Sunday, June 12, 2022

The Exciting Question of "Now What?"

Post PE  / waiting for results mini trip to the Redwoods

I am writing this post with a soon to be licensed PE (Professional Engineer) after my name. I passed the PE in Environmental Engineering! For those who know me well, they know how long I've battled with the PE licensure exam. That 8-hour test with a recommended 300+ hours of studying has been my nemesis for the last 3.5 years. As someone who is unable to just focus on one thing, studying while juggling all of my commitments was really hard. I stubbornly refused to give up my community work that brings me joy, and instead had a temporary (did not last long enough to really help) reduced work schedule and isolated myself from socializing. The big difference with passing the test was also having a partner who pushed me to study when I would rather binge true crime on the couch and who made sure I ate when I got in the zone and hadn't left my computer half the day. Grateful and so proud to be done with the PE exam for good! 


In all honesty, I was considering project management and leaving "engineering" by proper definition because I couldn't fathom studying again if I didn't pass. I was tired of it being the reason I was told no for promotions, in spite of my workload and tired of not seeing my study hours pay off when I didn't pass. I kept rolling around in my head how those hours could have been used to make community programming, create more art, work on my business, and generally create invaluable memories with friends and family. Passing the PE reinvigorates me into my career and a reminder to myself of how few licensed Black engineers there are in Oregon (and nationally) and narrowing it down even further - Black women licensed engineers. Having a PE helps creates pay equity for those underrepresented in the field and allows the opportunity to join in making this licensure process more inclusive and equitable. As soon as all my license paperwork is completed, I plan on being a bit of a pest to OSBEELS about making the process easier, ha. 

Now that the exam is done, I find myself with the exciting question of, now what? I had two weeks of literal jumping for joy and still find myself smiling in relief. I then had a a few weeks of chaos brain where I didn't know what to do with myself or what my next goal is! I'm slowly setting into the thought that I don't need to constantly have something I'm working towards because it stops me from enjoying the now and all that I do have. Also, I'm plenty busy with some of the new (and old) projects I'm working on. I've graduated past simply Committees to Boards... the difference seems to be an annoying hierarchy, but sometimes with less work on my part and I appreciate that. Being on a board is a great way for me to still be part of orgs I love and wish I could do more hands on work with - such as with Building Blocks 2 Success (BB2S), which I recently joined as their newest Board member. A newer project that will be starting at the end of June is the Harvard Climate Justice Design Fellowship. I was floored when I was selected (and personally really happy to get a 'yes' from them, after my rejection from Harvard my senior year of high school.) I'll be working on making tree canopy and urban heat zone data more transparent and accessible for frontline communities. Been really enjoying my environmental justice / climate justice work with the NAACP and am excited to get some new training in data skills!

It's also that time again - Good in the Hood is back and this time in person! It's been easier to balance with most of our planning meetings and sponsor meetings being on Zoom! We just announced the 21 Scholarship Awardees - one of my favorite things is managing scholarship programs. I know how much funding like this meant when I was a teen, so it's really fulfilling to be part of an org that gives so much. I've also been getting better at social media and have managing the Good in the Hood social media presence. I don't care for social media, but I really like Canva and making information easier for community to see. The parade planning with Good in the Hood is the thing I'm most nervous about as I haven't been around 1,000+ people since 2019. My anxiety around crowds (and even small groups in person) has gotten really bad especially when we're not out of the woods yet with COVID. I plan on wearing my mask and boosting my immune system as we get closer to the festival. See you all June 24 - 26! And, if you want to join in and volunteer, we NEED it! We are about 60 people short of what we usually have for volunteers. Sign up here. Also, give our social media a follow - @goodinthehoodpdx ! 😀

This week I'll be putting all my effort outside of my day job into getting the second annual NAACP Youth in Nature Leadership Program started. Our 18 youth will be starting their three day training on June 16 with Metro's awesome educators. I wish I was able to find volunteers (though I know it's a huge privilege to have time and capacity to donate so much of one's time) to help manage programming with me, but for the time being I've recruited a past youth leader with a stipend and that alone feels like a huge improvement to the labor for the program. I'll be bugging all of my friends and family to help Chaperone this summer! The kids will be leading their community hikes almost every Friday / Saturday. Our Environmental Justice Committee is recruiting too - specifically for folks who like writing advocacy letters, sitting on policy meetings, and are interested in managing programming or grants. Good experience for the resume, but mostly just fun / valuable! In full transparency, I want to have a succession plan started for the committee. Email me if you're interested: environmentaljustice@pdxnaacp.org

As usual, the more things I juggle, the less time I have for my blog, creative endeavors, or personal projects. I'm trying to change that and as I get past June and training, I see a few areas where I'll be stepping back to make room for my art, piano, and diving into the 'Now what?' 

Friday, March 4, 2022

In the Midst of Everything

I really thought 2022 would be better. I didn't jinx it and say that, but it's become clear that 2020 was the start of an era. All of the experiences, even just in Portland, are going in the history books. While we're heading into March, COVID lingering, gun violence by white supremacists in our Portland protests, and now our hearts saddened for Ukraine (and then quickly angered at the racism that of course did not stop in a time of war), I am unsure about the future. There are traces of good news - on our way to having the first Black woman Supreme Court Justice - but the sci-fi nerd in me keeps wondering if we've accidentally stepped into the wrong timeline in an alternate dimension. 

In the midst of everything, I'm still trying to do my little part of good by committing almost a part time job's worth of service hours. I've learned a lot in the last few months. Mostly, that non-profits will not be the way we solve issues for community - as a meme I saw said, "the revolution will not be under a 501c3." The bureaucracy in the name of processes like "Robert's Rules, insurance, MOU's" have shown me that so many grass root ideas get killed by the same bureaucracy that led many of us to leave corporate or government work for non-profits. Leading my dual life as a City of Portland engineer, it's a problem when my volunteering work starts to be caught up in more weeds than my work (i.e. when a Railroad Permit for an outfall processes faster than a grant agreement signature, I can't help but laugh - engineers who design around railroads will know what I mean, ha). I hope someday we can find a way to support grass root actions without red tape. Mutual aid efforts are starting to be come my preference above all. With that being said, I am committed to completing all the projects I've started with organizations and I figure as long as the work is helping community, it's worth the barriers I seem to keep facing with non-profits. 

One of the more important commitments I've been working on is the Multnomah County Charter Review Committee. The County Charter is the County's constitution, which every 6 years is amended by a committee of legislator selected community members. This time it's happening at the same time as the City of Portland's Charter Review (theirs is every 10 years) - so they are not to be confused as the same Charter. I will be able to share more about my experience on the County's Charter after the Committee's report is submitted and our recommendations go to ballot in November, but I do want to encourage everyone to view BOTH Charter review processes and take part if you can. Public Comment and ways to participate in the County's Charter are here. 

Outside of community work, the Jordan Schnitzer Black Lives Matter Artist grant I was selected for in 2020 is finally being displayed. COVID postponed our reception, but the gallery has been open since January and will continue for another month. Seeing my work in a gallery was an amazing experience - I missed the feeling. I haven't had my art displayed in over a decade and it's been years since I felt comfortable calling myself an artist, which is why I usually refer to myself as a "crafter of things." I'm back to collecting supplies and planning out some new works - super inspired lately. I created two new pieces for the show - all three below. I was also lucky enough to be asked to talk with another grant recipient about the art show on OPB's Think out Loud last month. 


I've been spending less time working on the vintage business at Found on Fremont, but it is a highlight of the month when mom and I meet up for an estate sale. She did an excellent job decorating for Valentine's Day - we had some beautiful 1940's Valentine cards that sold out so quickly! I've been preferring Etsy for my sales - truly enjoying all aspects of working from home, both as an engineer and as a small business. 


Again, in the midst of everything, 2022 continues to throw curve balls. Last week my dearest Great Aunt Verda passed. She was 93 and one of the most special people in my life. I will be making the journey to Daingerfield, Texas next week to give a proper goodbye. I blame COVID for preventing safe travels to visit a senior, but also myself for not asking more about my family's history from the long life she lived. I am missing her so much, but so grateful that I was able to see her in 2018 for her 90th birthday - memories I will cherish forever. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Busy Blur

This year has been a blur. In the past I've expressed how busy things are and how I just never get around to posting here, but I don't think any past year has compared to the steady stream of frenzy that is 2021. Lots of life updates, new projects, and some restless stagnation. 

Biggest change is that I am now part of a blended cat family, or more importantly - I moved in with my guy. After two years together, with a large chunk of that during a pandemic, it seemed like a natural step. Coming up with new organizing methods, blending our different styles, and consolidating my dragon's hoard of trinkets/art/etc has been a challenge, but I couldn't ask for a better person to share space with.

My elusive new fur kids, Leo and Pi 

In the middle of moving, I also helped organize Good in the Hood's first virtual festival. The festival was amazing and probably the best virtual event I've seen during the pandemic. It was fun to be on site filming and see LIVE music for the first time in over 2 years. I learned how to use 'Canva' and became a Social Media coordinator for the festival (follow @goodinthehoodpdx). I also became an impromptu Switch Tech for the festival's director. Amazing and kind of stressful experience - I have a newfound respect for all that goes into filming, directing, and lighting. You can still stream the festival on Youtube!  We also gave over $22,000 in scholarships this year to some incredible teens


During the same week of GITH, I also began implementing a Black/Brown Youth Leadership program in collaboration with Metro. The NAACP Environmental Justice Committee I chair, wrote for our first grant last fall and we spent June through August getting (10) youth leaders out in nature. They were trained for three days and then practiced their skills by leading hikes for the community. The kids were amazing and I loved being able take time off work to hike. I was a four-time Outdoor School Counselor in high school, so it was full circle to rekindle my old interest in nature with the teens, many of whom had never hiked before! The Portland Observer highlighted the program here. I also found that I absolutely loved working with Metro! From the moment we got our grant, Metro nature educators worked to co-create some amazing curriculum, and with all black/brown staff! The experience prompted me to apply for their Parks and Nature Equity Advisory Committee  and I was selected! Note - I have worked for the City of Portland for over 6 years and never applied to be on their advisory committees - I actually feel a lot of progress is delayed because of how long things take and how little action results in committees. (With that being said, I lead and am on a lot of committees, ha)

And, when it comes to committees, my Environmental Justice (EJ) Committee has been incredibly active! In August, the committee turned one years old. We helped pass a bill, testified on a few others, wrote and received two grants, held a community forum session, participated in a few coalitions, and started the Youth Leadership program. We also have a few big grant proposals pending and new ones in being written. I never thought I'd get into grant writing, but it is so much like applying for scholarships in college, which was something I was pretty good at in the past. Means so much more to me seeing the funding help run programming that benefits my community!

After the hectic summer, I tried to focus on rest and was due for a vacation. My baby sister turned 21, so we took her to Vegas. It was also my first time there and I realized I do not like Vegas. The best part of my trip was the quickly planned Hoover Dam tour I took myself on. Absolutely stunning engineering feat. Much better than the anxiety inducing glam of Vegas. After Vegas, I also took a real vacation to Cabo, Mexico! A lot of this traveling during the pandemic was pretty scary with the Delta variant raging, but with so few travelers and being fully vaccinated - I felt safer than I did in Portland. Masks were worn and the anti-vax sentiment was not something common in Mexico. I didn't get COVID-19 and also survived a Hurricane Olaf while there - we had a week of beautiful days and one final day with a hurricane! 
Hoover Dam views 

Restful nights in Cabo

While things haven't calmed down a ton, I've been working on saying 'no' when I don't think I have capacity, and it feels like I am more in control of what is on my plate. The next few months will be focused on the Portland Clean Energy Fund's grant cycle for the Portland NAACP, working on the Multnomah County Charter Commission that I was selected for, and getting ready to study for my nemesis: the PE exam! 

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Mise en Place

 What. A. Year. 

I was adamant about writing before 2021 because it will be my first time posting as frequently in over 5 years. Maybe next year I will meet my blog goal and post once a month. But, I'm also tired of making goals when so much can happen in a year, as seen in 2020, where our entire world has changed in 9 months. Being disappointed in what we "should" have accomplished this year wouldn't have allowed us to celebrate the successes of this year. Surviving a pandemic, a wildfire with hazardous air quality, political unrest, global racial awareness, etc. The list goes on because honestly, this year was so traumatic that I am hardly able to remember sometimes. What I do remember is that I felt more well rounded than I have in over a decade. With so much going on in the world, this year challenged me to strengthen my friendships, reactivate my artistic creativity, explore ways to give back - all while maintaining 6 feet and social distancing. 

A small successes for 2020 included diving into my filipino roots. I have spent so much of my life dedicated to my Black community and background, but I wanted to also give time to my other half. I am also Filipina! I can go into a long discussion on being bi-racial and multitude of layers that creates in identity, but I'll stop for this post. I read Filipino American books (Thank you Carlos Bulosan, Jose Antonio Vargas and Elaine Castillo!), joined the Filipino American City Employees (FACE) Affinity group, and spent lots of time in the kitchen with my mama. I've also been making up for lost time and eating lumpia WAY too often. My mom always says it's supposed to be for celebrations, which I think is fair because 2020 calls for parties at dinnertime simply for maintaining sanity and joy. 

Lumpia! (No, it's not a spring roll) 


Some much larger success happened all right in the last month. In my last post from August I talked about working on an artist grant. The Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation had announced the Black Lives Matter Artist Grant, which dedicated $150,000 to 20 artists in Portland, Oregon (and another 40 in Washington/Eugene) for artists whose work responds to Black Lives Matter. I haven't made a visual art piece in over 8 years, but my past work was all themed on social injustice, so this grant was a perfect chance to funnel all my feelings in to a new piece. It was hard. I learned I can't just jump into art at a whim anymore - thinking too much on materials, dimension, composition, etc. Too much engineering lately, if you ask me ;) In spite of the hours staring a blank slate, I pulled together not just a proposal, but a completed piece for the grant. It was worth the effort too because I was announced as one of the grant recipients earlier this month. I was and am still elated. I thought I had given up the artist in me when I became an engineer - choosing not to study art in college and giving up the street shows I used to do. Details on the upcoming grant showcase are TBD due to COVID, but I plan to share the piece at that time. Applying for the grant also prompted me to reactivate my old domain and recreate my website, so www.jreyesha.com is also up and running again! 

Also, around August when I was feeling particularly overwhelmed with the state of affairs, I did some research on starting scholarships, foundations, etc. Thanks to some great advice, I was able to start my own scholarship for BIPOC women majoring in engineering, the 'Brannon Diversity in Engineering Scholarship' through my alma mater, University of Portland (UP). It is essentially a unique way to support diversifying STEM fields, which to almost all who know me, is a passion. As part of the 2% of engineering graduates who are black women, I am personally vested in diversifying my field. My scholarship was highlighted this month by UP in their Annual Giving Campaign. Highlighting my scholarship was astounding because it got so much support! Seeing my friends become donors and even a local company supporting this effort brought me so much joy. I am so grateful to all of the donors who made my education possible via scholarships, so it is a pleasure to give back to the future generation of engineers. More info on my newest website tab! ;) 



I can't pretend this year was all good. I lost my great grandma, spent many days in bed, slept more than I thought possible, cried over a lost foster kitten, drank too much, postponed parts of my life and found myself feeling helpless. In spite of the tumultuous year our world has had, we each accomplished so much - working from home, maintaining health, getting closer to friends, and reshaping our "normal." The french phrase "mise en place" means 'everything in its place,' as well as 'setting up' and thats a bit how it feels right now. A year so wretched, but hopeful - setting up for something better in 2021. 


Small orange highlights to this year. Meet Franz.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Some Assessment and Some New Things

I feel torn between two states of mind. One part incredibly hopeful for the future with all of the activism / awareness that’s spread around the world. And, the other feeling hopeless with some people’s innate lack of empathy and willful ignorance. I’ve seen many of my (what I thought were) friend’s/family’s true colors to which I’ve realized that who I am as a person was just the one exception to their racist world views. The moment I show emotion or solidarity with activists who are trying to make change, I’m being “racist.” All of which is comical and frustrating at the same time. I’ve learned this little summary of insights:

 

-       Don’t read the comments. Trash world trolls there and they will make you doubt hope for humanity

-       I will get called sensitive and throwing the ‘race card’ for discussing who I am, but they’ll be the first ones to claim they feel left out, upset that they’re being “targeted,” and that they’ve had a rough life, so therefore don’t carry privilege…  A LOT of people miss the point. For the people in the back – To have white privilege does not mean your life hasn’t had struggles, it just means your skin tone was not one of these struggles. Given that I can’t change my skin tone and it’s the first thing that is seen, along with my assumed gender, it’s a big one to have at the forefront of how I walk through this world.

-       I’d rather take well meaning than willfully ignorant. Was frustrated by this concept when this activism bug caught on, but I’d rather have folks trying to learn or do better, than deal with those refusing to see facts or experiences, and having a stubborn inhumane lack of empathy. Just because it doesn’t affect you, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

 

All of this being said, this blog was never very personal or political as far as my emotions and frustrations, but with the world in its current state, I can’t pretend that my COVID crafting streak or increased involvement in community wasn’t fueled by a desire to destress, self-care, and a need to do something that creates meaningful change in a system that is undeniably broken.

 

Cross stitching (a new craft hobby) via virtual “Crafternoons” with friends, gardening, making cocktails, cooking almost every meal, and spending time with my beau have been some of the calmer parts of my life. I have also seen more friends virtually and socially distanced than I ever had time for in pre-COVID times, and value their friendship more than I realized. I am also thankful for having a job that allows me to work from home, though finding out this work style will continue into 2021 was a bit of a shock. The cats definitely enjoy this work life, not very balanced lifestyle than I do…


Gardening Results

My completed cross stitch projects from the last few months. ;) 

Cats enjoying backyard office time with mom :) 


Joining the National Association for the Advance of Colored People (NAACP) Portland Branch has been a whirlwind. I was recruited by a friend who chairs the Political Action Committee and within a few weeks, I’ve stepped into a new role as the Environmental Justice Subcommittee Chair. With the increased racial awareness that has spread worldwide, there has been a reinvigoration of activism with the NAACP and its breathing new life into the local chapter’s committees. Meetings are thought provoking! I’m learning a lot on honing my leadership skills and the work that goes into legislation. It’s a different experience than working with engineers all day at work, which often continued in my time as the Vice President for the NSBE Portland Professional Chapter (also, check out our new board members on our site) I am very excited to continue working with the NAACP and gain a more political background, to which I hope will create real change within our society. Stay posted on IP 44 on your ballots, which is one of the measures our committee is supporting!

 

I have a lot of projects in the works now too. Potential app development, attempting to apply for my first artist grant (remember when I was an artist 8 years ago? I'm hoping to tiptoe back into my creative side again…TBD), continued studying for my PE license, and maintaining my existing commitments – NSBE, Etsy Shops, Found on Fremont, CAAN projects on empowering my fellow black employees within the City of Portland, and the inevitable search for BALANCE.

 

See below for my first site visit in months. Very cool project in SE Portland, that to be fair, I was just visiting for cost negotiation on my own projects, but I got to go on this fun field trip afterwards. I do miss Construction management sometimes.

 

Construction in the time of COVID - masked up!


Sunday, May 31, 2020

Intent of Action

As if dealing with a pandemic wasn't enough, this quarantine has shown me two deaths of black men on camera, a white women utilizing her privilege and false victimhood to attempt to kill a black man, and the numerous hashtags of other black people who were murdered - all streaming and being posted on every social media account.

Like many other black people in America, I am sad, angry, and restless. I am also numb because these stories are not old. I am sad that I can't remember all the names and hashtags. They have been happening for decades, stemmed from over centuries of racism in America. I work tirelessly to provide for the black community that I am a part of in Portland in various volunteer efforts, advocating in my work place, and trying to create awareness / empathy for a white culture that doesn't seem to understand unless a murder of a black body is being televised in their face. And, even then - folks still question "what that black man did" as if it justifies being killed in the streets by someone whose job is to protect/serve.

While I am very empathetic to the protesting and share the anger that has occurred across the United States, I have an unpopular opinion... I am angry over the protesting in Portland. Portland is less than 6% black, so when I see the protesting and crowds of people out there, I know (and based on photos - I can see) that half of the fires being set, buildings being broken into, and looting occurring is not being done by the black community. White opportunists and "allies" are behind the havoc from Friday/Saturday night. They are hijacking the movement, the intent, and enforcing stereotypes. I am over it and I want it to stop. It also doesn't make sense. We had several cases of police brutality in Portland (including my peer from high school) and I never saw Portland fight like this. We should have been upset about our local government's inefficiencies years ago, not now... it's misguided and without a leader. I question the intent and who is actually doing the harm.

I also want the social media posts to stop. Growing up in Portland, I have met a lot of good people and a lot of bad people, both brown and white. I appreciate my white friends who attempt to utilize their privilege and question the white status quo that is in our office places, restaurants, and city. However, I am irritated by the constant stream of violent videos that desensitize us to black bodies being murdered, the posts on how "woke" and how great of an "ally" you are as a white person. My question is - where were you the other 364 days of the year when no one was speaking up for injustice? Where were you when the equity policies / discussions in your workplace were "uncomfortable" and "inconvenient"? Where were you when black organizations needed support for the work that they do everyday? That's when you need to show up. Posting on your facebook and instagram is nothing. Keep donating. Keep caring, but show up the rest of the year. Your care shouldn't be instigated because everyone else is doing it and to be frank - a lot of folks are posting out of white guilt and the fear of being considered racist if they don't post something.

A piece I made in 2010 that is still just as relevant today. I was 17 years old and
understood exactly what police officers meant to the black community. 

The inside showing faux nooses, blood, and the attempt at footage of violence being done by
police with old pictures from the 1960's. 

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Restless Quarantine


Hard to believe it's been more than two months since I was in the office. The adjustment of working from home and being in quarantine for this long has been an emotional rollercoaster. I tend to value myself based on productivity/actions, so with nothing but time, I began quarantine frantically trying to get as much done as I could. I think I honestly thought things would go back to normal shortly. I'm now in a more relaxed mood, and finally realizing that things aren't going back to the old routine for quite a while - and that maybe its not a bad thing. I'm getting things done I've been procrastinating for years and going back to old hobbies that are fulfilling me just as much as they did when I was younger. I'm also working harder to stay connected with friends because the skill of socializing is something I gained with practice and its far too easy to go back to my naturally introverted ways.

I'm also happy to report that my volunteer affiliations have transitioned to some virtual efforts. I was on two panels for NSBE outreach (with more events scheduled in the next few weeks - follow @nspbepropdx), been hosting semi weekly virtual check in meetings with the City African American Network, and completed a shoebox float for Good n' the Hood's participation in the Portland Rose Festival's Grand Petite Parade. There is so much creativity in how folks are staying connected during this time and I'm so impressed with everyone - no matter the situation, we still continue to provide outlets for the community.

I've completed a slough of projects around the house, crafted a lot, and implemented some changes to my diet / health. Some of my projects included:

  • Started my garden / had extreme trimming done on my trees
  • Started running - I can now run 5 miles and have been running a few times a week
  • Organized my garage / art room 
  • Ramped up online sales with ebay, etsy, etc.
  • CRAFTING - jewelry with mom, virtual crafternoon with my engineering ladies from work, paint night with my guy, and lots of weaving on my own 
  • Lots of cooking - bulgogi, smothered pork chops, almond flour pizzas, etc.
  • Started and ended a keto diet - lost most of the quarantine weight I gained in the first month and am now actively watching carb/sugar intake
  • Removing old carpet / painting my guy's attic room, so he could lay laminate - looks great!
  • Painted my room and replaced/stained new baseboards/crown molding
  • Scheduled new windows to be installed next month
  • Read over 10 books since quarantine began 
  • Intentional connection with friends - Zoom, Skype, Teams, etc. 
  • Finished a puzzle
  • Reupholstered my mid century dining table chairs
  • Started playing the piano again - remastering old pieces and am continuing to be amazed with how reliable my muscle memory is
  • Oh, and my dearest cat Ludwig now has an instagram, ha!  @acatnamedludwig

While I really want to get back to the office and my usual pace with work, I am beginning to appreciate the newfound balance and forced reset in how I spend my time. Goals I hoped to accomplish the year are likely delayed. Travels I planned are definitely delayed. But - all in all, I feel incredibly lucky to work from home and have my family in good health during this time. :) 

My latest woven piece - tried to step outside of my comfort zone with some color!

The Good n' The Hood shoebox float I worked on with my fellow parade co-chair
Rocky the Cat showing his favorite pose by my puzzle - he gets excited when packages are delivered!

Some bottle cap collage magnets I made. I used to make these when I was about 11 years old :) 

Easter/Mother's Day and lots of birthdays via quarantine. This bouquet
shows how well the garden has been blossoming