Editor’s note: This article contains descriptions of sexual, physical, and psychological abuse.
Because of the sensitive nature of their experiences, some sources for this story have requested anonymity. With their permission, we’ve replaced several sources’ names with pseudonyms. All pseudonyms have been marked with an asterisk on first reference.
Ray* started shaking when he heard the news.
It was early summer, and a close friend had just informed him that his longtime abuser was in a top leadership role in Portland’s Black community—and under investigation.
“It’s Mondainé,” Ray remembered her saying. “Do you want to tell them?”
Elbert Darrell “E.D.” Mondainé, 61, has long played an influential role in Portland politics. Mondainé, who is Black, was elected president of the Portland NAACP in 2018, after years of working on local criminal justice reform committees, advocating on behalf of the Black community at Portland City Hall, and serving as senior pastor at Celebration Tabernacle, a Pentecostal church in North Portland.
Elected officials, including Oregon Governor Kate Brown and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, have regarded Mondainé as a trusted representative of the local Black community, turning to him for support, perspective, and guidance. In June 2020, that perspective brought Mondainé national attention when he penned an opinion piece for The Washington Post about Portland’s racial justice protests.
But Ray, 41, isn’t familiar with that version of Mondainé. Ray is one of several former Celebration Tabernacle members who say they were sexually, physically, and/or psychologically abused by Mondainé while they attended the church.
In late 2019, several members of the local NAACP began investigating Mondainé for allegedly misusing the nonprofit's funds and physically threatening people at meetings. When Ray’s friend heard about the investigation, she knew the NAACP needed to hear Ray’s story. She called him.
After the call ended, Ray dialed another number: The emergency line for his mental health counselor.
“I had a full-on PTSD attack,” Ray says. “I was sweating, shaking… I got dizzy. And what followed was anger. Anger about him getting away with this… knowing that, despite what he did to us, he still got to become a community hero, leading this venerable organization.”
Ray eventually wrote a letter to the NAACP members leading the investigation into Mondainé, detailing his alleged abuse at the hands of Mondainé. With Ray’s permission, those members shared these allegations with the Mercury.
The Mercury spoke with Ray and two other men who say they were repeatedly sexually and physically assaulted by Mondainé during a period of time spanning the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s. The Mercury also interviewed eight other people who shared experiences of psychological abuse at the hands of Mondainé while attending Celebration Tabernacle during this time period. Many of these stories have been confirmed by other individuals formerly involved with the church.
Mondainé denies the allegations of both abuse and financial mismanagement.
“It’s not true. There’s no truth to it,” Mondainé told the Mercury. “People can say whatever they need to say. I’ve never abused anyone.”
Most of those who spoke with the Mercury stopped attending Celebration Tabernacle between 2007 and 2010, and many left as an act of solidarity with those who experienced physical abuse. Few of them are still in contact with anyone who still attends the church, where Mondainé remains the head pastor.
The majority of those who say they were sexually or psychologically abused by Mondainé are Black men, and many were teens when the alleged abuse began. Now, after more than a decade of silence, these individuals have chosen to make their stories public out of fear that Mondainé’s ascending role in the community—as a religious leader, political advisor, and NAACP president—will allow him to continue taking advantage of vulnerable Portlanders. And in the midst of a national civil rights movement centered on the value of Black lives, they believe the community deserves more from leadership than someone who they say has spent years using his influence to harm Black people.
“At this moment in history, we really don’t need a scandal about a Black man to come out,” said Nelobie Beavers, a Black woman who attended Celebration Tabernacle with several of the men who say they were abused by Mondainé. “But knowing the damage he could do to this movement… and the damage he’s already done to these men, it’s not something that can be ignored. It scares me what would happen if we did.”
Mondainé opened Celebration Tabernacle in a small building on North Lombard in 1988, shortly after moving to Portland from his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. The church drew early publicity for attracting and supporting low-income families and individuals.
"We don't allow you to be a victim here,” Mondainé told The Oregonian in a 1998 interview about Celebration Tabernacle. “You can only be a victim as long as you let yourself be a victim."
By 1999, the church had moved into a larger space in North Portland’s Kenton neighborhood, and was financially tied to a variety of small businesses that had been opened under Mondainé’s name—most notably Friday’s Espresso, a popular cafe and live music venue next door to the church. Music was a key part of Celebration Tabernacle’s services, with Mondainé’s energetic sermons regularly featuring the pastor breaking into song, backed by a live band and gospel choir.
It was Celebration Tabernacle’s focus on music that initially drew Ray, then a swing dance instructor and a student of music history at Clark College, to the church in 1996. At 17, Ray already carried a lifetime of emotional trauma: His childhood was marked by a physically abusive father and sexual abuse at the hands of an older boy. Having moved out of his mother’s house and into his own apartment in Vancouver, WA, Ray was looking for a new community when he heard of a North Portland cafe that hosted all-ages jazz nights. He found that community at Friday’s.
“It was everything I hoped for,” said Ray, recalling Friday’s vibrant jazz and swing scene. It wasn’t long until he began attending Celebration Tabernacle, intrigued by the impassioned way his new friends from Friday’s spoke about it. Ray, who is white, found the Black church experience at Celebration Tabernacle refreshingly different from the predominately white services he’d attended in the past.
“The lessons were really down to earth and felt empowering,” Ray told the Mercury, “and the music was amazing.”
But he was particularly struck by the captivating man whom the church seemed to orbit around: Mondainé. Ray said Mondainé would always arrive after the Sunday service was scheduled to begin, sometimes making attendees wait a half hour before his dramatic entrance.
“Mondainé would appear—there’d be this huge procession of people praising him, and he’d be draped in robes,” Ray said. “He seemed larger than life.”
Ray and others who attended Celebration Tabernacle say Mondainé believed he was directly speaking for God through his sermons, and would regularly make prophecies based on what God told him. Mondainé, who referred to himself as an “apostle,” would also preach about a looming Armageddon that would coincide with his own death. Ray had no reason to believe this wasn’t the truth.
After attending a number of weekend services, Ray said he was asked to meet with Mondainé in his office. Mondainé, who was 37 at the time, told Ray he wanted to help him succeed in his new community and pursue his interest in music and dance.
“I had never felt support and security and validation from a parent or an adult in my life,” said Ray. “So here I am, with this hugely charismatic person—and God himself is speaking through this person to me—and he’s telling me I’m important. That was huge.”
Mondainé offered Ray space at the church to practice swing dancing, and soon Ray was leading the church’s new dance group, called Exodus. Ray started working at Friday’s, where he received free meals but no paycheck. When he began looking for an apartment closer to church, he gratefully accepted Mondainé’s invitation to move into the house in the Portsmouth neighborhood that the pastor shared with his twin sons and several other single men involved in the church. Mondainé and his sons’ mother divorced in 1995, and his second wife, who he has since divorced, did not live at the house at the time. Ray had little contact with family and friends outside of the church, but he considered this new community his family. He felt his life was finally headed in the right direction—until it wasn’t.
“The moment when you think God is telling you something, everything is justifiable.”
Ray said the first time Mondainé sexually assaulted him was in 1998. Ray said Mondainé asked Ray to sit next to him on his bed.
“I knew something was up,” said Ray, who was 18 at the time. “And I’m telling myself, ‘There’s no way I would let this happen to me.’ But I sat there with him and he began doing things to me… he rubbed on me and kissed on me.”
The whole time, Ray recalled, Mondainé was playing it off as if it was a joke. “I remember being uncomfortable, but I was like, 'It’s just a joke. I’m being weak. I’m just hypersensitive,’” Ray said.
But what began as an ostensible joke became a weekly—and then daily—occurrence. Ray said Mondainé would seek him out after church on Sunday afternoons, when Mondainé would appear emotionally exhausted from the morning service. Once the two men were alone, Ray said Mondainé would have Ray take off his pants and allow Mondainé to put his hands and mouth on Ray’s genitals.
Ray had previously confided in Mondainé about the abuse of his childhood, and said Mondainé used that information to excuse the abuse he inflicted on Ray.
“Mondainé told me that I was chosen by God to take care of [him] because I had suffered sexual and physical abuse in the past… so I had the strength to endure more of it,” said Ray. “In my eyes, God had literally put me there to shore this important man up. The moment when you think God is telling you something, everything is justifiable.”
Ray said he was regularly forced by Mondainé to perform oral sex. If Ray resisted, he said Mondainé would shout at him that he was rejecting what God wanted and would threaten physical violence. Ray said these sessions would last from between an hour to an entire day.
“My choice was to give in or to deny God, risk getting my ass kicked, risk having my entire community turned upside down,” said Ray. “In those moments, I just had to give in.”
Ray said Mondainé’s volatile moods kept him on edge.
“He would mix this loving, inspiring thing with intense anger, random moments of rage,” he said. “But if his love was on you, that was everything you needed.”
The abuse escalated in 2002, when Ray told Mondainé he was interested in dating a Latinx woman named Mercedes*, who had recently begun teaching dance classes at Celebration Tabernacle. Mondainé had strict rules about relationships between men and women at the church, requiring congregants to obtain his permission before dating each other.
“He would mix this loving, inspiring thing with intense anger. But if his love was on you, that was everything you needed.”
When Ray delivered the news to Mondainé at the house they both lived in, he said Mondainé attacked him.
“He grabbed me by my throat and we fell back into a closet,” recalled Ray, who said he was at least 200 pounds lighter than Mondainé at the time. “I didn’t have a chance. I started getting tunnel vision, so I began digging my thumbs into his eyes. He pulled back, and I took off and ran.”
That evening, Mondainé tracked Ray down at a friend’s house, apologized, and convinced him to come with him to Celebration Tabernacle, where the church’s top leadership would discuss whether or not Ray should date Mercedes. Ray agreed, and then listened as the men debated scripture—and how it related to his love life—for 12 hours. The group remained undecided. Finally, Mondainé allegedly told Ray to go into a windowless room in the church to pray about it, and that whatever decision Ray came to through prayer would be respected. But when Ray tried to leave 15 minutes later, still confident that he should date Mercedes, he says he found the door was locked. From outside the door, an assistant pastor asked him what he had decided. Ray said his answer wasn't the one Mondainé wanted to hear.
“[The assistant pastor] told me, ‘You need to pray about it more,’ and gave me a gallon of water and a bucket to use as a toilet,” said Ray.
Ray said he was locked in the dark room without food for at least two days. He didn’t change his mind until he started to hallucinate.
“I decided at that moment that I would go all in, in every way, for Mondainé,” said Ray. “I gave in.”
He was let out of the room only after he said he would no longer pursue Mercedes. Mondainé had him write her a letter that stopped the burgeoning relationship. Mondainé then forbade them from interacting.
In an interview with the Mercury, Mercedes said Mondainé made sure she knew the relationship was over.
“He would come around and tell me, ‘Ray doesn’t love you,’” Mercedes, who is now married to Ray, recalled. “He was so adamant about us not being together. He always saw me as a threat.”
For the next six years, Ray said he was sexually abused by Mondainé at least once a day. And the abuse had intensified: Ray said after this incident at the church, Mondainé started forcing him to have sexual intercourse with him.
“For me, those felt like rapes,” Ray said. “He wasn’t, like, physically holding me down or anything. But I didn’t feel like I had any other option.”
Ray estimated that Mondainé assaulted him no less than 2,000 times over the 11 years he attended the church.
None of Ray’s friends at Celebration Tabernacle knew about the abuse until 2007, when Ray decided to leave the church. He began experiencing migraines during his final years at Celebration Tabernacle, some so severe that they impaired his vision. During one of these episodes, Ray asked a friend to drive him to the emergency room. On the way there, he received a call from Mondainé.
“He told me to turn the car around, that this was a test from the devil,” Ray said. “He wanted to pray over me instead. I realized then that something had to happen.”
That night, he returned to the house he shared with Mondainé to grab his laptop and a duffle bag of clothes. Ray had a friend drive him to his mother’s house in Washington. Once Mondainé realized Ray had moved out, he called Ray’s cell phone, apologizing and pleading for him to return. On the drive to Vancouver, Ray threw his phone out the window into the Columbia River.
The following evening, Ray met with a dozen or so of his closest friends from Celebration Tabernacle at a friend’s home. He told them everything.
“Almost all of them left [the church] that next day,” he said. The night ended after Mondainé caught wind of the meeting and allegedly sent several of his assistant pastors to retrieve Ray so Mondainé could speak with him. Ray said he managed to jump in the passenger seat of a friend’s car just as the pastors arrived at the house. Ray said that one pastor reached through the open passenger door as the car drove off in an unsuccessful attempt to pull Ray from the vehicle.
The Mercury spoke independently with four other individuals who were present that evening, all of whom corroborated Ray’s recollection of events. Ray never saw Mondainé again.
“The craziest thing is that he believes that what he’s doing is right.”
When Ray left Celebration Tabernacle, he wasn’t sure if anyone else had suffered similar abuse from Mondainé. Only later did he discover there was at least one other alleged victim who was being assaulted under the same roof: Joe*.
Joe, who is Black, began staying at Mondainé’s Portsmouth house in 1999, when he was a high-school freshman attending Celebration Tabernacle. Joe said that, not long after he began staying over, Mondainé started visiting him while he slept.
“He would do this thing where he’d lay next to me and pretend to fall asleep, but then start touching my dick,” said Joe, who was 14 at the time. “I woke up several times to him trying to put his dick in my mouth.”
This soon became a regular occurrence. At the same time, Joe was growing increasingly aware of Mondainé’s violent outbursts. Joe said he witnessed Mondainé physically assaulting his twin teenage sons—Christopher and Elbert Jr.— on numerous occasions. Neither Christopher nor Elbert Jr. responded to the Mercury's request for comment.
Joe says he was physically assaulted himself when he asked Mondainé if he could date a girl he met at church.
“He got furious about that,” said Joe. “He picked me up and threw me around. He’s a big guy, so he could really do whatever he wanted.”
These allegations of domestic violence are reflected in Mondainé’s arrest records. According to Multnomah County court documents, Mondainé’s son Christopher called 911 in January 2001 to report an assault by his father. This was after Christopher had moved out of his father’s house and into his own home in the Albina neighborhood. When police arrived, Mondainé was arrested at the scene; according to documents from the arrest, Mondainé allegedly forced his way into his son’s home and “grabbed [Christopher] by the neck, leaving a two-inch scratch mark.”
The case was dropped when no witnesses would testify against Mondainé.
There are no other public court records linked to Mondainé’s alleged assaults. Based on Joe’s experiences at Mondainé’s house, that doesn’t come as a surprise to him.
“[Mondainé] put a fear in me... a fear that kept me from speaking my mind or asking anyone for help,” Joe said. “He has a crazy control over people. The craziest thing is that he believes that what he’s doing is right. That man messed me up so much.”
Joe has had little contact with Mondainé since moving out of his house at 18.
Not all of Mondainé’s alleged victims stayed under his roof.
Michael* began attending Celebration Tabernacle with his family in 1995, when he was a teenager. His parents played integral roles in the church’s music programs, and he and his brother became active members of the church’s youth group, dance club, and choir. “It was a really creative group of kids,” said Michael, who is Black. “We were always putting on shows and dance nights. It all seemed great.”
A talented dancer, Michael briefly left Portland in the late ’90s to teach and perform out of state. But after his mother fell ill in 2002, Michael returned home and began teaching hip-hop and tap dancing classes through the church. Michael, then 22, soon gained the trust of Mondainé, who asked him to help oversee the church’s finances and invited him to join the Knights, a respected group of men who attended Celebration Tabernacle. At the same time, Michael saw his freedom slipping away: Michael said Mondainé restricted him from going on tours with his outside dance company unless he funneled his earnings back into the church.
“When I asked about my money, I was just told to trust God and that God is going to bless us,” said Michael, now 40.
Mondainé’s alleged abuse began when Michael started to show interest in women.
Michael’s request to begin dating a woman who attended Celebration Tabernacle was denied by Mondainé. Michael began dating her in secret, but when word got out about the relationship, Mondainé allegedly ordered Michael to shave his head and called a meeting of the Knights, where Michael said he directed each member to “take a swing” at Michael.
Weeks after the alleged beating, when Mondainé discovered Michael was still seeing the woman, the response was worse.
Michael said the Knights were directed by Mondainé to drive him to Kelly Point Park in the middle of the night, where they were instructed to beat him with fists and sticks. Michael said Mondainé wasn’t present during this beating, but that Mondainé called members of the Knights as it was taking place to confirm it was happening.
“I wasn’t allowed to fight back,” said Michael. “The beating didn’t stop until my knees hit the ground.”
Afterwards, Michael said he was told to walk the seven miles back to Mondainé’s home. Ray, who was also a member of the Knights at this time, remembers this night vividly.
“We beat the shit out of him,” Ray recalled, “and then forced him to walk home barefoot in winter. He was in really bad shape.”
Michael said he was also a victim of Mondainé’s sexual abuse. Not long after the Kelly Point incident, Mondainé asked Michael to deliver coffee to Mondainé’s house.
“I get there, and he tells me I need to sit on his bed and take off my clothes,” Michael said. “By then, I knew he could hurt me, so I did it… but I kept my tank top and boxers on. I sat on the bed and he touched my leg and said something like, ‘The uncomfortableness you feel right now is the exact same feeling that women feel when you engage with them.’ He asked if I was gay. That was it… I got up, got dressed, and got out of there. I was done.”
Yet Michael didn’t allow himself to completely sever ties with the church for several years, until his brother agreed to leave with him in 2007.
“The beating didn’t stop until my knees hit the ground.”
Antjuan Tolbert is a pastor at Celebration Tabernacle and was a teenager at the church when Ray and Michael were members. Tolbert, who is Black, said there was a community of others his age at the church who were interested in the creative arts.
“There were dancers, artists, writers… and I was the athlete,” said Tolbert, who played high school football at the time.
He does recall that a large number of those people left the church at the same time, years later.
“I remember not knowing fully why it was happening,” Tolbert told the Mercury. “I remember there being lots of tension in spaces. The majority of [my] peers left at the same time, just like that. That abrupt change really rocked the church.”
Tolbert wasn’t consistently attending Celebration Tabernacle when he left Oregon to attend college in 1999. He said he’d return on school breaks, but wasn’t clued in to everything going on among his peers. By the time he returned to Portland in 2003, he noticed that there were some young men at the church who acted in a way that made Tolbert feel like “something was wrong.”
“You can tell when someone has been abused, by body language,” said Tolbert. “Like, you can tell when an animal has been abused. I got that feeling around them. But I don’t know what happened behind closed doors.”
Tolbert never got concrete answers from his peers. He said he has never been physically abused by Mondainé, and had no reason to believe Mondainé was abusing anyone.
“Around that time, I was known as the quick-tempered one at Celebration,” Tolbert said. “And I was an athlete. People knew not to mess with me.”
Tolbert is now in charge of Celebration Tabernacle’s visual communications and has his own graphic design business. He credits his success to the focus on creativity and entrepreneurship that Celebration Tabernacle fostered.
“I am truly thankful for the opportunities it’s given me,” Tolbert said.
“You can tell when an animal has been abused. I got that feeling around them. But I don’t know what happened behind closed doors.”
While Mondainé’s alleged physical and sexual abuse appears to have been largely directed at the men and boys in his life, several women who formerly attended Celebration Tabernacle told the Mercury his psychological abuse toward women was uniquely harmful.
This was reflected, they say, in the church’s rules around relationships between men and women. According to Nicole*, who joined the church in 1996 when she was 17, women were barred from wearing tank tops, shorts, or knee-length dresses, and had to wear nylons at church. She says no one could date without the approval of Mondainé.
“He would talk about jezebels, and how women existed to tempt men,” said Nicole, who is white. “We weren’t allowed to drive alone in cars with anyone of the opposite sex. Even if we weren’t dating them, Mondainé believed people would still pull off on the side of the road to have sex.”
Nicole was one of the few members of Celebration Tabernacle to whom Mondainé gave permission to get married. Mondainé would officiate the ceremony. While it’s not unusual for pastors to require marriage counseling before marrying a couple, Nicole said Mondainé’s mandatory counseling came with a costly price tag—and that money appeared to be a key component of the pastor allowing the relationship.
“I knew what he was doing,” Nicole said. “I knew he wasn’t going to marry us unless we paid.”
Several others interviewed by the Mercury said Mondainé regularly called women in the congregation “whores” in the middle of sermons.
Robin Nelson says she experienced Mondaine’s harassment from the pulpit. Nelson, who is white, joined the church in the 2000s as a single mother, hoping to connect her three Black sons with role models in the Black community. Nelson also developed a close friendship with Mondainé. She was escaping an abusive relationship at the time, and said Mondainé provided the support and guidance she needed to move forward.
“I was very vulnerable... and he was there for me when no one else was,” Nelson said. “It’s how he drew me in.”
One Saturday evening, Mondainé called Nelson over to his house to vent about his sons. Nelson said he then tried to kiss her.
“I freaked out, and was like, ‘No, no, no,” said Nelson, who estimates she was a quarter of Mondainé’s size. She said she left his house as quickly as she could.
The next morning, Nelson attended Celebration Tabernacle with her sons. At one point, Nelson said, Mondainé paused to address the congregation in a solemn tone.
“He was like, ‘I’m very sad to say this, but it needs to be addressed,’” Nelson recalled. “And he said that I had been pursuing him and stalking him, and that yesterday I had pushed him up against the wall and shoved my tongue down his throat. I just stood up, got my boys, and walked out. I never came back.”
The humiliation is what Akesha Rintalan remembers most about her time at Celebration Tabernacle. Rintalan, who is Black, joined the church for its youth group and choir when she was 16. She said there was always tension between her and Mondainé because he believed she wasn’t a virgin.
“I was considered less holy,” she said, “and he always made sure I knew that.”
Rintalan believes some of her mistreatment was due to her race, and said she never saw Mondainé treat white girls or women with the same kind of vitriol.
On one occasion, Rintalan confided in Mondainé that she was dating a man at the church—against Mondainé’s wishes—and had gotten an abortion. Instead of offering support, Rintalan said Mondainé called her to the front of the church during a sermon and proceeded to tell the entire congregation about her premarital sex and abortion.
“It was devastating,” said Rintalan. “To this very day, that remains the most painful experience of my life.”
Rintalan was one of the many people who left Celebration Tabernacle in 2007 after hearing Ray’s story. She hasn’t gone inside any church since.
“I no longer can drive through that neighborhood, I get such strong anxiety about it,” said Rintalan. “It makes me so angry that he’s successful and thriving—while so many people are still dealing with the trauma from his actions.”
Nelson also has lasting anxiety issues tied to Mondainé. When she unexpectedly heard his voice coming from her TV in July 2020—when Mondainé was interviewed on CNN about the need for peaceful protests in Portland—she said she started shaking and crying and felt sick to her stomach.
“I was like, ‘As much turmoil you’ve caused, and you’re going to talk about peace?’” Nelson said. “I can’t handle the fact that he’s representing the town that I love.”
“It makes me so angry that he’s successful and thriving—while so many people are still dealing with the trauma from his actions.”
The impact Mondainé has left on some of his former followers vary. For Michael, it shows itself in searing headaches. For Ray, it’s PTSD. For Irene*, it’s anxiety attacks.
Like Ray, Irene describes her first impression of Mondainé as “larger than life.” At 14, she was drawn to Celebration Tabernacle by the chance to join its choir. She became friends with Ray, and, along with other young members of the congregation, began taking weekly “minister in training” classes from Mondainé.
Irene saw the full range of Mondainé’s emotions at these meetings, where each week, students were expected to share their favorite part of Mondainé’s sermon. Irene said if anyone questioned him, he’d lash out.
“He was very unstable,” said Irene, who is white. “He believed, and expected us to believe, that he was directly speaking for God. If you questioned him, you were questioning God."
Irene said Mondainé’s temper made her work hard to stay on his good side. Like Ray and others at the church, she began working at Friday’s, without pay, to show her dedication to the ministry. She said she was allowed to keep tips (which added up to around $10 a day), but she was never asked to fill out employment paperwork or offered a salary or benefits. Irene eventually got a managerial job at the cafe that had her working 11-hour days. She still never saw a paycheck.
“The premise [of Friday’s] was that they took people off the streets and taught them skills they could use to better their lives,” Irene said. “But instead, the majority of staff were younger people or damaged people, unpaid, being used for labor to run the business.”
In a 2004 interview with The Oregonian, Mondainé described Friday’s as a place for young people to get work experience.
“We can't pay them like Denny's,” Mondainé said, “but I can train them to go out there and be competitive.”
Mondainé refutes Irene’s claims.
“Everybody got paid.... No shenanigans,” he told the Mercury. “And if there was, nobody talked to me about it. I didn’t hear any complaints about it.”
Tolbert, a current pastor at Celebration Tabernacle, worked at Friday’s when he was in high school. He said there were periods of time when he wasn’t paid for his work, but he never expected compensation.
“I was young and learning something new, I thought of it as job experience,” said Tolbert. “Sometimes I’d get $25 for a week’s work, or a free meal. That’s why I started my own business, to make an income.”
Irene said Mondainé would stop by the cafe at random times—usually before a personal shopping trip—and that she was expected to let him take large amounts of cash from the register. Michael, who also worked at Friday’s at the time, described this phenomenon as well.
“I would get a phone call from him at work, like, ‘I am five minutes from the cafe and I need $100 and a breakfast sandwich,’” Michael recalled.
Yet every Sunday at church, they said Mondainé would talk about how desperately the church needed funds, and how much more money needed to be added to the church’s offering basket before the church could receive “God’s blessing.”
Mondainé said that he never took money from Friday’s till. “I’ve never dealt with the finances directly,” he told the Mercury. “Ever.”
To further support Celebration Tabernacle, Irene took a second job, donating her income directly to the church. At the time, Irene said, she was getting around two hours of sleep a day. Irene said many of Friday’s unpaid staff were sleep deprived, having been forced to work long days and then attend classes or meetings at night.
Friday’s has since metamorphosed into Po’Shines Cafe de La Soul, a popular soul food restaurant that is owned and managed by Mondainé. The nonprofit cafe functions as a training program for youths who are seeking job experience. Po’Shines’ executive chef James Bradley said that while the restaurant previously relied heavily on volunteers, that’s changed over the past five years. Bradley collects a salary, along with several other managers, and employees make hourly wages between $14 and $21. According to the business’ latest nonprofit tax filing, Po’Shines spends an annual $112,000 on employee salaries.
Like others the Mercury interviewed, Irene also left the church after Ray shared his stories of abuse. She said she’s worked hard to erase Mondainé from her life over the past 13 years.
When she learned in early 2020 that Mondainé was still leading groups of young people in conjunction with both Celebration Tabernacle and the NAACP, Irene said she was deeply saddened—and angry.
Knowing that Mondainé is still holding leadership positions, Irene said, “that part is really hard to swallow.”
It was financial concerns that, in 2019, led Portland NAACP members to start looking into Mondainé’s prior leadership roles. Cynthia Fowler, who joined the NAACP in 2017, said the investigation began after a year of Mondainé making suspicious financial decisions without the approval of branch leadership, like signing a lease to move the nonprofit’s headquarters to the Lloyd Center Mall and flying first class to a national NAACP convention.
“Things were happening without our input,” said Fowler, who was chair of the chapter’s health committee in 2018, when Mondainé was elected president of the Portland NAACP chapter. “When people challenged him, he’d start verbally abusing and belittling people. He’d apologize, but then turn around and do it again. That’s when we realized we had a real problem.”
Mondainé told the Mercury that there have been “no financial mishandlings” under his watch at the NAACP. He said his decision to attend a 2018 NAACP convention in Texas was last-minute, which meant first-class seats were the only option available.
He also added: “I have made it my practice all of my adult life to fly first class. Why would I stop flying first class because I was the president of the NAACP? Rosa Parks fought hard, went to jail… so that we would sit in front of the bus.”
Mondainé said that he contributes more to the NAACP than he gets back from it.
“Look, to do this job, it costs me 90 hours a week... it costs me to be president of the NAACP,” he said. “But it’s a price I don’t mind paying because it’s worth the outcomes in the community.”
James Posey, a former vice president of Portland’s NAACP, said he distanced himself from the organization due to Mondainé’s “authoritarian” leadership style.
“When he’s challenged, he turns violent,” said Posey, who is Black. “It’s the height of hypocrisy. How do you fight for justice when you’re unjust? How can you talk about peace when you threaten violence?”
Fowler said Mondainé’s ire is particularly directed toward Black women, including herself. Since Mondainé became president, every Black woman who sat on NAACP’s executive committee at the time of his appointment has either stepped down or been removed.
“Any Black woman that speaks up has been shut down or [verbally] abused,” Fowler said.
However, Fowler said that Mondainé appears to have respect for one Black woman: The Portland NAACP’s previous president, Jo Ann Hardesty, who left the post in 2018 to serve as a Portland city commissioner. Hardesty and Mondainé have continued to work together on policy issues and projects since she joined City Council, such as the development of the Portland Clean Energy Fund. Hardesty declined the Mercury’s request for comment.
“How do you fight for justice when you’re unjust? How can you talk about peace when you threaten violence?”
In response to the alleged problems at the Portland chapter of the NAACP, Fowler and others created Rise Up PDX, a group intended to improve the local chapter’s accountability and transparency.
In July 2020, Fowler was contacted by Ray through a mutual friend.
While she was shocked to hear allegations from Ray and other former members of Celebration Tabernacle, Fowler said she wasn’t entirely surprised. She said the allegations only solidified Rise Up PDX’s belief that Mondainé should be removed from NAACP leadership.
Mondainé is currently running for a second term as the chapter president in the Portland NAACP’s November 21 election. Rise Up PDX has published a list of candidates they’ve endorsed to replace Mondainé and other chapter leaders.
“The community’s voice is not being heard when people go to him,” said Fowler. “He basically speaks for himself… he is doing what is best for him. There are so many others who could better represent our community at this time.”
Mondainé told the Mercury that the members of Rise Up PDX are outliers in the local NAACP branch.
“It’s just a few people who’ve made it very, very difficult,” he said. “The rest of the group is tired of them too.”
When reached for comment about the allegations against Mondainé, the Portland NAACP responded with a statement from Mondainé.
“The board has been apprised and will be standing with me as I release a statement,” it reads.
Fowler said she’s prepared for criticism from the local Black community for condemning a man who positions himself as a leader for African Americans in a city—and a state—with a small Black population.
“I think there are people who will criticize us, because you just don’t talk bad about Black leadership in this city,” said Fowler. “But it’s so important right now to hold those leaders accountable, particularly because there's a real opportunity to get on the path of change."
“It’s so important right now to hold those leaders accountable, particularly because there's a real opportunity to get on the path of change."”
Mondainé characterized the 11 people who spoke with the Mercury about his alleged harassment and abuse as “disgruntled employees.”
“They were all friends, and all left the church in a huff. I don’t know why,” he said. “I’m not shocked. I’m not surprised. But if there were any truths to that, there would be a consistent record [of abuse] from when they left until now. And there isn’t one.”
Only a few of the sources who spoke with the Mercury said they knew each other well. Several of them said they had never met each other, even when their tenure attending the church may have overlapped.
Mondainé encouraged the Mercury to speak with Amy Rutherford-Close, a woman who’s attended Celebration Tabernacle for 14 years. Rutherford-Close, who identifies as mixed-race, said that this isn’t the first time Mondainé has been hit with abuse allegations.
“It comes in waves,” she said. “Over the years that I’ve been there there are many people who have accused him of many things. That’s the downside of him being in an authoritative position. That’s the downside of being in the public eye.”
Rutherford-Close doesn’t believe that any of the past allegations were true.
“People like to make it really personal… to hurt him,” she said. “That’s what I think is happening here.”
Po’shines chef Bradley began attending the church in 2007, shortly before Ray and others exited. He characterized the group as “rebellious youngsters” who would always speak negatively about the church and Mondainé.
“They weren’t very kind people,” said Bradley. “It was clear they didn’t want to be obedient to the church. They weren’t disciplined. I remember them leaving with a big bang and thinking, ‘You all just didn’t want to do what you were told to do in the church and restaurant, and you made shit up.’”
Bradley considers himself Mondainé’s apprentice, and said he spends a lot of time with the pastor. He’s never seen him be physically or verbally abusive to anyone.
“He’s always been a gentle human being," said Bradley. "If anything, it’s the opposite. If he sees someone being mistreated, he intervenes. He’s consistently looking out for people.”
Mondainé said he has no idea why allegations like this would be made against him.
“All I know is that we have been a very loving, very giving church,” Mondainé said. “It saddens me that people would be so desperate. What’s the point, to ruin my life?”
“It saddens me that people would be so desperate. What’s the point, to ruin my life?”
Celebration Tabernacle regularly records and uploads Mondainé’s sermons to the church’s YouTube account. In one video from 2013, titled “Ministering to Your Abuser,” Mondainé explains how he himself is a victim of abuse, and how he healed from it by refusing to hide from his abuser.
“You will get the opportunity to confront the abusers in your life,” Mondainé tells his congregation. Off camera, members of Celebration Tabernacle call out: “Amen.”
Mondainé then recites a series of affirmations, including, “Old abuse is no license for present destruction” and “I will no longer be bound to my past.”
“The last affirmation I want to make with you tonight is, ‘I will relinquish vengeance and receive justice,’” he says. “Say it with me: I will relinquish vengeance and receive justice.”
The congregation responds: “I will relinquish vengeance and receive justice.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, contact Multnomah County’s Call to Safety's crisis line at 503-235-5333 or 1-888-235-5333, or email email@example.com. You can also contact a national sexual assault hotline at 800-656-4673 or chat online at hotline.rainn.org.