Tag Archives: Jack Tafari

A brief history of the Out of the Doorways campaign, part one

“Until lions have their history, tales of the hunt will always glorify the hunter” – Professor Frederick W. Hickling

The Homeless Front was a company of equals, considered the best we Portland homeless had to capture our first piece of public land on a cold December day. Not all of us are pictured here — Grandma Jada might have been sleeping in her teepee when this photo was taken. We were radical and militant fi true. We were old and young; black, white, and red; Rasta, Muslim, Christian, and Atheist. We were also freezing cold and fed up with the way things were. It was the first year of a new millennium and we wanted to begin a new beginning.

We were the frontline soldiers of the Out of the Doorways campaign. The housed side of our campaign had urged us to wait until we’d finished writing our mission statement before taking our first site but we already knew our mission. The Street Roots story said “Out of the Doorways by Christmas.” We were coming in from the cold.

“On December 16th of the year 2000, a group of eight homeless men and women pitched five tents on public land and Camp Dignity, later to become Dignity Village, was born. We came out of the doorways of Portland’s streets, out from under the bridges, from under the bushes of public parks, we came openly with nothing and no longer a need to hide as Portland’s inhumane and Draconian camping ban had just been overturned on two constitutional grounds. We came armed with a vision of a better future for ourselves and for all of Portland, a vision of a green, sustainable urban village where we can live in peace and improve not only the condition of our own lives but the quality of life in Portland in general. We came in from the cold of a December day and we refuse to go back to the way things were.” (DV Archive http://www.dignityvillage.org)

Mek I fling a likkle back-story inna de mix. My name is Jack Tafari and I came to Portland via Salem, Oregon, in February 2000. I‘d recently come to live inna ‘merica from England, the island of my birth. My daughter, who me love dearly, lives in Vancouver in nearby British Columbia.

In Salem I was unfairly dismissed from a new job that had taken over a month to find. By the time my dismissal was overturned thus allowing my claim for the unemployment insurance owed for over a year’s worth of eighty-hour weeks worked a state away, I was quite homeless, living inna doorway in Portland.

In Portland I found work vending the new street paper on the scene. Street Roots, “the paper for those who can’t afford free speech,” provided tremendous opportunities for its homeless vendors, not least of which was a warm and welcoming office with hot coffee priced at what each vendor could afford to pay. Street Roots also provided workshops in poetry, creative writing, taught basic journalistic skills and even welcomed contributions from vendors, many of whom live in the most wretched and appalling of conditions.

I began writing for Street Roots at first as a way to try to improve my paper sales, writing from my own experience about what was happening around me. My first dub poem “Introdukshan” saw ink there early in the New Year. I wrote about mi bredrin Winston who I met in Seattle a couple of years before and about HIM Haile Selassie I’s visit to Jamaica in 1966. Other poems and stories followed. Continue reading