Best Day Ever: Octogenarian artist and activist Richard Brown
Richard Brown is 84 years old and every day is his best Portland day.
- "Every day is perfect," he told Axios. "Because there's usually nothing that's going to happen that I don't want to do."
Background: Brown has been a fixture around town for decades, first as a photographer of Portland's Black community and then as an activist particularly focused on better policing.
- Born in Harlem, he joined the Air Force at 17 and was posted to rural America, Germany, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines.
- He retired from the military after 20 years and came to Portland in 1976. He became part of the Black United Front, served on a now-defunct Portland police advisory group called the Chief's Forum, and was an adviser at Oregon's state police academy.
- His memoir, "This Is Not For You" — weaving lessons of activism through vignettes of his life — came out in 2021.
Brown's ideal Portland day goes like this:
⏰ Wake up around 7. Might get up, he says, might go back to sleep.
☕ Breakfast is light: A pastry or English muffin, and espresso at home, because he's never found a place in Portland that makes coffee his way — with oat milk and at least three cubes of brown demerara sugar.
📰 He typically spends part of every day pulling together his weekly email newsletter, designed for people recently out of prison.
- It mixes current events with practical advice — like health and financial tips — and profiles of accomplished Black people, like Yvonne Spann Sowers, who graduated from college at age 71, and Lonnie Johnson, the man who invented the Super Soaker water gun.
- "It's to let people know there are no limits on what you can do," Brown says.
⏳ Afternoons and evenings might find Brown tinkering — fixing his screen door or building himself a scanner — or at meetings of groups where he's still active.
- Albina Head Start, where chairs the board, named a child education center after him.
- For the past 15 years, he's been running a weekly conversation group with men and women on parole.
📷 He carries his camera with him often, though he might not take any pictures.
What he's saying: "Nobody ever sat me down and told me this is what you need to do," he told Axios. "I watched people who were doing the things I wanted to do. And I folded that into who I am."
Of note: You can see Brown's photographic portraits of community elders in "Keepers Of Our Story," a permanent outdoor exhibit at the Multnomah County Northeast Health Center.
- His work will also be part of the Portland Art Museum's upcoming exhibit, Black Artists in Portland, which opens in September.
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