He’s sometimes friendly, sometimes aggressive, but almost always loud. Cedric Jenkins, the latest iteration of a long line of Park Blocks "street preachers," has become a fixture of morning life at Portland State over the last year.
His unique, lyrical preaching style, projected by his booming voice, can be heard from several blocks away, with the content of his message ranging from pleas for people to repent for their sins to rhythmic gibberish.
Many students and faculty are either intrigued or uninterested by Jenkins’ presence on campus, while others have considered him a nuisance.
Jenkins frequently receives complaints about his chanting, but says he tries not to get offended when critics approach him.
"I’m an artist and as an artist I feel like for people to come and harass an artist and say things like, ‘I don’t like what you’re saying, you’re offending me,’ is stupid." Jenkins said. "This is America; we’re supposed to have freedom of speech. That’s what I’m doing."
Jenkins’ chanting can be difficult for people to tune out, according to John Reuter, a professor of environmental science who said he has been bothered before by the volume level of Jenkins’ voice.
"I’ve asked him to be quiet a couple of times. He sort of yelled at me," Reuter said. "He doesn’t need to be that loud. If [people] want to hear him they can come closer."
Reuter characterized Jenkins as using public space for his own "personal exploitation" in the guise of free speech.
The Campus Public Safety Office (CPSO) has received several phone calls regarding Jenkins over the year, according to Lt. Craig Whitten. Whitten, who spoke with the Vanguard from his home around 8 p.m. yesterday evening, was not able to disclose specific details about the complaints received at press time.
There is little that CPSO is able to do, however, unless Jenkins commits a crime, Whitten said. Otherwise, street preaching is protected under Jenkins’ right to free speech.
"He’s not violating any law or ordinance in the park," Whitten said. "Basically, we advise people that if they don’t like what he’s saying, to just ignore him."
Jenkins does have a history of occasionally becoming confrontational with people walking in the Park Blocks. The Vanguard reported in November that Jenkins was involved in an altercation with a passerby near his regular preaching spot outside Smith Memorial Student Union, in which Jenkins threatened the other man. Jenkins was asked to leave campus for the remainder of that day by CPSO officers who responded to the incident.
Jenkins said that Portland Police officers have escorted him off campus "at least three or four times," but seemed to believe that people were deliberately provoking him to get him removed from campus.
"These people do it with a little skit," he said. "They conspire to get an old man to do something stupid, then they get the police to take me away."
For administrators whose offices overlook Jenkins’ Park Blocks spot, his booming preaching has been something they’ve gotten used to over time, according to Laura Hernandez, a receptionist in the Office of the President.
"All I can say is that it’s been going on so long we can’t even hear it anymore," she said.
-additional reporting by Stephanie Ryan