Darren Alexander moved back to Portland in 2003 after two years away. Only it wasn’t the same town he left. It was, as he said, a little bit meaner. There had been the murder of a homeless woman on the Steel Bridge. There had been the death of Kendra James at the hands of police, and a feeling that things were simply less friendly than when he had left just two years before.
So Darren works on his own world, the world of an artist and a writer, a volunteer in his community, and an avid reader and student of his surroundings. And, when he’s not doing all of the above, you’ll find him selling Street Roots at NE 15th and Alberta at the Alberta Co-op.
But the arts are his first love.
“I’m still working on artwork, taking art classes on Tuesday mornings and Thursday nights,” Darren says. “I’ve dabbled in it for years. When I was growing up, I wanted to be an architect, of all things. I drew buildings.”
Several of Darren’s works were featured in a 2008 exhibit at Warner Pacific College from artists at Julia West House, the homeless day and counseling center where Darren volunteers monitoring the shower schedule and computer use. It’s also where he takes his art courses. Some of the work sold, but what he’d really like to do is make money off of his writing — television screenplays for dark comedies and dramas. And he diligently keeps a daily journal.
“Most of it is what’s going on in my mind, and some it’s planning — for the day, for the month; future plans like attending film production classes. I want to work behind the scenes.”
This past October, Darren joined a group of volunteers with the Presbyterian Disaster Resistance and traveled to New Orleans to help in the ongoing recovery of the neighborhoods there. He worked with a crew helping replace a roof on a resident’s home.
“Five years after the disaster, people are still trying to get things together,” says Darren, who used to live in New Orleans and found the return rewarding. “It was starting to look better, it’s still a work in progress, obviously.”
Times are tough here, too, as Darren has experienced firsthand. Temporary work and selling the paper help get him by, but there are nights outside as well. And there are always the new faces at Julia West House and Street Roots.
Not long ago, Darren attended the Humanity in Perspective program, run by Oregon Humanities and Reed College. It’s a full academic year studying the Greek classics in the fall and contemporary American figures in the spring.
“One of my favorite pieces we did in the fall was read “Antigone,” plus I watched the play at Reed College’s Cerf Amphitheatre. I came away learning that I could do my part to help make things better, and also have a better appreciation of the classics.”