I was thrilled to receive Executive Director Eric Rosewall’s email last year inviting me to apply to be on the board of Depave because just months earlier, I had fallen in love with the organization after an amazing event at the Muslim Community Center. It felt the same as when someone you’re really attracted to asks you out on a date. I was super flattered and pleased.
I had heard of Depave when I first moved to Portland about three years ago from my friend Walt Lockley. He had invited me to join in what he described as a community effort to remove the asphalt from a parking lot by hand. It struck me as very hard work and I thought that I had better (or at least easier) things to do with my weekend morning than back-breaking removal of asphalt. So that was that.
Until about 7 months ago when I started working at Communitecture. My boss Mark Lakeman told me about several organizations that Communitecture’s sister organization, City Repair, had helped in the past and Depave was one of them. My interest was piqued once again in Depave and I looked it up and saw that the organization was hosting an event at the Muslim Community Center. I immediately signed up for the event because of my Muslim heritage. I definitely wanted to connect with that community and help in their time of need and I was also interested in finding out what Depave was all about. Volunteering at that event seemed like a great way to do all those things.
My boyfriend Dan, who is a sort of religious scholar, was also excited about connecting with the local Muslim community through helping this way and he signed up for the event too. When we showed up for it, we were greeted with the smiling faces of Depave volunteers and I was super excited to see the women with headscarves on and men with kufis from the Muslim community out there. It was a unique sight to see in inner Portland, this coming together of mostly white environmental activists and the predominantly black Muslims (though there was a mix of racial backgrounds represented in the Muslim community). Here were two groups that would never usually share a Saturday morning, working side by side and sweating together, were it not for Depave.
That day was one of my favorite ever, I told my fellow Depave board members months later, for several reasons.
What had sounded like impossible back-breaking work when I first heard about it turned out to be joyful and empowering work. It was work that would not be possible without the power of community.
By using pry bars and the muscles of several people at once, we lifted 5 ft x 5 ft asphalt slabs one by one until the soil of the entire site was freed again.
And here were people I just met a few hours earlier and I felt close to them because together we lifted and removed literally tons of asphalt together. There is nothing that brings people together quite like depaving.
What was even more special about that day was that Depave brought together two communities that have recently been pitted against one another – the western world and the Muslim world – to work together for a common cause. As we broke down the asphalt, we broke down barriers of trust and familiarity and built in their place a budding cross-cultural brotherhood and sisterhood.
At the event kickoff, the Muslim Community Center folks invited everyone to attend an iftar, or an evening break fast gathering that they host every evening during the month of Ramadan. As proof of the lasting bonds that were created on that day, my boyfriend Dan and I attended an iftar at the center and saw another person there from the Depave event. The Muslims community members remembered us from Depave, welcomed us with enthusiasm and thanked us again for our help.
So no wonder I fell in love with Depave. No doubt, the environmental stormwater, urban heat island and green infrastructure benefits of the work the organization does are tremendous and extremely important.
But for me, what makes my heart sing most is the community building part of what the work of Depave does.
As a new board member, I look forward to cultivating this part of the organization because I saw with my own eyes and felt with my own heart the power that Depave has to bring people together by empowering them to improve their built environments.