When The Landmarks Are Gone: Older African Americans, Place, And Change In N/NE Portland
Local businesses, social clubs, churches, homes of family and friends—landmarks trigger memories and remind us of our stories. Collectively, neighborhood stories transform place into home and weave individual lives into community. But when the landmarks are gone and a new demographic takes root what new meanings do the old stories take on?
For many older African Americans, rapid gentrification has rendered Portland’s historically Black neighborhoods unrecognizable and unrelatable. The SHARP Walking Program uses community memory to motivate African Americans aged 55 and over to engage in regular physical and social activity. Over seventy neighborhood walks help participants preserve brain health and history. Routes showcase the vibrancy of local African American life through GPS-triggered historical images. The digital program records walking groups’ conversational reminiscence about what was while they pass through the strikingly different landscape of what is.
Through SHARP walkers’ stories, the lights in old landmarks flick on again, barber shops hum with political debate, and Black businesses along Williams Ave thrive. Walkers’ reflections on aging, place and change speak to the shifting meaning of their stories, of them as storytellers and as their audience as storytakers.
Raina Croff, PhD is Assistant Professor of Neurology at OHSU’s NIA-Layton Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease Center. Born and raised in Portland, she graduated from Grant High School and earned her PhD in anthropology at Yale University. Dr. Croff brings a cultural lens to older African American brain health, combining community, place, and meaning to create cognitive health interventions that celebrate Black culture and history. Dr. Croff’s work is supported by the CDC Healthy Brain Research Network, the Alzheimer's Association, the National Institute on Aging, and PreSERVE Coalition for African American Memory and Brain Health.
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