Tuesday, December 6, 2022

A New Decade

Tahitian sunsets are like no other

Last week I entered my 30's in Tahiti for a week long blip of rest, and promptly returned home to a whirlwind of new changes. I have always kept myself very busy with creative, career, and community based commitments, but a new wrench thrown has been starting a new (now almost 4 months) job and handling family health issues. I'm used to balancing different realms of my life by compartmentalizing, primarily because I've had the privilege of not being emotionally or mentally drained externally, but having my most dear family compromised has been a lot to handle. Something new and foreign to my balancing act. It has also helped me find a new gratitude that I think is more common with folks of faith, but I am so grateful the experiences, privileges I have in so many realms, and for the time being - my health. As I learn more about my DNA and what things I may now be at risk for, rather than slow down with caution, I am feeling almost frantic with a need to do things that bring joy. I've said that before, but this is a truly new inclination I'm acting on. I love my community and the network I've grown over the last few years, but I have finally started saying 'no' to things that while fulfilling, may take more than I have to give. 

In September I stepped down from my role as Environmental Justice Committee Chair for the Portland NAACP and Parade Co-Chair with Good in the Hood. I feel so lucky to have had energy to work with both organizations and give so much of myself, but I've grown a lot by stepping down. I've taken the legislative action, programmatic management, and grant writing skills with me, which have opened up new doors for how I can serve my community, so it was 100% time well spent. I also constantly advocate for compensating BIPOC community for their time and energy, but I've seen so many projects relying on volunteer time or under compensated paid capacity- something that as BIPOC folks (statistically least compensated in our society) is just extractive. I've felt almost guilty taking on paid roles lately, but I know this is what practicing what you advocate means. Knowing what I'm worth outside of my engineering career has been a new skill in itself! I've had so many interesting opportunities in the last few months to expand the realm of 'J'reyesha Inc.' into public speaking and program management, which has been fun to imagine what stepping away from public sector engineering would look like. The holistic and layered self in a capitalistic society makes it hard to take risks. I'll always love problem solving and the satisfaction of completion that engineering provides - the things I hate about my job are unrelated to what engineering actually is (and I worked too hard on my P.E. license to ever abandon my career) - but that does not stop me from thinking what a full time creative or community career would look like. 

 Looking forward to what 2023 brings and my first year into my 30's! I could self reflect and monologue for too long, but below are some highlights of the last few months: 

  • Promotion at work within a new group - yay for the P.E. paying off!
  • The Multnomah County Charter Commission I served on had successes in the measures we recommended. All but one passed! Thank you to voters who supported our recommendations!
  • A new home! So looking forward to more space and being closer to family. 
  • Opportunities to share about myself with Energy Trust, Saturday Academy, and Lake Oswego
  • Travel to Seattle, San Francisco, Washington D.C. and Tahiti (further and further each month!)
  • COVID-19 finally got me, a negative highlight, but a huge part of last month's forced rest... it was good to see that things CAN and must stop to heal. Cancelling a week's worth of work, events I organized, and presentations really put prioritization in perspective. 
  • Learned Arc GIS Pro with Walle Plans and making progress on my Harvard Climate Justice Design Fellowship deliverable - I'm less than one week from finishing my fellowship and feeling college-like de ja vu with the deadline approaching.
  • Joined Verde's 501c4 Board! Absolutely loving this healthy and supportive non-profit space where I can continue EJ work, while maintaining boundaries and joy!
  • Organizing new programs related to geology, STEM, Superfund Environmental education, and more within community- so lucky to get to share my passions in so many different spaces. 
  • Two art shows - Uncommon Threads (virtual) and Kalayaan’s Anti-Fascist Community Art Showing (open until 12/10)
  • Mom and I ended our 11 years vending with Found on Fremont after the store moved out to Gresham. Bittersweet, but we're starting new adventures at Antique Alley. Find us in space C-18 😀
Preview of the new vintage space in Antique Alley (Space C-18)

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.