Vestal Storytelling Project

Social Justice Night Expands in Scope and Impact

As one of eleven recipients of Metro’s Community Placemaking grant in 2022, Montavilla Jazz helped Vestal Elementary expand their annual Social Justice Night in partnership with PSU’s Artist as Citizen Initiative. The community-wide celebration featured collaborative artistic works – by both students and professionals – focused on two of Vestal’s five pillars of social justice: community diversity and family identity.  On this special evening Vestal invited one of Portland’s most culturally, linguistically, and ethnically diverse neighborhoods to come together in celebration of social justice, art, food, music, and community.

Here We Grow Mural photo by Neil Mattson

Vestal Elementary has boldly stepped into its role as a community hub, galvanizing the Montavilla neighborhood with its Social Justice Night, generating positive values and neighborly goodwill. This year’s Social Justice Night featured student-led social justice projects and exhibits created in response to stories centered on the topics of community diversity and family identity gathered in interviews with fellow students and community members. The Artist as Citizen Initiative led PSU Capstone students and Vestal 4th graders who built skills in storytelling, interviewing, and creativity through the work of creating artistic responses.

Raising Awareness for Local Artists

The project raises awareness for local artists through their work with Vestal partners, and their artistic contributions to the event. Montavilla Jazz resident artists, stars of Portland’s jazz scene who have a history of working with Vestal students over previous years, performed World Premieres of music crafted as a compliment to the students’ and community members’ stories. In the spirit of collaboration, many featured, creative works reflected the experience of celebrating community, identity, and social justice.

Mary-Sue Tobin and her ensemble rehearsing and recording photo by Neil Mattson

Feeding the Community and Supporting BIPOC Businesses

A welcoming dinner took place before the Social Justice Night performances at The Yard food carts, located directly across from the school. Three hundred seventeen complimentary meals (procured through grant funding) were served by participating food carts and coordinated with support from Samira Mohamed owner of Mira’s East African Cuisine. In this way Vestal and its partners supported the BIPOC-owned food carts at The Yard directly through payments for food for the event, and by raising awareness and visibility for their unique businesses and their immigrant stories.

Students Build Skills in Storytelling and Creativity

PSU students, working with Erica Thomas, founder of Works Progress Agency, produced a three-part documentary podcast featuring themes from the project and the event. The podcast about Vestal Social Justice Night 2022 utilized field recordings captured during the project phases and the live event with recordings managed by PSU’s Sonic Arts and Music Production (SAMP) students. The podcast is hosted on montavillajazz.org, and will premiere on local radio stations in time for Social Justice Night 2023.

Listen to the Podcast

Featured Artists

Denzel Mendoza – GRAMMY winning trombonist, improviser (Haley Heynderickx, American DREAMers; Vestal featured artist 2021)

Machado Mijiga – Multi-instrumentalist, producer, and educator (Djungol Jim, DoubleDash; Vestal guest artist 2020 & featured artist 2021)

Mary-Sue Tobin – Saxophonist, bandleader, and educator, (Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble, Quadraphonnes; Vestal resident artist 2018 – 2023)

Featured Food Carts

Samira Mohamed owner of Mira’s East African Cuisine supported Vestal Social Justice Night by coordinating participation by nine food carts located at The Yard.

Ricky’s Sushi – Owner Enrique “Ricky” Lopez Brioues makes exceptional sushi and maki rolls, nigiri, appetizers and desserts.

Bai Yok Thai – Owner Nancy Manchusa resurrected the beloved Thai restaurant that was located on the The Yard food cart pod site prior to its destruction by fire in 2016.

Mira’s East African Cuisine – Owner Samira Mohamed has been a part of the Vestal community since she first arrived in Portland as a Somali refuge.

Vestal Social Justice Night Poster