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100 Men Standing against Portland's Gangs

100 Men Standing against Portland's Gangs

John Canda believes the best way to curb gang violence is to ask adults—especially men—simply to show up.

Photo courtesy of Cornelia Seigneur.

If John Canda had to credit one person for his faith and wide-reaching impact in Portland, Oregon, he would point to Grace Collins, a German Christian woman who ran Grace Collins Memorial Center, the daycare Canda attended while growing up in the 1960s on the city's northeast side.

"Ms. Collins and her sisters would read us Scriptures," Canda, 46, recalls. "I remember sitting in Sunday school, and as the pastor shared Bible passages, I'd join in and recite with him, and people would look at me. It was all because of Ms. Collins."

Long after needing day care, after spending days swimming at Dishman Community Center, Canda and his friends would visit Ms. Collins.

"She'd have this 11½-minute Bible study for us, and her pantry was always full—chips, cookies, soda. We'd go there every summer; she'd fill the room. She was planting seeds," Canda said.

Those seeds—namely, Scripture and community—have become vital to Canda's mission in Portland for the past 22 years: to curb gang violence in the city where he grew up, and to inspire others to do the same. In that spirit, this year he formed the group Connected, a grassroots movement that practices a "Ministry of Place," meeting Friday evenings at Holladay Park near the Lloyd Center shopping district, known for gang violence.

Canda found his calling in 1989, six years after graduating from Portland's Jefferson High School. He had attended business college, then joined the Air Force, serving as a security policeman in Idaho. When he returned to Portland in 1989 with his wife, Darla Nelson Probasco-Canda—whom he has been married to for 25 years, raising 4 children together—the community he knew so well had changed. Gangs had begun to run rampant, and gentrification was hurting low-income families.

"Growing up, we didn't have to worry about gangs. Gangs were bike groups and the Hells' Angels," Canda said.

Concerned, Canda became involved in outreach to street gangs in volunteer and paid positions. He chaired the Youth Gang and Gang Violence Task Force, was the first director of the city's Office of Youth Violence Prevention in the Mayor's Office from 2006 to 2007, and served as program coordinator for Brother's and Sister's Keepers, Inc. He is currently the Oregon Youth Authority's metro region youth reentry coordinator for several Portland-area counties, is an active member of First African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, and continues as a community organizer on this issue.


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Displaying 1–5 of 17 comments

Gary Marschke

December 28, 2011  2:03pm

Excellent article. I am honored to be considered a part of this effort and humbled to be in the company of so many passionate and committed individuals. Thanks for the exposure.


December 21, 2011  2:12pm

I had the pleasure of hearing this man speak and have met some of the other leaders. As a city, I hope more churches get involved in the lives of youth. Gangs and drug are destroying the lives of African-American and Hispanic youth. It is slowly making their into the suburbs.

Yellow Sister

December 12, 2011  1:19am

Thank you for letting us know about John Canda and others who are in the frontlines of ministry. More of these stories need to be unearthed to benefit the mainline community of believers. Hearing about and from christians of color will give us a more wholistic perspective of the gospel and paint a grander and glorious picture of what the Body of Christ is biblically meant to be.

M. Kellogg

December 11, 2011  6:35am

What an encouraging story...and a great reminder. How many of our communities could be transformed if we just "show up"?

cornelia seigneur

December 09, 2011  1:58pm

Thanks Mariko for your kind words. I am grateful that Paul Metzger's John 17:23 Network brought John in as a guest speaker-that is where I first heard Mr. Canda speak and thought he'd make a great This is Our City feature! John Canda is indeed, as you state, having a profound impact on the African American community as a role model. . . .He inspires the entire Evangelical church and beyond in the way he jump starts his service heart into action. And, he's been doing this for 22 years! This is not just a fading fad for John Canda, another inspirational thing for me!


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