Alumni Profile: Nike Greene (Portland 2005)

Posted by: Dionne Peeples-Jones (Portland 2003) | November 15, 2020

Nike Greene, Portland's Office of Youth Violence Prevention Director, shares her calling to serve youth and break the cycle of violence.

When did you know that you were called to reach youth, and how have you responded to that calling? 

I have worked with youth since I was a young person. I was in the third grade, and I would go to the special needs class to help students with disabilities learn their colors and letters. At age 13, I was a camp counselor, and at age 15, I taught Sunday school. I knew I was called to serve youth when I was 21. It was then that I leaned in and prayed and heard the Spirit say, “My children have no limits. Teach!” So, I did.

I have continuously responded to the calling by meeting our youth everywhere and anywhere they are. I have taken the limits off on how I serve and have made myself available through my gifting and talents. I have served youth through coaching basketball, mentoring girl groups, leading community sports camps and community gatherings, and serving an entire low-income housing unit with youth activities and family services.

What was your reaction to the mayor of Portland regarding your appointment?

I told him (the mayor), “If you’re looking for someone who wants to do politics, I’m not her, but if you want someone who desires to work to stop violence in the community, “I’m in.” I was appointed in November 2019.

What is the mission to youth, and how do you plan to fulfill it? 

The mission of the Office of Youth Violence Prevention (OYVP) is to break the cycle of violence that plagues families, neighborhoods, and schools by providing education, support, and resources for both the individuals and their families. 

We exist to ensure families and communities will be safer and more secure, supported, and healthy because of a coalition being actively involved in meaningful violence prevention efforts. OYVP addresses youth violence at three points: preventing it before it begins, intervening and interrupting when an individual is at risk, and healing after it happens. We implement strategies and initiatives to prevent, reduce, and end violence in Portland. 

Why do you think God has called you to this specific work?

It’s my community, these are my families, and I have heard their cries. I have seen their tears and have experienced community violence myself. My life experiences of trauma, healing, and leadership have humbly brought me to this intersection. Now I have an opportunity to be a part of change, leadership, and solutions at a time of complex challenges for our black and brown communities. 

Portland, like many other cities, recently has seen its share of intense protests. What have you seen on the ground, and how does this impact your work in the city? 

I have seen, and I have marched. I believe that when we mobilize our community to cause and effect change, everyone is needed. I have seen over 10,000 beautiful men, women, and children from diverse backgrounds and faiths come together in the streets and demand equity and equality, police reform, better education, disruption of the school to prison pipeline, and more. I have seen a 10-year-old African American boy call for a rally for youth in a community, and 1,000 people showed up to walk with him. Sadly, I have also seen others cause chaos and inflict injury on lives during these protests and cause unnecessary harm. 

This has impacted our work in different ways. The national and local narrative has allowed our office of violence prevention to provide community space to discuss institutional racism, white supremacy, police brutality, and other issues.  We have used these convenings to center the voices of our youth, artists, athletic coaches, and others for exposure to their challenges.

Has the national attention on Portland’s continued unrest been a fair representation and how is it having local impact? 

The narrative on the national level is a single narrative, and we all know that a single narrative is dangerous. For most of us living in Portland, we know it’s not the full story. It doesn’t capture the plight or the fight. It’s not a “boots on the ground” reality. 

What do you hope will be your legacy after you have completed this professional assignment? 

I hope to leave structures in place for long-term sustainability with community and youth led boards/committees leading and guiding the work of violence prevention.

What challenges have you or your organization had to overcome while serving the youth of Portland?

With COVID-19, we are not unique in our challenge of connecting with youth. We have worked hard to address the digital divide in connecting with youth. Our services have pivoted to relief services to help families with rent, food, and household items. We work hard to provide for our youth supplemental resources such as education activities via links and worksheets, athletic workout plans, and words of encouragement when in-person contact cannot happen. Our youth are missing physical touch and the power of presence. Because face-to-face connection is so powerful, we just continue to be creative in how we connect virtually.  

So far, what are you most proud of that the program has accomplished?

I am most proud of the mobilization of our community. Having mothers of victims, the faith community, OGs (original gentlemen formally called original gangsters, referencing those who had life experiences with the criminal justice system and gang life), local artists, coaches, nonprofits, and new hands engaging in community-led efforts has been so inspiring. People are diving into rebuilding and standing up for their communities. When I see them bring and demand solutions for the needs of their community, I’m smiling ear to ear.  

What kind of collaborative opportunities contribute to this work, and who are you partnering with?

Our partners are vast. This work relies on a multisector and multiservice approach with the community at the helm. They are constantly informing, leading, and guiding our work. Our partners include families, OGs, the faith community, community-based organizations, outreach workers, probation and parole officers, the district attorney’s office, youth, schools, community leaders, donors, trauma-informed hospitals, mental health and behavioral health workers, culturally specific programs in the community, as well as elected officials. 

Although it’s been more than a decade ago, what learning principles from your DVULI training are being applied to your work and life?   

One principle I have applied is balance because my life was out of balance. I was such a people pleaser. I had a hard time telling elders no. I didn’t think about how it impacted my marriage and my children. This job is high trauma, indirect and direct. We show up to crime scenes, and many times, the victim has been shot or stabbed and may still be there—whether at the hospital or on the ground. As you struggle to find a resolution, you take that all in. If you are not centered in God and practice self-care, you will experience burnout. Empowerment was another principle. The only reason I took this job is because I knew this was an opportunity to elevate black and brown voices to our leadership. Our black and brown communities are the most impacted by gun violence, and I stand firmly on “nothing for you without you.” That means you won’t have a gang prevention program created and established without having individuals who have been involved or impacted by gangs a part of the prevention process. 

What can your DVULI family be praying for as you move forward?

Please pray for the healing of our broken community. There is so much trauma and so much pain, and there’s a lack of knowing how someone can be healed. We have accepted a scarcity mentality and the idea that “this is as good as it gets” rather than challenging it and opening our eyes to see that God has something better for us. The individuals I work with are typically the first not to live a life of depression or not to be shot at the age of 16 in their family. Amid a global pandemic, a pandemic of white supremacy, a pandemic of the divided church, where do underserved families go for stability of health? Pray also for leadership. It’s hard for leaders to be vulnerable when others look up to them to for answers.