courtesy of Monnie Spears-Rogers

The lion's share of national media has been focused on protests against police brutality in major cities, Portland included. But around the state, in towns as far away as Pendleton and Ontario, concerned Oregonians have been stepping up and raising their voices to honor the Black Americans who have been killed at the hands of law enforcement and demanding change within the police force in their communities.

Closer to home, one of the more inspiring events happened just last week in nearby Happy Valley. Organized by 20-year-old Oregon native Monnie Spears-Rogers, the march and rally drew an estimated 1,000 people—including state senator Shemia Fagan, and featured speeches from Libra Forde, the COO of Self Enhancement, Inc., the nonprofit that provides academic support for Black students in Portland.

Speaking with Spears-Rogers a day after the rally, she sounds awestruck and exhausted. The Clackamas high grad and current student at Weber State University in Ohio had few expectations when she posted the event to her Facebook page, only to find herself speaking to a huge crowd of friends, neighbors, and folks who drove three hours to be there.

MERCURY: Tell me how this started for you?

MONNIE SPEARS-ROGERS: Obviously the recent events from Breonna Taylor to Ahmaud Arbery to George Floyd has sparked something in a lot of us in the Black community. The first thing I felt was anger and being tired of what was going on, but I knew that the only way my voice would be heard was if I got my message across effectively, if I did it the right way. I knew I had to put that anger aside and I had to express myself. Then with the protests going on downtown—not all of them are safe. I wanted this to be a place where people felt like they can come without being harmed and let their emotions flow. I made the post on Monday and it blew up. I had two days of planning. I was at work, trying to plan things, getting phone calls. City officials [like Director of Community Services and Public Safety Steve Campbell] wanted to make sure that we were safe. Talking with the Chief of Police who said, “There’s gonna be officers there because they have to be there.” We didn’t have any interaction with them besides when we took a knee, I think two of them joined.

You estimated that there were maybe 1,000 people there. Did you know a lot of them?

I think I recognized half of them. The other half, I have no idea. I got messages from people saying that they came all the way from Bend and McMinnville. People traveled to come to this and... it was amazing. I didn’t expect that size of turnout. I really thought it was going to be like 500 people, which to me was even going to be insane. I was in the front of the march so I really didn’t know all those people were back there. Once we arrived at City Hall and I was watching all the people pour in, and there were already people waiting there as well... I was amazed.

Monnie Spears-Rogers speaking at rally in Happy Valley
Monnie Spears-Rogers speaking at rally in Happy Valley courtesy of Monnie Spears-Rogers

You got up and spoke to the people who attended the rally. What did you have to say?

I shared my experiences with the Happy Valley community. The main focus was really to bring attention to the fact that our community has the power to speak up. It’s time for them to educate themselves and educate those around them. They can no longer surround themselves who don’t share the same views when it comes to this situation. The Black community really do need people that don’t look like us in order for this to change. The biggest point I made was that this is just a stepping stone. We have to make a conscious effort every single day in order for there to be a change that’s going to stand for generations.

Who else spoke?

There was a seven-year-old biracial girl named Sway. She told her story about how she’s bullied for the way that she looks and that she doesn’t understand why this is happening. Another person was Libra Forde. She spoke some powerful words. The biggest thing that I took away from what she said is that the whole world is in shambles because of the pandemic and everyone can’t go outside. She said, “Imagine being like, ‘This is how I feel every single day.' I can’t get out of my skin. I can’t do the things that I want to do without being harassed and fearing [for] my life." I really loved the way she compared those things.

What was your experience like growing up in Happy Valley?

I haven’t really dealt directly with racial profiling out here from the police. My dad definitely has a number of times. Family members if they’re on their way to our house. So it's not foreign to me.

But living in a predominantly white suburb, was that an isolating experience for you?

For me, being that I’m an athlete at Clackamas High School, we know that athletes get different treatment. I know that if weren’t an athlete there, that I wouldn’t have been heard as much as I was. A lot of the time, they knew what I was bringing to the school so they really didn’t want to offend me. That’s not to say I didn’t get any support. There were plenty of teachers that supported me and plenty of peers. I don’t want to make it seem like I had this horrible experience in Clackamas. I think about the other Black girl in class who’s not as vocal and who’s not an athlete and how she’s isolated because she’s different. Those are the people I’m speaking for.

Are you planning on doing another event in Happy Valley?

I really want to let this one sink in, but we have momentum and I’m definitely thinking of something else. I don’t want to put a date on it yet, but I definitely want to do something.