🗺 Weird Wednesday: ‘A human scale city based on true relationships’

It’s Wednesday.

And that means we are getting weird with you today.

Every week, we celebrate elements of Portland’s wonderful weirdness in collaboration with Weird Portland United.

If you haven’t read them yet, you can find our February Weird Wednesdays here, where we interviewed The Unipiper, local artist Cedar Lee, and The Portland Sleestak. And if you missed our interview with magician Spencer Sprocket, peep at that here. Check out our chat with designer Sundari Franklin, read our skating adventures with Carlos the Rollerblader, and get caught up in technicolor fun with artist Strawberry Pickle at Rainbow City.

Also, if you’d like the latest on the 24-hour Church of Elvis and what you all had to say about it, you’re covered in those links. And don’t forget last week’s deep dive into the history of Portland’s horse rings!

Today though, we are kicking off a new batch of Weird Wednesdays, where we pull back the curtain and take a peek at the folks responsible for fostering weirdness in our fair metropolis. We are working our way through the board members of Weird Portland United, discovering who they are, how they became the unofficial ambassadors of Portland weirdness, and what they love about Portland.

📚 Behind the Weird with Michelle Jones

What is your position on the board of Weird Portland United, and what are your responsibilities?

I have been on the Weird Portland United Board for almost two years, and because I joined early on, I ended up in the Vice President role. All of us on the Board share a lot of decision making responsibilities, and we all provide input on major initiatives for the organization such as reviewing applications for Keep Weird Alive grants or artist statements for the new mural project. In the before-times, I helped a lot with our first gala event and was the organizer of the Weird Portland Creatives event series. As someone who has spent most of my career working in the nonprofit realm, I bring that experience and knowledge to our team.

How did you become involved with WPU? 

Relationships. That’s how most interesting and impactful things happen here in Portland in my experience. I met Brian (The Unipiper) through a colleague who is good friends with him and invited him to come be a guest speaker in the Wayfinding 101 course my colleague teaches. Brian showed up as The Unipiper and made a few laps around the building, then sat down with the students and shared her personal story of how he came to be doing his purpose-driven work in the world. I then hung out with Brian a couple times and offered to help in whatever way I could as he was getting WPU started and suddenly I found myself on the Board. 

What does keeping Portland weird mean to you on a personal level?

I have lived in Portland for 11 years and what attracted me to it originally and kept me here was its authentic nature. More than any other place I have lived (and I have lived in six other states all around the country), it feels like here people are encouraged to be themselves and follow their passions and purpose.

Portland definitely has issues with accessibility, affordability, racism, and some morally bankrupt political and business leaders that I feel hold us back from truly becoming a world-class city that empowers and enables people to thrive. In my experience, though, if one is operating outside of those zones in this city, it feels like you can do just about anything you set out to do through relationships with kind, caring, authentic humans.

It is a human scale city based on true relationships, and I love that. Most cities are not like that. I started college from scratch in less than a year and in no other city can I imagine being able to do that, but the relationships and culture of “Sure! Let’s do that because it sounds like a good idea that will help people!” we have made it possible.

When you’re not working on WPU tasks, what passions and hobbies do you get up to around Portland?

My passion and life’s work is to help and support other people live purpose-driven lives and careers. Six years ago I quit my career as a college professor and started a two year nonprofit alternative college — Wayfinding Academy — that is dedicated to providing equitable access to young adults who want a college experience focused on getting them started in their purpose-driven work in the world. This is a full time job and then some.

The college is located in the St. Johns neighborhood. So when we opened, I moved my tiny house to that neighborhood and love being involved in all the things happening in that little slice of Portland — the community here is the best!  (If you’d like to know more about Michelle’s experience living in a tiny house, you can read her article about it here).

Wayfinding Academy, which Michelle created, has been changing the conversation on education in Portland. (📸: Courtesy of Michelle Jones)

What is one of your favorite weird features / people / events here in Portland and why?

The World Domination Summit. It has been happening in Portland since 2011, and its 10th (and final) one will be in summer of 2022. Throughout the years this event has featured some of Portland’s up-and-coming leaders and contributors to the scene here. About 1,000 people come from all over the world to attend this event, and many end up falling in love with Portland and getting involved in things here from afar. My favorite person who has been featured at this event over the years is Bollywood singer, dancer, DJ, and all around amazing human, Prashant Kakad.

What is something you’re working on right now, big or small, that you could use reader support on, and how can folks get involved?

Wayfinding is currently looking for students to join our 8th cohort starting in late August. We have only about 10 spots left, including a few for Free Tuition Initiative folks (yes, free college for Black and Native American Oregonians). If you know (or are) a young adult wanting a college experience that treats you like a whole person and helps you get connections and experience and skills to have a purpose-driven career, schedule a time to visit us or talk to us.

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