When Northeast Portlander Ronnie Herndon heard about the racist threats made against the Good in the Hood festival, he knew he wasn’t going to miss it.
“It’s more reason to come out,” said Herndon outside King Elementary School Saturday morning as he waited for the parade to start.
“You never want to let people who try to frighten the community think they’ve had success,” he said. “Quite the opposite. You want to show them that no one’s afraid and that we will support our institutions and we will do it publicly.”
This weekend marked the 25th anniversary for Northeast Portland’s Good in the Hood multicultural festival. School groups, community organizations, and neighborhood sponsors marched from King Elementary School down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard toward Lillis-Albina Park.
Leading the parade in a classic white Cadillac convertible was festival president Shawn Penney.
“This means unity in the community, bringing families and communities together,” said Penney, who grew up in the area.
“My grandparents migrated from the south to come here for better jobs and education,” he said. “We’ve been here ever since.”
Penney waved to residents as he rode by — many parked along the sidewalk in lawn chairs cheering him on. Earlier this month, festival organizers received a letter filled with racist profanities and threats, with references to the Ku Klux Klan. The letter named Penney specifically and threatened a “bloodbath” if the festival wasn’t shut down. Penney and his board decided that the festival would go on.
“The most important thing, why we made sure this event went on, is that we were not going to back down,” Penney said. “We were going to stand up and say: ‘We win.’ Because if we did cancel it, they win.”
At the recommendation of the FBI, for the first time, organizers increased security with more police officers, bag checks and security checkpoints at Lillis-Albina Park where the parade ended. No incidents have been reported.
Despite the violent threats, festival-goers remained upbeat and most of the parade felt like a giant party. Participants tossed candy to children sitting on the sidelines and flowers were passed out to people as the day went on.
“Today feels good, we’re having a good time,” said Tyree Elliott, as he took a video of the parade going by his house. He celebrated with his family on his front lawn and frequently got a hug from friends as they marched by.
“It’s more intimate. You get to see your community. I mean, I know at least half the people in the parade,” he said with a laugh.
Sitting on shady patch of grass, Tyrelle Owens took a break from walking alongside the parade. He wore a black T-shirt with “I Am Shawn Penney” in big bold letters across the front. He was not the only one wearing it. Shawn himself was sporting one.
“I made about 100 of them,” Owens said. “I should have made more.”
Owens grew up right down the street from Lillis-Albina Park and has known Shawn Penney since fourth grade. He said the T-shirt had a dual purpose: to camouflage Penney in case anyone carried out the threats. And to show solidarity with his friend.
“It was a way for all of us to stand up and say, if you do something to him, you do something to all of us,” Owens explained. “This could have been something to divide us. But I saw it brought people together.”