Trish Bradley displays her Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Service Award, given to Bradley after Mass Jan. 17 for her four decades of service to St. Andrew Parish in Northeast Portland.
Trish Bradley displays her Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Service Award, given to Bradley after Mass Jan. 17 for her four decades of service to St. Andrew Parish in Northeast Portland.

St. Andrew Parish presented its annual Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. service awards following Mass Sunday, Jan. 17. Each year, the Northeast Portland parish honors people whose service embodies the values taught by King, who used nonviolence, civil disobedience and Christian teaching to advance the cause of civil rights in the United States.

John Wolfe, co-chair of the awards committee, described the awards as a sign of the “dream of cultural plurality and race harmony” that King worked so hard to bring about.

The Community Service Award went to Cameron Whitten of the Black Resilience Fund. Whitten responded quickly to the economic hardship faced by Portland’s Black community during the pandemic.

Cyreena Boston Ashby introduced Whitten, whom she had nominated, and recounted how he founded the fund in June 2020 as a call to action following George Floyd’s death. Originally Whitten and co-founder Salomé Chimuku hoped to raise $5,000 to help Black Portlanders with emergency expenses. To date, the fund has raised $2.5 million. Ashby also noted Whitten’s advocacy work for affordable housing, racial justice and the rights of the LGBTQ community in Portland. She ended her remarks by describing his “warm presence and transparent, generous, giving spirit.”

Accepting the award, Whitten talked about the racism and violence that threatens both “the vision of the egalitarian America we all want to see” and our common “hope that someday we shall overcome.”

In 2018, Whitten founded Brown Hope, a nonprofit aimed at lifting up Black, brown and Indigenous people in Oregon who have faced the “dual storms of systemic racism and the pandemic,” said Whitten. He has since folded the charitable work of the Black Resistance Fund into Brown Hope, which sponsors other projects of healing, leadership and community-building.

Parishioner Tony Jones introduced Trish Bradley, whom he nominated for her 43 years of service to the parish. Service is that “new form of greatness” that King rightly ascribed to Jesus, said Jones. In a speech King gave at Ebenezer Baptist he said: “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant,” quoting Matthew 23:11.

Bradley’s service has included co-chairing the capital campaign as it raised nearly $3.5 million dollars for a new community center, as well as teaching the beauty of diversity to young children preparing for first Communion. She has chaired the parish personnel committee, was a charter member of the Rev. Martin Luther King Awards Committee, served two terms on the pastoral council, one term on the administrative council, and co-chaired an after-Mass community forum exploring ways parishioners can work for justice.

Accepting the award, Bradley talked about those in the congregation who “lived through the civil rights movement as teens or as young adults in the sixties and seventies.” A younger generation, she pointed out, imagines that the movement is over. “It’s still going on, and each of us has a role to play in it,” she said. The rights people fought for are fragile and “it’s up to each of us to be vigilant.”

Quoting John Lewis’ “Democracy is not a state; it’s an act,” Bradley urged listeners to act with peace, information and persistence.

The spirit of King was evoked by guest speaker Marilyn Keller, who reminded listeners of his work as a community organizer and skillful strategist, and read his six key principles of nonviolence. She recommended close study of his first book, “Stride Toward Freedom,” and of his landmark speeches collected in “A Call to Conscience.” Keller, a well-known Portland singer, ended her reflection with King’s own words, reciting from the speech he gave the night he was killed.

For most of the 25 people who’d reserved seats for the Mass, it was the first time back inside the church since March 2020. The small group of believers, scattered across the largely empty sanctuary, sang “We Shall Overcome” as the closing hymn, yearning for the day when the full parish community can again hold hands and sing.