Stories of connection and perseverance filled Lincoln Hall on Oct. 13 for Portland State of Mind’s PDXTalks event. Five diverse speakers of various backgrounds stood before a full crowd, talking about their life experiences and sparking interest within the audience.
A live pianist performed as the lights dimmed and a video was projected on the wall showing clips of Portland State students and faculty, with the underlying theme of “Let Knowledge Serve.”
The first speaker, Amelia Pape, began with a photo of her younger self. Pape opened with a story of her mother calling her to tell her that she was diagnosed with HIV. It was an emotional time, as everything changed for her at the young age of seven. She continued on with her life, but things were never the same, especially when she reached middle school.
“Middle school is like eating from the tree of knowledge,” Pape said.
Pape realized early on that food insecurity was a real issue, especially when she was part of the Reduced Lunch Program. She said she didn’t want to be the poor kid. She discussed statistics detailing that one in six Oregonians are food insecure. This inspired her to start a program called My Street Grocery to help mitigate food insecurity in Portland. “Food is the hook, but community is the glue.”
The second speaker, Larry Wallack, talked about public health, and the United States’ high level of health disparity. “Health is a function of social inequality,” Wallack said. “The more social inequality in a society, the more health inequality.”
He discussed how America is the richest country in the world, yet it rates low for health equality. “Social justice is the collective decisions we make as a people, as a community, about how we distribute goods and services, opportunities and burdens,” Wallack said.
Wallack’s presentation included quotes from David Barker who developed the Barker Hypothesis, a theory linking birthweight and other early life indicators as precursors to adult diseases, rather than one’s genetic makeup. Wallack believes the developmental origins of health and disease will change everything.
The third speaker, Wajdi Said, spoke about the Muslim Educational Trust and the Muslim community in Portland. He shared pictures of his family and introduced his businessman father who died when his mother was still pregnant with Said.
Said witnessed the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, and saw firsthand starving Ethiopian children and adults. He said he went to his mother and asked, “‘Mom, why are children dying? Why are humans fighting?’” This inspired him to become a medical doctor to help these victims.
There was a slight intermission between the first three speakers and the last two. The Portland Chamber Choir took the stage to sing Renaissance music, a song of peace, folklore, and a rendition of Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah.” Their voices echoed throughout the Recital Hall, earning the group not one but two standing ovations.
The fourth speaker, Gretchen Schauffler, talked about color conflicts. “I believe that connection is the biggest and the highest end of all. We can all feel when something is amazing because of its connection,” Shauffler said. She discussed the care reflex where if someone doesn’t care, they are going against their care reflex—like not caring about the color of your kitchen.
Her goal is to help people pick the correct colors for their home, colors they feel connected to. She talked about how there are five primary senses, and there also happens to be five primary colors.
“Choose connection above circumstances,” Schauffler said.
The final speaker, Kevin Truong, founded the Gay Men Project. His story began with the journey of his mother who escaped Vietnam while pregnant with two daughters in hand. She then gave birth to Truong in a refugee camp. However, Truong also said he doesn’t see the refugee world as his world.
His mother’s courage helped him face the reality of his own sexuality. Truong founded the Gay Men Project, a photographic project five years in the making, including over 700 photos of gay and queer men. He also talked about the reality of the gay world in Portland compared to other places.
The night ended with a standing ovation and a bow by Truong. The speakers and audience remained on the floor, talking to each other about what the stories had taught them.