Shopping mall makeover: LLOYD GETS WOKE
A branch of the NAACP opened in the Lloyd Center shopping mall early this year as an experiment in retail. Not selling shoes and skirts — leave that to Marshall's next door — but in waking up the conscience of white people.
Mall manager Bob Dye says he had a wake-up call when a young African-American woman with children came to him to complain that she had been followed around a store — he won't say which one — by staff, under suspicion of shoplifting. It was the catalyst to him reaching out to pastor E.D. Mondaine, president of the Portland NAACP.
"She didn't fit the profile of a shoplifter, but she was a woman of color and she told me she was being watched at this store. I listened to her story and it really did break my heart. She was in tears. She wasn't mad, she wasn't looking for retribution, she wasn't looking for me to give her a gift card, or say I'm sorry. She was looking for someone to tell her story to. And I happened to be that person."
Mondaine and Dye were already in talks, about something else, but Dye wanted to talk about the incident and do something about it.
Mondaine says he and Dye clicked immediately. The resulting space, with NAACP in large letters on the storefront, opened officially on April 4.
Uncle Bob meet Malcolm X
It consists of a lobby, an office for Mondaine and a meeting room which can host 50 people. On a recent morning, the room was all set for 40 kids to watch Spike Lee's movie "Malcolm X." The next day they would go to hear Malcolm X's daughter Ilyasah Shabazz speak at the Doubletree Hotel.
"This is my Uncle Bob, we fastly became brothers when we met. He doesn't work for the mall, he works for the NAACP. He just doesn't know it," jokes Mondaine.
He calls the week of activities celebrating Malcolm X a "capacity builder" for the NAACP Portland chapter, a way of raising money and bringing in new members. "We never recognize him. We're kind of embarrassed because he was so controversial. And it was a good controversy, and it was necessary."
The NAACP is an all-volunteer organization, "from the president down to the door holder." The Lloyd Center gave them four months free rent and then "a deal" on it thereafter.
"NAACP is not a social services organization, it's a civil rights organization," says Mondaine. "It's a floating organization." It works with groups like the Urban League and has borrowed space from churches.
Bob Dye and his mall management staff really want the NAACP in the Lloyd Center.
There's no doubt that malls are suffering. People shop for the latest goods at the best prices on their phones rather than make a day of it at the mall. Lloyd Center and its new owners Arrow Retail of Dallas are trying to reinvent the space as an entertainment hub in a new neighborhood, welcoming to locals and people who might visit using the excellent transit infrastructure. The mall will gain a music venue bar and regain a multiplex cinema. But there's the off-putting issue of teens "acting out" in the mall, to use Dye's word, which could scare off suburbanites and tourists.
Antjuan Tolbert, Mondaine's personal assistant, is constantly up and down from his laptop greeting people who wander in. As the Business Tribune was there, two former NAACP presidents dropped in to chat.
"As the organization grows, and as the coffers get filled, the intent is for this to be open to the public every day," says Dye.
Their Black History Month display called "Can You Hear Us" focused on the history of the NAACP in Oregon and had King's Dream speech on a loop.
Mondaine recalls, "There were people here all the time, and people from all over the world coming in and taking pictures." They said things like "We never knew there would be an NAACP in the mall, Oh my God!"
Dye added, "I don't think it can be underscored enough that there was a black community in the Lloyd District before the Lloyd Center came in, and they were all removed!"
Domaine said with a hearty laugh, "Twenty-two blocks of North Portland were gentrified, and when you add up that it comes to about 40 acres, OK."
Thirty-five years ago, Domaine moved here from St. Louis Missouri, and raised his kids in the King Sabin neighborhood, before moving to Columbia Villa near St. John's. He talked about the Vanport Flood, the clearing of Albina and the gentrification of Williams and Alberta.
"(The brick-and-mortar storefront) a place for moving things forward in terms of race inclusion, race disparities, race reconciliation. Implicit bias training is done here, racial bias training is done here. It's a hub for lots of organizations."
Mondaine continued, "When Bob called he didn't call with a complaint, 'Come and get these black people put of the mall! They're here stealing!' He got my attention because his heart was breaking that African American girls and boys were being affected for the rest of their lives by shoplifting. He understood it's not just a problem of young persons, but when you are young and black and there's a stereotype, and you're adding to that stereotype, and the disparities that happen with African American and white kids, he called our office to say 'I don't want to see this happen. What can we do?'"
Economics of a mall fight
The result is a program to match "at hope" kids (he prefers this formulation to the conventional but negative "at risk" kids) with mentors, to try to steer them on a right path. The kids will interview their role model mentors about their successes, and document them over a year in video form. Those videos will be shown in Portland schools, such as Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center and Rosemary Anderson High School.
They want the message to be about how the mall affects the economy.
Dye explains, "We want them to reach out to the African American boys and girls, this shoplifting, it's more than shrinkage for the store. With shrinkage they cut expenses, and they cut their labor costs. Who's going to lose the job? Young teenagers. Their shoplifters, fights or other acting out affects someone losing their job which then affects their family. A lot of kids work to help support the family."
Dye wants to help a young man or woman "change their stars, break the cycle, and help them see there are wonderful things that can happen if they change their course."
Mondaine compares their partnership to the way the NAACP was founded — the empowerment of wealth and privilege joined with the struggle and need for a better society. It came from a white woman approaching a black leader and offering help. "Mary White Ovington, a white woman, went to W.E.B. Du Bois and said 'We're tired of seeing black men lynched,'" says Mondaine.
The mall management can't make the store staff do anything, but they already do provide active shooter training, and how to control shrinkage in partnership with the Portland Police. "But we can offer diversity training here," says Dye.
He tells a tale of watching the new Roseanne, in which Roseanne upbraids a counter clerk for racially profiling a woman in a headscarf.
"That was beautiful because you had a white woman telling a white store clerk 'How dare you treat a woman of color different than you're treating me?'"
As Dye talks, he's the white 65-year-old who is now thoroughly woke. Pastor Mondaine looks on knowingly, then says,
"Racism isn't going to be fought from me (a black male) to you (a white male), it's going to be fought from him (a white male) to you (a white male). It's going to take him, sitting at your dinner table, where I'm not at, where the word 'n-----' comes up, and those 'darkies' and those 'little monkeys'...when we hear those in our closed circle, when we wouldn't hear it when I was around, that's when we fight it."
Both men stress that the NAACP office isn't just about fighting racism. For Dye, who feels like he was on the wrong path as a youth until a couple of mentors reached in and guided him, it's a chance to help any young person who is acting out at the mall. "I know as well as anyone the power of the big bother big sister, or a mentor."
Follow the leader
Dye says the videos will be the major part of the program they take to schools and show in schools.
"It's about the impact of the mall on the economy, and on the family. It could be losing a job, or getting a job. And if we can turn one student through that I think we've accomplished a lot."
Mondaine says he now walks around Lloyd Center. He was in Macy's and a store security person followed him, keeping his distance. He walked to the other side of the store, to make sure it was happening. "I asked him, can you please leave me alone? Why are you following me?" The guard backed off, but didn't apologize.
The goal is to package all the videos made by mentees and make collages of them. "The mentor is going to find what the kid really wants to do, what their real gift is, so they can focus on it. Because obviously school ain't it."
Mondaine wants to avoid reverse racism so the program is open to all cultural backgrounds and ethnicities. "It's open to everybody, but understanding the urgency that has to come with the African American. Why? Because of what we face in America today. Not just in this mall. This is what's happening in our country and we know it."
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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