App relates local Black history as it gets Eugene moving

June 15, 2021

PeaceHealth Oregon and Eugene's marathon presenter promote racial justice and physical fitness

By JULIE MINDA

When organizers and the lead sponsor had to cancel the annual Eugene, Oregon, marathon last year because of the threat of COVID-19 spread, they found a way to keep people moving.

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A screenshot from the mobile app for the Strides for Social Justice program shows Wiley Griffon, one of Eugene, Oregon's first Black residents. He was a driver for the city's first streetcar system, which was a mule-powered trolley car.

PeaceHealth teamed with Eugene Marathon organizers to create Strides for Social Justice, a free app available from Google Play or the Apple App Store. Users get access to tours of Black history sites in Eugene and suggestions for exercise interludes. Walkers, runners, bikers and skaters can navigate from landmark to landmark in a neighborhood, reading about local history at the stops. The routes are wheelchair accessible.

In brief videos included in every tour route, Denise Thomas, a local fitness entrepreneur and Black business owner, demonstrates exercises people can follow along with. Each of the Black history routes also include reflections.

The Skinner Butte route includes a walk along the path that of a Ku Klux Klan parade in 1924.

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The Mims historic house is one of the stops on a tour on the Strides for Social Justice app. C.B. and Annie Mims, who were Black, came to Eugene in the mid-1940s. Though they were not allowed to purchase land on their own, they were able to purchase this property with the help of a sympathetic employer.

The southside tour focuses on the city's first documented Black resident, Wiley Griffon, who lived from 1867 to 1913. He was a driver for the community's first streetcar service. When the streetcars shut down, he got a job as a janitor at the University of Oregon. He was the university's first Black employee.

The Westmoreland Park neighborhood tour includes stops related to the lives of educator, musician and community activist Dr. Edwin Coleman Jr. and track star and Olympic gold medalist Margaret Johnson Bailes.

The downtown Eugene route runs through the location of Lane County's first Black community.

The westside tour stops at places of significance to Sam and Mattie Reynolds, who arrived in Eugene in 1942 as part of the Great Migration of Blacks from the South. According to information from The Register-Guard newspaper, Sam Reynolds was a president of the local chapter of the Congress of Racial Equity, which sought to end housing and job discrimination against people of color, and Mattie Reynolds organized youth to participate in civil rights marches.

At Sam Reynolds Station, a bus station near to where the Reynoldes lived, app users will find an outdoor plaque that describes some of the disparities and housing discrimination that the couple endured. White landlords refused to rent to them, so they set down roots along with several other African-American families in an area called Ferry Street Community and raised their family in a house without power or running water.

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One of the tours on the app takes participants through a community where Sam Reynolds and his family lived beginning in 1942. Despite enduring discrimination, the family made Eugene their home and paved the way for other Black families to migrate to the area, according to a Eugene city councilor.

The plaque says the couple taught their children dignity, respect and generosity. The family "fostered a strong and caring community," the marker says.

The app quotes Eugene City Councilor Greg Evans, who was a friend of the Reynoldes, as saying that Sam Reynolds paved the way for other Black people to be able to join the Eugene community.

The tour route continues to St. Mark's Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, which the Reynoldes helped to establish. It is Eugene's oldest black congregation. App users also visit Mattie Reynolds Park.

The audio tour concludes with a reflection from Yvette Alex-Assensoh, vice president for equity and inclusion at the University of Oregon. She challenges listeners to consider whether they are acting in love, hate or indifference when it comes to social justice issues.

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Marshall

Marcy Marshall is senior director of marketing and communications for PeaceHealth's Oregon network. She brought the the concept for Strides for Social Justice to life in partnership with her network chief executive at the time, Mary Kingston, who has since retired.

Marshall directs the committee of 16 community leaders who built out the idea. She says the impetus for the app was "discussions of the death of George Floyd, which was like the shot heard around the world. It shook the nation."

PeaceHealth and Eugene Marathon staff wanted to make a meaningful statement about Black achievement and experience in Eugene and do so in a way that would promote physical activity.

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Meashintubby

DeLeesa Meashintubby is a member of the Strides for Social Justice steering committee; chair of Springfield, Oregon-based PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center's Community Health Board; and executive director of the Volunteers in Medicine organization. As a Black woman, she says she was previously unaware of much of the history she's learned through her involvement with the project. She is enthusiastic about the prospect of Oregonians — particularly young people — learning about the important legacy of people of color in the Eugene area.

Becky Radliff, director of event operations for the Eugene Marathon, worked closely with the Oregon Black Pioneers historical society and other experts to develop and curate app content. Radliff says the app could evolve to include routes that highlight various racial and ethnic groups that are part of the fabric of Eugene.

"I think our hope is that Strides for Social Justice will foster learning and a greater understanding of our history, including some parts of our history that have not always been highlighted in our community," Radliff says. "We're recognizing the milestones and accomplishments of people of color but also looking at the more complicated parts of our history," such as the parts that have to do with injustices done to people of color.

Information about and a link to the app are at stridesforsocialjustice.org.

 

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