Why this Work?
On December 27th, 2013 Eric Knox moved back to Portland, Oregon with his family. He had spent 15 years in Portland prior to his return and much of his formative young adult life had been shaped by the culture of Portland. As Eric moved back into his precious neighborhood of Northeast Portland, he noticed that the streets which once represented the hopes and deferred dreams of black residents and struggling business owners had now become a playground for young white hipsters and the creative types looking for affordable homes in the urban corridor. The intersection of 15th and Fremont, which had formerly been a NE Portland hub and demarcation line between white middle- to upper-class residents and Portland’s historic black neighborhood, had now completely transformed. It was this intersectional crossroad that summarized the vanquishing of a community through gentrification, pushing one third of Portland’s black residents eastward into deep Southeast Portland.
When Eric decided to create a mentoring organization, he named it HOLLA, which is a word coined from a song by Tupac Shakur called “Holler If You Hear Me”. This song captures the existential angst of young black males growing up in America who suffer from “narration sickness,” which is the imprinting of the patterns of dominant culture upon the oppressed in an effort to disempower them.
When he started constructing HOLLA, Eric knew it needed to be a different type of organization. He knew, firsthand, that the system in which kids of color were being mentored and educated was not transforming their lives.
Holla asks two important questions. What are the common needs for all children? And what needs are unique to kids of color? Holla uses a form of teaching called Problem Posing Education in which the teacher and student share roles. The teacher is also the student, and learns from the student. Discovering the truth and unveiling reality involves a relationship shared by the student and teacher. They work together using their collective knowledge instead of the teacher being the dominant possessor of knowledge.
HOLLA is a school-based mentorship program that works with administrators, teachers, social agencies and families to serve kids of color at several schools in Portland.