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“Sick of Racism,” Corvallis Teen Credits Mentors For Finding Ways To Speak Out

Boys and Girls Club of Corvallis

The Johnson Teen Center is an offshoot of the Boys and Girls Club of Corvallis. Many of their programs, including a panel addressing racism, help youth of color find their voice.

Boys and Girls Club of Corvallis Executive Director Helen Higgins said way before the pandemic, she and other mentors heard about some serious problems.

“We had a couple of students, high school kids of color, that were really struggling with bullying and pretty outright racism.”

One of those teens was Malik Brown. He moved from Seattle to the predominantly white city of Corvallis and was immediately made to feel different.

“People judged me off my hair styles, how I would talk, they say, like, ‘Black people smell weird. All Black people don’t have dads,'" Brown said.  "I’ve been bullied because of my skin color. It was to the point where I just felt like I don’t belong here.”  

Credit Boys and Girls Club of Corvallis
On the right, Malik Brown speaks during a remote panel on racism in Benton County and beyond. His friend Josiah Sloan also spoke and stood behind Malik, giving support.

Brown said he's sick of racism. It has made him fearful of walking down the street, wondering if it will be his "last day." He said, "nowadays, you know, it's hard being a person of color."

Brown said, "No matter what skin color you are, you belong in this world. Knowing that makes me want to be a better person."

Brown spoke during the BGCC “Addressing Racism Through Youth Voices” panel-- held remotely, mid-pandemic. Helen Higgins said his words struck a chord with the community but there is still much to do to.

Higgins describes her organization is welcoming and inclusive and their membership reflects diversity in participants. Same goes for Boys and Girls Club mentors. Camila Billardo is one Club mentor who helped Malik Brown speak out about his experiences with bullying and racism. He even addressed the school board about the problems he’s experienced as a student in a mostly white educational system in Benton County.  

Brown, a senior at Crescent Valley High School, was recently named Youth of the Year.

The Johnson Teen Center and Boys and Girls Club of Corvallis recently received a $2,500 grant from Pacific Power. The funding will help the Center continue to provide a one-stop resource where young people can get meals, distance-learning support, adult mentorship and even health and dental care.

Credit Boys and Girls Club of Corvallis
The Boys and Girls Club of Corvallis is located at 1112 NW Circle Boulevard and supports kids from first grade through senior year.

Throughout the pandemic, hundreds of youth including- Malik Brown- have remained connected to the community with support from mentors at Boys and Girls Club and the Teen Center. Brown was a co-founder and participant in the “Addressing Racism Through Youth Voices.”

The Boys and Girls Club of Corvallis has operated since 1997. The Johnson Teen Center opened in 2018. The organizational goal, says Higgins, is to end intergenerational poverty in Benton County.   

Tiffany joined the KLCC News team in 2007. She studied journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia and worked in a variety of media including television, technical writing, photography and daily print news before moving to the Pacific Northwest.