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By Helen Silvis of The Skanner News
Published: 20 June 2011

DeNorval Unthank Park has had a facelift and new lighting, and much more is planned. Five recreation workers, hired from the Northeast community have been hired to organize events in the park this summer from 4pm to 7 p.m. Along with fun activities, free meals for youth will be offered at 5 p.m. daily. A movie night, weekly gospel singing and other events also are in the works.

If you haven't heard the story of Dr. DeNorval Unthank, you're not alone. Many Portlanders have no idea where the park got its name. That's just one reason why Portland Parks and Recreation held a rededication celebration with entertainment and food and in the park on Friday June 17.  The Skanner News Video: SEI drummers

Speakers included Rev. Hardy from Highland Christian Church; Portland's Commissioner for parks, Nick Fish; Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith; former Sen. Avel Gordly; longtime local business owner Paul Knauls; and family members of Dr. Unthank. Drummers and dancers from the education nonprofit Self Enhancement Inc., performed along with gospel choir.

"We stand on the shoulders of those who went before us," Rev. Hardy reminded the crowd. Speakers talked about Dr. Unthank's many contributions to justice and equality.

His mother died when he was just nine years old. His father was a poor cook who couldn't afford to feed him and his seven brothers and sisters. Sent to Kansas City to live with his aunt and uncle he worked hard to earn a path to university and a career as a doctor. But that wasn't the end of his struggles. Why? This doctor was Black at a time when the color of your skin was way more important than the content of your character. Yet he was not deterred. He became a civil rights warrior, and a legend

"Many of the African American leaders in this community were delivered by Dr. Unthank and live by his example," said Art Hendrix, security manager for the Parks department.

Dr. Unthank fought for equal rights on a number of fronts. He helped found the local Urban League, was President of the NAACP and was the first Black person to be accepted into the Portland City Club. He faced discrimination in his personal life, moving his family four times before finding a safe place to live.

According to the Oregon Historical Society, Dr. Unthank said: "A Negro may have a few more doors closed to him and he may find them a little harder to open, but he can open them. He must keep trying."

Concerns over gang misbehavior in the park were among the reasons for the rededication. As the ceremony unfolded on a beautiful sunny evening, children and young people were playing on a climbing wall and on the basketball court.

One longtime neighborhood resident who did not want to be identified, said jobs and economic opportunity were the biggest needs for the young people who congregate in the park most evenings. He pointed to gentrification and lack of economic opportunity for young African Americans as one reason why Black youth don't feel part of the wider Portland community. "We feel like Palestinians, shut out of own neighborhoods," he said.
Scheduled Events
June 27 to Aug. 26 Summer Playground program with arts, crafts, gimp and sports
from 4 to 7 pm.  Free dinner for all youth up to 18 years at 5 pm daily.
June 25  Red Bull 1on 1 Basbetball tournament
Aug. 18 at 6:30 pm. Linda Hornbuckle and Janice Scroggins perform as part of the Concerts in the Park
Aug. 24 The Sorcerers Apprentice movie at dusk

PHOTOS from top: Children listened briefly to the speakers before running off to play; Gospel singers from local churches will perform in the park on Wednesdays; a crowd of all ages came to the park to honor Dr. Unthank; the Urban League and Mentors NW were among the nonprofits at the rededication ceremony.

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