Synopsis: Root Shocked is a story of generational loss, racial disparity, and the steps taken by the Davis family to force the city of Portland, OR to reckon with its racist history. This piece follows Cleo Davis and Kayin Talton-Davis as they set out to rescue a house from demolition, in hopes of shedding light on the historic displacement of black families from the Eliot neighborhood. This is the story of how one house can change a community.
I came across Cleo and Kayin’s story one day in January 2019 when it aired on the local radio station, and immediately pulled over my car to reach out to them. At the time, I was searching for a story to be the focus of a short documentary I was working on for my master’s in multimedia journalism at the U of Oregon. This was a story about systematic racism in America that was playing out in my own backyard. When I met with Cleo, he explained the history of racist property ordinances that had disproportionally targeted his family and other black families in the Portland area in the 1980s. This mass displacement had held black families back from putting down roots or generating wealth, and they continued to feel the effects today. Having moved to Portland only two years prior, I knew pieces of this story. Frankly, it wasn’t being talked about in Portland’s mainstream media whatsoever. Cleo and Kayin had a passion for carrying out this house move, and I knew that passion would transmit to an audience in a way that would make people not only understand the magnitude of the harm done by the city of Portland, but how its effects are continuing to play out today. This was a story that deserved to be documented in full and shared widely, and so, in a collaboration with Cleo and Kayin, I set out to help them document it.