When the then-newly renamed Dr. Edwin J. Coleman Community Center was vandalized last year with swastikas and other hate speech, neighborhood residents expressed shock and dismay.
But they also resolved to not let the hateful incident go without a response.
Almost immediately, Stop Hate Campaign volunteers responded with a leafleting effort in the Friendly Street neighborhood where the community center is located, and community members and organizers began to brainstorm ideas about how to send a message of love and unity.
Coleman was a longtime professor of literature at the University of Oregon, as well as a visible and active advocate for social justice in Eugene. His work spanned decades, making him a fixture in the community.
Friendly Area Neighbors (FAN) board member Nancy Bray says that in July 2018, the FAN board unanimously approved a resolution directing the FAN Equity Action Team (EAT) to address concerns in the neighborhood and to promote diversity and inclusion.
The resolution says that FAN’s Equity Action Teams would focus on working to promote inclusivity and respond to hate crimes and bias incidents when they occur.
One project that quickly gained wide support was the creation of a mural memorializing the late Prof. Coleman.
That mural was officially dedicated Sunday, July 21, during FAN’s annual picnic before a crowd of more than 200 neighborhood residents along with friends and family of Coleman.
Speakers included Mayor Lucy Vinis, Councilor Greg Evans and former University of Oregon assistant vice president of equity and inclusion Carla Gary. All affirmed commitment to upholding Coleman’s legacy and his work toward creating equity for all, and not letting hate and division take root and spread.
In addition to the speakers and a music performance by Coleman’s sons Edwin Coleman III and Callan Coleman, eventgoers had the opportunity to connect and reflect on their interactions with Coleman, their experiences in the community and ways to support inclusivity.
Therese Picado, a Friendly neighborhood resident and coordinator of the “We Are Neighbors” touring play produced in conjunction with Community Alliance of Lane County (CALC), told a story about Coleman addressing their congregation in the aftermath of the 2015 Charleston, South Carolina, church shooting.
In her retelling, Coleman, at the end of services, went to the lecturn, imploring everyone to stay.
“If we are truly Christians, we have to stand up and have strong and strident voices in the face of injustices,” Coleman told the congregation.
Picado says Coleman then led the congregation in singing “a powerful rendition of ‘We Shall Overcome.’”
The Sunday dedication was full of similar tales, but some conversations were also a reminder that, while Eugene has come a long way in promoting equity for every citizen, much work remains.
Gary, one of the speakers at the event, was a student at the university more than 50 years ago. She says Eugene wasn’t the friendliest college town when she first arrived, and that she didn’t go into Springfield at all because “it wasn’t safe.”
A lot has changed for the better, she says, but problems persist, as evidenced by last year’s graffiti as well as more recent incidents.
“You know, people believe that this is a liberal bastion. No, it’s not,” she says. “And as long as we continue to blow smoke up our butts about that, nothing ever changes, which means we don’t have to deal with the really difficult issues of race that exist in this community.”
In addition to the mural dedicated Sunday, FAN EAT is fundraising for two additional murals commemorating Coleman. The murals will be completed by June.
To support the murals, donate to CALC either by check or online. To ensure donations benefit the mural program, donors should express conditionality for the Edwin Coleman Center Mural Project.