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'Black Excellence' billboards go up across Portland

A nonprofit organization got a $17,000 grant to put up billboards across the city that feature positive messages about African Americans.

PORTLAND, Ore. — A local nonprofit organization is trying to change the narrative on how people see young African Americans.

The nonprofit is called YOUTH, which stands for Youth Organized and United to Help. Director Imani Muhammad received a $17,000 grant to put up billboards around Portland with positive messages for Black youth.

One of the billboards is the YOUTH brand logo with the words inspire, motivate and empower across the bottom. The other design is a backdrop picture of five African American kids looking over the city of Portland with the words "Black Excellence" written across the bottom.

Credit: Bryant Clerkley
Credit: Bryant Clerkley

Muhammad started YOUTH back in 2007, after one of her 14-year-old students was shot and killed. She grew up in Portland and has worked as a teacher and youth leader at the Boys and Girls Club for the past 20 years. The organization has served hundreds of families in the last year, by providing literacy programs and other resources to help families with distance learning.

Muhammad said the Black Excellence billboard campaign is meant to promote creativity, ingenuity and future potential. She said she wants to show African Americans they can become prominent figures in their city.

"While the billboard is not a physical location where they can go hang out, it is a symbol that lets them know we seem them," Muhammad said. "And because we see you, we want to let you know the positive images and positive words that you can believe in yourself."

The kids featured in the billboard are all local and were part of the Black Excellence mentoring program over the summer.