On Thursday morning, activist and former City Council candidate Candace Avalos took to Twitter to publish a racist, handwritten letter she’d been sent. It’s the most recent in a spate of such letters Black Portlanders have received over the past six months, threatening violence against them and others. This latest also included a violent threat against anyone with a PDX Love Over Hate sign in their yard.
There’s a reason this new group, a neighborhood initiative gone citywide, has been included: their entire mission is to support victims of racist hate crimes, and they were created in response to one such letter.
Last July Kamelah Adams, owner of Mimi’s Fresh Tees, came home to a similar screed. She posted it to Instagram, and stated her determination not to let the hatred win: “This experience has reinvigorated me and rededicated me to this work and my business. Hate will not win here. Love over hate.”
Her friends and neighbors rallied to support her, first with a fundraiser to help her build her business and find safe housing, and then with an idea inspired by her own words, which gave birth to PDX Love Over Hate. It began as a campaign to put yard signs around the neighborhood after a conversation Adams had with longtime friend Jason Blumkotz. “One of the thing she mentioned was the impact that it had on her children, and how they didn’t feel comfortable letting her out of her sight,” he recalls. Together, Blumkotz, Adams, and friends hatched an idea to create signs to reclaim their neighborhood for Adams’ children. The idea, Blumkotz recalls, was “let’s get some signs, we’ll put them up all over the neighborhood, the kids will see them, and it will be her words speaking back to them.”
A team formed, a friend lent design skills, and PDX Love Over Hate was born. “The first thing was, let’s [put signs up in] Kamelah’s neighborhood,” says Blumkotz. “So we did that and learned a lot about people’s commitment to the process, and how it impacted her and her kids.”
Adams says the sight of signs going up around her Northeast Portland neighborhood lifted her spirits. “It just speaks to my heart to see those signs out, and that people are standing up against racism symbolically, and showing love and support and denouncing racism in our community, that’s what those signs mean to me,” she says. “When [my kids] see those signs [outside a house], they know that house is a safe house for them to go to.”
In the months since PDX Love Over Hate was created, more letters have been received, but some 2000 signs have also appeared in yards all over Portland. Currently in the process of becoming a 501(c)(3), PDX Love Over Hate is also hoping to raise funds for mental health resources and therapy for victims of racially motivated hate crimes. “It’s a group that is focused on victims of hate crimes and helping them heal from the trauma, while engaging the community in the process,” says Blumkotz.
The number of letters in recent months has “sort of exploded our model,” which he admits was built on a “one at a time” approach, reaching out to victims and asking them if they would like volunteers to come with signs to their neighborhoods. That’s why PDX Love Over Hate needs even more Portlanders to step up and volunteer to distribute signs. “Buy 10 signs, go and canvas a couple of streets, and get them out,” is Blumkotz’s ask.
“We can’t allow someone to pick up a piece of paper and a pen, and destroy someone’s life,” he says. “Donate money, volunteer your time. Let’s blanket the city with love over hate."