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Homegrown Boston runs for representative


In November 2007 at Steamers Restaurant in Mid-county, former Parkrose resident and House District 45 Representative Candidate Cyreena Boston, right, thanks her friend Christine Demmitt for attending the kickoff party formally announcing her candidacy.
Cyreena Boston is really good at listening, and she’s using it to her advantage.

Since she announced her plans to run for Oregon House District 45 back in August, Boston, 27, from Parkrose, has made it her responsibility to listen to those living in her district who don’t have a voice — and then to do something about it.

And she’s doing it one by one. As a way to get to the heart of what residents really care about, Boston goes door-to-door six days a week to ask those in her district what matters to them. She listens, whether it is a 32-year-old mother who can’t afford prescriptions for her children or a 98-year-old woman who has lived in her house for more than four decades. No matter the person or the problem, Boston is listening.

That, she said, is the key to getting votes and the support of residents in her district. Rather than focus on the end result, Boston has made it her goal to get to the root of the problem. For example, while she realizes a revenue restructure is necessary to get schools on their feet again, she wants to tackle the problem where it starts — with the families.

More than 20 percent of the residents in HD 45 fall below the poverty line, causing a chain of often-inescapable problems, Boston said. Many students have no access to health care, and thus have to go to school even if they are sick. If their parents are unemployed, many of the kids have to go to school hungry, or without adequate clothing — all factors that make it difficult for them to focus on school, or that prevent them from going at all.

So, this is where Boston resolves to have an impact.

While she may be young, she is by no means inexperienced. Growing up in a Catholic family in Gresham, Boston got her start in public service when she was just 10 years old, going door-to-door to ask families living in rental homes if they had enough money to pay rent or buy groceries. It was a way for the state to know the living conditions of residents, and it also sparked Boston’s interest in public service.

“I realized I had as much power and authority as an adult and a police officer because people were opening their doors to me and telling me what was going on with them, and I knew I could make a difference,” she said.

At her door-to-door canvass meeting held last month at Normandale Park, House District 45 Representative Candidate Cyreena Boston, left, meets with volunteers Tara Sulzen, Lou Boston (candidate’s father) and Rob Ingram before the canvassing begins.
Boston was raised in Gresham, but she attended St. Mary of the Valley for her elementary and middle school years. Then her family moved to Parkrose before she started high school, where she enrolled at St. Mary’s Academy because of her family’s strong ties to the Catholic faith. Despite going to school in a Catholic environment, Boston said she still has strong connections to Parkrose, which has been a part of each of the three segments of her life.

“A lot of my initial exposure to Oregon was shaped by Gresham,” she said. “I lived in Gresham. Then I went to Catholic school on the west side (of Portland), and then the third part was I lived in Gresham, and I was from Gresham and Parkrose ... I really spent a lot of my life in the east side, right here in Northeast Portland.”

The church her family attended while she grew up was St. Andrew’s parish, which was part of the Portland Organizing Project, a group that tackled issues of equality and social justice, like hunger, peace and equity.

As she got older, Boston continued her civic duty. During the summers before she left for college, she worked at the Neil Kelly Day Camp, which provided alternate activities for students who would otherwise be on the streets or who would go hungry.

Then in the summer of 1998, she enrolled at Spelman College in Atlanta, Ga., where she majored in American and European history. Despite her major outside of politics, the bulk of her studies were driven by public service. She ran several programs that promoted public education and helped address homelessness through after-school art academies and programs for youth who lived on the streets.

Always looking for ways to help the underrepresented public, Boston also filled her time with a television show called “Talk to Me, Atlanta,” in which she discussed public affairs and highlighted issues in the community. While she enjoyed college, she ultimately decided Atlanta wasn’t the place for her and made the decision to return to Oregon after graduation.

Upon return, Boston worked as a case manager for Multnomah County Schools Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN Schools) on behalf of Self Enhancement, Inc. The organization had a contract with the county, working with schools to bring back programs that had been removed. She monitored home life of students in order to determine the factors that were preventing them from being successful in the classroom, such as lack of health care and nutritional food.

But before long, her responsibilities became more than a job, and she began to realize how angry she was that the students she was trying to help were not getting what they needed.
As a result of her anger, Boston phoned a representative for the Democratic Party of Oregon and, in her own words, “let him have it.

“I said we need people in politics that actually know and understand the issues that affect the communities. We need people who have good representation from all 36 counties all over the state, that understand that rural issues are Oregon issues and issues that affect people from all walks of life have to be appreciated and translated into the political process,” she said.

Much to Boston’s surprise, the employee urged her to apply for a position in the party and help make changes herself.

A month later she was working as the constituency director for the Democratic Party of Oregon. While the main focus of her job was to investigate the statewide issues that impacted the community, Boston said, “a lot of it was good old-fashioned showing up and listening.”

Several months later, Boston got the boost she needed. Long-time friend and mentor State Rep. Chip Shields suggested she run for the house seat in District 45, just the thing she needed to announce her candidacy.

With current occupant of the HD 45 seat, Jackie Dingfelder, announcing her candidacy for the State Senate seat that is being vacated by Avel Gordly, the timing — everything in politics — was fortuitous.

“I’ve got some endorsements I am really proud of, and ... (that) is a great boost of confidence,” she said.

Ever since announcing she was running, Boston has devoted her days to visiting residents and finding out the issues that plague them. She visits as many homes as she can, encouraging potential voters to cast their ballots in favor of her. She also organizes coffee house gatherings, where residents can go to hear her position on the issues they care about. Health care, economic development and education are all her top priorities, but the difference between Boston and her competitors is that rather than assume she already knows what is plaguing those who live in her district, she has actively sought out the issues affecting communities.

So far, it seems she has been well received. Most people are surprised but also impressed that she makes the effort to understand what is most important to everyone living in HD 45. One day, she was even approached by an 11-year-old girl who told Boston she was the topic of her current affairs report in school the day before.

Things like the encounter with the young girl or an encouraging phone call from a mentor are what keep Boston going through her busy and stressful schedule. She is constantly approached while she is out and about, an occurrence that she said catches her off guard. But it’s also encouraging because to her that means people care and that she is being well received. Because she visits residents door-to-door, she hears life stories about struggle, things that make her push through the stressful schedule.

“What keeps me motivated is the fact that I am going to fight for these people,” Boston said. “It’s almost like a silent promise you make to them. If they take enough time to tell you about what’s going on with them, they’re actually making a silent pact with you because they’re expecting you to make good on that thing they shared with you.”

Oregon House of Representatives District 45, a district shaped like a bent finger, stretches — west to east — from the inner Northeast Portland Alameda neighborhood to Argay near the city boundary with Gresham. The narrower north boundary is Killingsworth Street, crooking further north to include Marine Drive to Northeast 141st Avenue. The southern boundary runs along I-84 from Wasco Street on the west, also ending at Northeast 141st Avenue.
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