s black population skyrocketed from 1,931 to 9,529, but finding housing after the war proved to be difficult. Realtors refused to sell property to blacks in predominately white neighborhoods under the notion that “negroes depress property values,” according to a 1957 report by the City Club of Portland. As a result, roughly half of the entire black population of Portland was squeezed into Lower Albina, a two-mile area centered along North Williams Avenue near the Steel Bridge.

1969 Apr_17-23 N Russell Street (RS-4-8)_A2010-0031971 Dec_540-42 N Knott_slide 28_A2010-003

Throughout the 1940s and ’50s, black-owned businesses began sprouting up in Albina, including the famous jazz clubs that became the go-to destination for entertainment. Despite Portland becoming one of the most segregated cities in the northern United States, music acted as a unifying force between races. “The people who went there went there for the music, and that was the common denominator,” says Robert Dietsche, a jazz historian and author of Jumptown: The Golden Age of Portland Jazz, 1942-1957. “They didn’t realize what they were doing, but they were on the cutting edge of integration.”

James Benton, a prominent jazz singer better known by his stage name “Sweet Baby” James, owned a one-of-a-kind venue in Albina where people of all races came together to dance the night away. His house on the corner of Northeast Shaver Street and North Williams was known as “The Backyard”—a renovated, makeshift nightclub with soundproofed walls, two pianos, and thirty-nine chairs taken from an abandoned movie theater. In the back, two barbeque pits cooked up the best in soul food—“pig tails, neck bones, black-eyed peas, and greens,” as Benton puts it. For local jazz luminaries like Mel Brown and Bobby Bradford, “The Backyard” was a launching pad used for pre-show rehearsals and post-show jam sessions that swung till six in the morning. “Everyone wanted to come by there and show their stuff,” Benton, 84, says in his home nestled in the woods of Scappoose, Oregon, about a half an hour north of Portland. “It never mattered what color you were. Music was our thing and it was all the time.” Today, Benton’s house serves as a museum that tells the story of Albina’s musical history. Polaroid photos cover the walls, revealing the faces of the musicians, club owners, and hustlers that roamed the streets during the 1950s.


Singer James Benton, known onstage as “Sweet Baby” James, listens to a record in his home in Scappoose, Oregon. On the walls, hundreds of photos tell the story of Albina’s jazz history.

While Albina fostered a community of prospering black-owned businesses and a bustling nightlife, city planners had different ideas for the area. Throughout the 1950s and ’60s, cities across the nation began a wave of urban renewal projects that aimed to revitalize inner-city neighborhoods. For the Portland Development Commission (PDC), Albina was one of those areas. In 1962, the PDC justified its actions for re-development in the Central Albina Study by stating that “urban renewal, largely clearance, appears to be the only solution to not only the blight that presently exists in Albina but also to avoid the spread of that blight to other surrounding areas.”

Businessman Paul Knauls moved to Portland from Spokane, Washington, in 1963 to fulfill his dream of opening a nightclub. He arrived in the city at a time when Albina had already experienced significant renewal. Massive development projects such as the construction of the Minnesota Freeway (now Interstate 5) and the Veterans Memorial Coliseum uprooted more than 500 homes and businesses in Lower Albina. Lil’ Sandy’s, Portland’s largest blues club where B.B. King performed, was just one of the notable locations demolished in the process.

Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 3.51.41 PM

“City Council says, ‘We got to get them out of here, that’s going to be big development,” says Knauls. “They run a freeway through your community, then you got to move out. You have no options when they just move you out.” As residents relocated, so did the music and business hub of Albina. Six blocks northward, on the corner of North Russell and Williams, the new heart of Portland’s African-American community emerged.

Knauls’ first business venture came to fruition in 1963 when he opened the Cotton Club just three blocks away from North Russell and Williams. Named after the iconic venue in Harlem, Knauls’ Portland offshoot soon became the hottest spot in town for live music during the 1960s. Among the famous faces seen inside his club were Etta James, Sammy Davis Jr., and boxer Joe Louis. At the end of many nights, Knauls, sharply dressed in a suit and fedora, would jump on stage and announce: “You’re at 2125 North Vancouver Avenue. It’s the only club on the West Coast with wall-to-wall soul. You don’t have to go home, but you got to get out of here!”

“Music is our basis for life,” he says. “Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights—those were our nights to party. We worked for lower wages than our counterparts, but when you get paid, it’s time to celebrate.”

After the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, business at the Cotton Club started to decline as racial tensions rose. The integrated clientele that once filled Knauls’ club most nights stopped showing up, and in 1970 he sold his venue. Today, where the club once stood, sits a dilapidated, vacant warehouse locked behind a chain-link fence.

However, throughout the 1960s, Knauls and his wife, Geneva, had established themselves as the neighborhood’s most prominent black business owners. They operated two other popular businesses, Geneva’s Restaurant and Lounge (“known for the best soul food west of the Mississippi”) and Paul’s Cocktails, a pool hall and bar. Before long, though, Knauls experienced firsthand the impact of a new urban renewal project that would once again take down the heart of the African-American community.

In 1971, the PDC launched the Emanuel Hospital Urban Renewal Project, which required seventy-six acres of land between Russell and Ivy Street for a widespread expansion. By 1975, the PDC had purchased and demolished 188 properties (158 residential and 30 commercial) including Paul’s Cocktails. Affected residents received compensation—$4,000 for renters, $15,000 for homeowners—but were left to find housing on their own.

Today, on North Russell and Williams, at the site of the projected hospital expansion lies an empty patch of grassland. The project lost funding and was never completed.

Since moving to Albina, Knauls has witnessed more than just the disappearance of Albina’s jazz scene. On his fingers, he can count the few black-owned businesses that have remained in the neighborhood. “From repair shops to record stores to dry cleaners—everything you can think of that makes a community go, that’s all gone now,” he says.

Ron Steen, who got his first professional drumming gig at Knauls’ Cotton Club when he was 15, says that many significant locations from his upbringing have disappeared, too: The house where he was born on North Williams Avenue; Slaughter’s Pool Hall, a teen hangout popular for its jukebox; and the grocery store where his mother worked for thirty-four years.

“It was devastating,” Steen says of Albina’s changing landscape. “To me, that was like a death in the family.”

1971 Aug_Emanuel Demolition Burns_slide 37_A2010-0031971 Jun_Commercial properties on N Williams and N Russell_slide 34_A2010-003

Today, Albina is again under development, but this time projects are materializing. On North Williams Avenue, cranes on construction sites tower over the street where new, high-rise condominiums are beginning to take shape. While Albina during the 1960s and ’70s was defined by large-scale land clearance and resident relocation, a new wave of transformation is taking place. Gentrification—the divisive urban process in which affluent, typically white residents and developers move in and repurpose lower-income areas—is the latest chapter in Albina’s makeover. Community leaders in Seattle, Washington D.C., and San Francisco have been dealing with this issue for the last twenty years, but a February 2015 survey by Governing Magazine shows that gentrification is accelerating the fastest in Portland.

Karen Gibson, associate professor of Urban Studies and Planning at Portland State University, says cities have an incentive to gentrify. Bringing in more affluent people to a neighborhood stimulates local economy, reduces crime, and revitalizes commercial areas. Property values rise as well. While median home values city wide have increased 36 percent between 2005 and 2015, home values in Albina have risen nearly 60 percent, from $249,000 to $395,000 in that same span, according to data from Zillow. Developers look at neighborhoods like Albina with dollar signs in their eyes, but many tenants can’t afford rising rent costs, and moving out is their only option. In 1970, African-Americans made up 60 percent of the Albina population. In 2010, they comprised just 20 percent. And for the longtime residents who have remained in redeveloped areas like Albina, certain aspects of their community have been lost forever.

“You lose culture and people start to feel a lack of belonging in their own neighborhood,” Gibson says. “Your community changes so much that it’s a sense of loss. Some feel their history is being erased.”

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Despite decades marked by bulldozers and accelerating rent, the spirit of old Albina lives on for Paul Knauls and Ron Steen. For the past twenty-four years, Knauls has owned Geneva’s Shear Perfection Barber-Beauty Salon on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Albina. Now 84 and a recent widower, Knauls still wears a gold chain and his signature white captain’s cap; he still answers phone calls and greets customers with a smile spread ear-to-ear. In the back of the barbershop, where his son Paul Jr. cuts hair, a “Wall of Fame” holds dozens of framed photos of iconic musicians, athletes, and celebrities who have visited the various businesses he has owned in Albina throughout his life. A large sign for “House of Sound,” an old record store where he used to shop, hangs on an adjacent wall.

Knauls admits that business at Geneva’s has suffered over the years as Albina’s black residents have relocated to the eastern fringes of the city. “The same person that used to walk by here to make an appointment doesn’t walk by here anymore,” he says. “That person lives in Gresham and Troutdale now.”

In conversation, though, Knauls frequently lets out a burst of raspy laughter and returns to the fact that he is “blessed.” He is blessed to own his building; otherwise, he wouldn’t be able to afford the higher rent. Perhaps more importantly, he is blessed to maintain a strong core of faithful customers who have kept his barbershop alive.

Armetrice Campbell, an Albina resident who moved to Portland from Paris, Texas, in 1990, has been one of those loyal customers. While her son, Jadarian, rests his head on her shoulder, Campbell explains that Knauls’ barbershop is more than just a place to get a haircut. “It’s one big family,” she says, sitting in a barber chair. “If Geneva’s goes away, then pretty much part of our black community is gone.”

Across the river from Knauls’ barbershop, Ron Steen is proving that the “power, beauty, and mystery” of jazz that enraptured him as a boy is still alive within him. At Wilf’s, his trio swings along to a medley of upbeat be-bop and tender ballads. During his drum solos, he plays with the same fervent spirit reminiscent of his Cotton Club days—his eyebrows rise over his glasses and he shouts as his cymbals crash in exclamation. Steen consistently plays at least three shows a week all over the city—Wednesday nights at Wilf’s, and two Sunday shows at the Augustana Church and Clyde’s Prime Rib. Playing in the moment and accepting the spontaneous changes that occur throughout a song are crucial elements of jazz, and for Steen his opinions on the transformation of Albina throughout his life aren’t too different. “For every advance you make, you lose something in the process. That’s just the way it is,” he says reflectively after the show. “But what makes you a human being, what you have in your head—that can never be taken away. You can give it up, but no one can take it from you.”


Steen drums during a performance at Wilf’s Restaurant and Bar in downtown Portland. Despite Albina’s sweeping transformation, Steen still performs in clubs across the city. “Music is bigger than I can ever tell you,” he says. “There might be all this racism and discrimination, but up here on the bandstand everybody’s equal.”