Honoring Midge Purcell

Honoring Midge Purcell

“Midge Purcell is a friend and ally to many in Oregon, a compassionate diplomat, and a warrior for justice.” David Rogers, Chair, Oregon Voice Governing Committee, incoming Executive Director, ACLU Oregon.

Midge Purcell came to Portland in 2005 and immediately began working in the community, first with Stand for Children, and shortly thereafter with the Urban League of Portland, where she has worked with endless determination for the past 10 years. At the Urban League, Midge began a journey that informed our state of the specific needs, challenges, and opportunities for our communities of color and paved the way for future generations of organizers both within the African American community and beyond. Of the impact Midge has on our whole community, Rev. Joseph Santos-Lyons, Executive, director of the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon noted, “when you sit down with Midge, she makes space for everyone and puts everything on the table. You can feel her warmth through her welcoming smile and awareness of who is not in the room. I've appreciated how she balances taking leadership and learning, challenging white privilege and caring for the internal spirit of our communities of color.”

Beginning her work with the Urban League in the senior services department and soon developing the advocacy wing as the Director of Advocacy and Public Policy, Midge helped  raise the profile of the Urban League and the African American community from Portland City Hall to Salem and across the whole state of Oregon. Because of her work, among the 90 affiliates of the Urban League throughout the United States, the Urban League of Portland is now one of just a few to develop intentional work around social justice and advocacy by institutionalizing advocacy in the organization. As a major part of this, in 2009 the Urban League published the first State of Black Oregon report, developed by Midge and published every few years, to promote visibility of the black community in Oregon and provide insight to inform policy. “In 2009 the Urban League set the foundation for populations of color,” said Cyreena Boston-Ashby, Executive Director for the Portland African American Leadership Forum, “particularly the African American community, to actually advocate for their long standing and historical needs, because of Midge's determination to quantify factual and community verified statistics about Black people's realities. The State of Black Oregon, and its newly released [2015] version is a landmark publication and a game changer, all from Midge's leadership.”

Of her time here in Portland, Midge says she is proud of developing the State of Black Oregon, working for public policy change, campaigning to raise the profile of the African American community and issues affecting communities of color across the state. “Public institutions, including governments, were able to discount Black people citing that they were "too low in population" to study and to specifically account for their disparities. Because of Midge that excuse no longer exists, and Oregon will be forever changed because of her,” asserted Ms. Boston-Ashby. Midge is also proud of what a vibrant African American community has developed here in the face of gentrification, adding to the capacity of the Urban League and other communities of color organizations.

Looking to the future Midge said she hopes that we will take our work to the next level. First by continuing to develop strategies for the African American community to have greater representation across the state and electing folks to office representing the true diversity of the state. Second, she hopes for continued development and support of dynamic youth leadership, passing a torch to another generation of leaders. Lastly, she hopes that we keep building coalitions and working together through groups like Oregon Voice, the Fair Shot coalition, and the Oregon Health Equity Alliance.

Midge will be leaving Oregon and moving back to the U.K. soon, but she leaves an incredible legacy here in Portland. “Our city, indeed our state has been blessed beyond words to have been the recipient of the passion and commitment Midge has brought to her work in advancing social justice. In many ways, the Urban League has been defined by her efforts on our behalf and on the behalf of underserved individuals, families and communities across the state. We are so very grateful and thankful for all she has done in the pursuit of equality for all who deserve a fair and just pathway to a better life. We will miss her in more ways that we can ever express,” outgoing Urban League Executive Director Michael Alexander.

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