Black History Month Spotlight:  Justice Rajee

A photo of Justice Rajee, and a colorful title which states Black History Month Spotlight: Justice Rajee

 

Justice Rajee is a Beaverton School District school board member, and was endorsed by the Washington County Democrats in his successful run in the 2023 election.  For our Black History Month Spotlight, we were very excited to get the chance to have a conversation with Justice about challenges in the school district, celebrating Black History Month, the future of Washington County, and more.

WCD:  What was your experience of running for office like?

JR: Well, it was exciting, it was intimidating…it creates a feeling of trying to figure out what are the things that really matter.  Trying to figure out things that if you don’t know them, you might look foolish when you’re trying to run for office.  Trying to figure out the rules, the funding stuff and all the things that are attached that you have to do to get elected, that you may not know about.  You’re concerned about what the public scrutiny would feel like for your family.  But ultimately it was very enlightening and rewarding–hearing from the community, hearing folks’ aspirations and wishes and what they would like to see.  It was more good than bad, and there was much more encouragement than detraction.

WCD:  You were part of a winning slate of school board members, who beat out some MAGA-style candidates.  What do you attribute your success to?

JR:  I think the community wants responsible people to serve and do the work of public oversight.  From a campaigning perspective, I think it was getting the word out there and making myself available to the community, showing people what kind of person I am, what I’m like.  Ultimately though, it was that our community wants people that have an honest intention, and want to show up because they want to serve, not because they have other issues.

WCD:  What are the accomplishments you are proudest of?

JR:  Well, it’s a little bit early for that.  I guess…learning.  Learning the job.  Getting to know my colleagues, learning to know the inner workings of the school district.  Just kind of getting prepared for what next year brings, like the bond project, the Beaverton High School rebuild.  Another great audit!  I don’t know how exciting that is for people.  But we did have another audit that shows things are going the way they’re supposed to be.

WCD:  What were some of your biggest challenges?  And, what are some of the biggest roadblocks to equity and inclusion in your school district?

JR: Generally, for schools as a whole, our funding models and what we have access to could be better, and that goes for everybody, and we are a part of that.  Everyone is affected by the basic issues based on how we fund schools in this state.  And then I think the continuing work to determine how we allocate resources.  I think we’ve done a good job in allocating most resources to where there is the highest economic need.  We need to ensure we’re going to get the most to where we know folks need the most, to help with what kids and families need.  Whatever that looks like:  sports services, mental health and enrichment.

WCD: Which priorities are you most focused on for the future?

JR: Improving how we get our discipline outcomes to be more consistent. That is what I’m doing right now, learning more about the disparities in our discipline data.  We need to be up to date and consistent with understanding our mental health needs.  What goes with that is an increase in pay for our peer educators, that provide a lot of critical support.  This goes back to questions about funding, how we allocate resources.  Looking forward, a big issue that I can think of is really wanting literacy interventions, and statewide support for that, raising literacy levels all across the district.  Not just for younger kids, but for the kids that are a little older as well.

WCD: What does Black History Month mean to you, and how do you commemorate/celebrate it?

JR: Black History Month is rooted in self-determination.  It started from Negro History Week, which Carter Woodson was credited with starting.  Someone who, at the time that he started this tradition–in the professional community, study of the history of African-American, of Black people was not seen as a credible field to be studied by institutions.  I really prefer that to commemorate Black History Month, folks go do some reading, study, engagement about the presence of Black people in America and elsewhere.  That is what I do:  study, read, work on expanding my own horizons, like researching my family tree, studying some aspect of the community, the location where I am that I don’t know that much about.  And I am the richer for it.

WCD: Is there anything the larger community could do to be better at honoring Black History Month?

JR: Black folks in public spaces get more interest and get to speak out more for Black History Month, but are not afforded the same invite the rest of the year.  Don’t make that experience just about the month of February.  Also, try not to look at the limitations of it, but take it as a challenge.  If you’re a pirate buff, read about pirates.  Where does Black history show up in your pirate readings?  Or reading about different kinds of food or cuisine.  The cuisine we have in the United States, some of that was created by the slave community from Africa and may be rooted there.  That does not mean it’s to be taken lightly, but you’re expanding the scope of what you’re looking at.  Finding other stories where you can center someone else.  Again:  Make some time for yourself and study, go to a presentation by community members or local historians documenting what happened.  Examine your family tree, catch some live music, see some art.  Go to the Portland Art Museum, which has an exhibit about Black artists across Oregon history. Study the history of our state.

WCD: You’ve lived in Oregon and in Washington County for 19 years.  What are your thoughts about how Washington County has changed over the years?

JR: I’ve lived technically in Tigard, but now in unincorporated Washington County.  I think it’s seeing the increasing diversity in the county, and I know the projections are for it to continue.  It’s good to see more of our community be present in cultural community events.  Seeing a lot of diversity in our public elected leadership.  This is making home continue to feel like it’s a good place, after more than 20 years here.  It’s nice to see the community grow–see positive change, see a positive difference.  I’ve been here a long time, and I think we’re going in the right direction, continuing to grow for our collective future.

WCD: How do you envision the future of the Black community in Washington County?

JR: I mean, I think as a county the demographic projections are that we are becoming more populous, maybe on our way to rival Multnomah County in size of population.  We need to embrace what our community looks like now.  One way to do that is looking to have more accessible and dynamic transportation, so looking at it as moving around within the county, not just how to get someplace in Portland for entertainment.  Also, continuing to grow economic development and opportunity.  In terms of the Black community:  a place that is welcoming and where we will feel safe to thrive, and bring our talents and share our gifts, without fear or concern that we will not be accepted.  There is a short-term challenge in Washington County as far as space and housing, but hopefully we will embrace that we will be denser and more efficient.  That way we can continue to thrive, and be a great area for everybody.