It can be easy to overlook Teressa Raiford in a crowded room, and that seems to suit her quite fine. Short in stature, she is soft-spoken and unassuming in person, often with gaze averted and the occasional half-smile.
There’s a noticeable hint of loneliness in Raiford’s demeanor that the community organizer and leader of Don’t Shoot Portland does not try to hide, one of the ironies of leadership that she accepts as part of the job.
“I couldn’t love too much,” said Raiford, 46, speaker at TEDx Salem’s REVOLUTIONS event. “You’re not available to pets or family or anybody.”
“It’s really bad, but it’s mostly for the safety of the people we love.”
From online harassment and threats against her life, to an arrest and trial for disorderly conduct, Raiford accepts and puts aside the costs of doing her job. A generational Oregonian who traces her family’s roots in the state back to the 1880s, she spent her youth in and out of foster care from the age of 7 through 18. It’s one reason she often feels out of place, in the place she should call home, she said.
Yet at Portland City Hall, two months ago, there again was Raiford, helping lead the charge of protestors demanding to have a voice in deliberations between the city and the police union.
For her TED talk, Raiford will speak about the heart of protest — the importance of getting involved and making a difference. And she will share why she does it.
Specifically, it was one day in September 2010 that changed the life of this former accountant, the day she learned of the shooting death of her nephew, Andre Payton. It was a loss that forced her to come to grips with the plague of gun violence, a community issue that seemed to get no traction among city leaders who would seem on the surface to be receptive to such a progressive cause. Portland is sympathetic, but is also mainly white, she said.
“Portland is a fake progressive town,” she said.
Seeing the inaction forced Raiford to recognize that more needed to be done to make minority voices heard, and more would be asked of her than just fundraising and marching, she said.
“The only way that I could empower my community was by protesting,” she said.
Getting the courage to lead the community in protests didn’t come too hard, though. The oldest of 11 siblings, Raiford had had to take charge of her life and fight through her situation from an early age, as both her parents ended up serving time in prison.
“It was always on me to take care of siblings and cousins, and even my mother,” she said. It’s what drives her to each protest, each rally, each planning session.
“It hurts to go out there. It hurts. All this stuff is bad. Mass incarceration, foster care audits. The pain of my experience, and the value of my age, and knowing that I can fight for that child. I have to have courage.”
And in the end, it’s what gives Raiford her identity, no matter how tired, or scared she might be.
“[The community will] come get you,” she said. “They won’t let you not serve them.”
“I am the people that I serve,” she said. “Doing something is revolutionary. And it’s necessary.”
“We might not always know exactly what we have to do, but if we don’t do anything, then that means that we don’t matter. And that’s telling the world that it’s okay that we don’t matter.”
Get your tickets for TEDxSalem IV
Tickets are on sale now for Salem’s annual TEDx event Saturday, January 7, 2017. Tickets are $50, $40 for a student. The all-day event includes talks, performances, refreshments, lunch and a swag bag. Follow us on Facebook for the most up-to-date news from our community, and check our website regularly for new information. You can also reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.