LaQuida Landford's innovative vision for her community – Street Roots News

In 2018, LaQuida Landford returned from a trip to her father’s home country, Belize, with a clear mission in mind: to build a tiny village for Black folks in Portland.
That vision has since evolved into the AfroVillage movement. One of the components involves retired MAX trains — TriMet is giving the AfroVillage team two retiring MAX trains to use as community service stations, making it the first project of its kind in Portland.
The opportunity to repurpose these MAX trains came when Landford and architect Marta Petteni won the People’s Choice Award at the MAX Cars Reuse Competition hosted by Portland State University’s Center for Public Interest Design in August 2020. There were a total of nine teams, and they received 211 of 400 votes for their home base design.
Each train is roughly 700 sq. ft. depending on the type of train, and their submitted design was to utilize one train car for food, one for hygiene and one for physical wellness. The train would operate as a mobile resource center. The design has since shifted to a stationary train with the same features.
The intent of this space and movement is to center Black and brown people as well as queer folks and those formerly incarcerated.
“It’s important to me that folks who identify in those spaces are able to be uplifted and supported,” Landford said. “It’s also how I identify.”
Landford connected with Portland State University urban planning and design students at the Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative center to continue planning AfroVillage. This is where Landford was introduced to Petteni in January 2020.  Petteni was working at HRAC when they met and Petteni’s role has been to support and help design Landford’s vision.
“As designers and architects, we have always been told that we are the leaders and we know all the answers,” Petteni said. “So, being able to sit on the side of someone else who is leading the movement, who is leading a vision and just supporting that person has been so amazing and such a good lesson to learn.”
The two collaborated very well, Landford said, and Petteni’s support helped Landford in many ways beyond the project.
“For a long time I was invested in moving away from here, but (Petteni) has been a significant help in the development of the AfroVillage and just kept giving me some encouragement,” Landford said.
Before AfroVillage became AfroVillage, Landford had been doing on-the-ground work for months distributing resources to those in need. Landford then teamed up with other organizations and businesses such as Floyd’s Coffee Shop, Everybody Eats and Play Grown Learn holding events to bring people together and raise awareness of her mission.
“How it started was that folks need food,” Landford said. “There was no name, I would host something or put events together. When I started to collaborate with Marta, it really became developed and structured.”
The MAX cars will help elevate her outreach, Petteni said.
“The train would provide all the services that LaQuida was already providing on the ground in the community,” Petteni said.
There are three main components of AfroVillage: community events, the train project and housing, which is the AfroVillage for residents centering Black folks. While they are in the planning and development phase for the train project and the village, events and resource distribution continue.
Landford moved to Portland after four years of living in Belize during high school. As a child, her mother was absent dealing with a drug addiction leading Landford to live in Belize with her father. After high school, she relocated to Portland.
“I started my journey just trying to survive being a youngster here in Portland, but it worked out and I stayed here for 10 years,” Landford said. “I didn’t have a strong mentor or adult, but I was taking classes at (Portland Community College) to figure what’s the best thing for me.”
At one point, she began working at the advocacy nonprofit Urban League Portland as a volunteer and then eventually became a housing caseworker there. It was at the Urban League where she really began to notice the lack of safe spaces for Black and queer folks and formerly incarcerated people living outside.
The sense of urgency to provide housing and support to houseless people continues to increase, and on a particularly personal level for Landford.
“We are reclaiming space in an area, that if Black folks were able to live, they would most likely be thriving in the city right now.”
On Nov. 12, Landford’s friend died. She had health issues that led to substance abuse issues, although it’s not entirely clear what had happened.
“I’m frustrated because I want them to tell me what we’re going to be able to do and let’s start making it happen because I lost a friend that was living on the streets right outside my apartment,” Landford said. “Black people, all people, should not be dying on the streets of Portland.”
Despite personal tragedy and other challenges AfroVillage encounters, Landford continues to persist.
That’s one thing about Landford that motivates Kirk Rea, a friend and AfroVillage team member. Having a strong team has also been another helpful aspect, Rea said.
“I love LaQuida. She’s very much like a sister, a best friend. We’ve grown a close bond and I definitely am inspired by everything she brings to the table, her vision and her perseverance,” Rea said. “I’ve learned a lot. We’re a good team. There’s a lot of taking care of one another which I very much enjoy.”
Some of the challenges Landford and her team face are financial, so they’ve applied for grants and fundraised, Rea said. Other struggles involve location.
Since design has shifted to a stationary train, one of their biggest challenges is figuring out where to place the train and how. They also are trying to figure out different housing options and locations for the AfroVillage.
“A lot of things that we’ve been trying to do are new, we’ve been trying to set up precedence,” Petteni said. “We’ve been encountering a lot of obstacles in the way that the city operates and trying to break those barriers.”
As of right now, they plan to place the trains in the Albina district, in part because they have the same goals and values as the Albina Vision Trust, which is to stop the displacement of Black Portlanders.
“We are reclaiming space in an area, that if Black folks were able to live, they would most likely be thriving in the city right now,” Landford said.
They are also not sure when the train will become available once the new ones come to replace it — another barrier slowing the process down — but they are trying to be prepared for when it does and are hopeful it will be this year.
Landford plans on going beyond providing resources. She wants to get as many people as she can into housing, and she understands the importance of providing a space like AfroVillage that centers Black folks in Portland so they can feel comfortable and confident in getting the help they need.
“We provide blankets and we provide things, but that’s a Band-Aid,” Landford said. “At some point, I am not even interested in doing that, I just want to make sure we have a place that we can bring people indoors and they can start looking at themselves, and say, ‘I need to get help, I want to get help and this is how I can get supported.’”
Like what you're reading? Street Roots is made possible by readers like you! Your support fuels our in-depth reporting, and each week brings you original news you won't find anywhere else. Thank you for your support!