Portland, Oregon, native Elijah Hasan is using his artistic talent to bring awareness to the growing gun violence currently taking place in his city.
Earlier this month, Hasan, along with anti-gun activists, including representatives from organizations such as The No Hate Zone, the Portland Rotary Peace Builders, and Loved is Stronger, came together to unveil one of many billboards focused on getting to the root of the gun violence issue that has struck the city of roughly 665,000 residents, roughly 6 percent of whom are African-American.
The billboard displays an image of a Black man’s head next to a bullet inscribed with a stylized drawing of the hold of a slave ship, both images accompanied by the message: “Racism + Self-hate = gun violence. Reject the oppression.” The group also implored members of the Black community to “destroy white supremacy, not each other.”
Hasan shared his inspiration behind the artwork with The Oregonian, stating that the bullet, much like a slave ship, is a “vessel of trauma for Black people.” “We really wanted to get at the core of what we think the issue is, and that is self-hate and the environment that kind of manifested that self-hate, which I believe is white supremacy and decisions that were made back in time that created a cycle and a perpetuation of violence that we’re still seeing today,” he continued.
“It is my intention to remind the Black minds inside these Black bodies that they may think that these bullets fly because someone snitched or even killed a love one, but I am suggesting that this, not the reason you’re shooting.” Hasan says the real reason is “a symptom of the environment you find yourself in.”
S. Renee Mitchell, a former Oregonian columnist, played a crucial role in crafting the billboard’s messaging. Mitchell has long covered the effects of racial trauma and is the brain behind the national award-winning youth-development organization called I Am M.O.R.E. (Making Ourselves Resilient Everyday).
Last month Willamette Week reported that Portland saw “at last 18 gun homicides and 245 shootings in 2021 alone,” noting that the rate “would easily break decades of records.” As of May 10, 2021, that number has gone up to 22 gun-related deaths and 370 shootings. There have been attempts to curb the issue. Lawmakers proposed releasing $4.9 million in getting resources needed to combat the problem. Commissioners Carmen Rubio, Mingus Mapps, and Dan Ryan requested the city allocate $3.5 million of that immediately to groups that are “working with the communities impacted by gun violence and have established partnership with the city.”
Mitchell told reporters, “These billboards are directed to the Black community because we cannot depend on folks outside of our community to solve issues.” She added, “This requires an internal shift … in order to understand why we’re participating in a system that was designed to work against us.”
Three other billboards in Portland can be found at: Southwest 11th Avenue and Jefferson Street, Southeast Stark Street and 122nd Avenue , and Southeast McLoughlin Boulevard and Holly Avenue.