Mr. Portland

Mr. Portland

ULNW Cover Story – August 2009

Roy JayProject Clean Slate
By Lora-Ellen McKinney, Ph.D.

There is no getting around the fact that Roy Jay is excited about the work that he does. There is a good reason why. Most of us don’t think much about our identification documents. We show them when we need to. We tease other people about their ugly pictures and lie that ours are gorgeous.

The media have increasingly shared stories about people whose identities have been stolen. There is, however, a large group of people who are off of most of our identity radars. But Roy Jay thought about this group of people in the middle of his insomniac nights, feeling compelled to awaken his Portland African American Chamber of Commerce board members on one middle of the pre-dawn morning. The annual dinner was coming up and Roy could not abide the idea of yet another chicken dinner with a community awardee being funded by a corporate sponsor. Instead Jay had been thinking about helping “people living in the shadows with warrants for their arrests.”


mrportlandRoy is a man with a loud voice, a forceful manner, and a take no prisoners style. It is clear that he is going to solve any problem that steps in his path. Having grown up in a two parent household, but basically raised by a single mother, he appears to have become for others a strong paternal community figure. This is a consistent perception. Oregon Business Magazine reported that “Roy Jay describes himself as a businessman “from the projects,” an African-American in the larger business community. His friends describe him as larger than life, one of the few men in Portland who fights consistently to bring educational and economic opportunities to minority communities.” ( )


His mother, Roy says, “was the guiding light” in his life, a woman who gave him the formula for living: to excel, to never forget his roots. She was his friend, his confidante, his teacher and professor, his everything. And at points when life unraveled for him, he found that he “should have done just what mama said.” That is essentially what he now does on a grander scale. He parents the community, teaching skills that people can use to rebuild their lives. Mama would have been proud of her son. He is President and CEO of the Portland African American Chamber of Commerce of Oregon (AACCO) (, and was recently elected Vice president of the newly formed National Vice President of the National Alliance of African American Chambers which will make the organization debut at the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington DC in September. He has worked since he was a child, not wanting to be beholden to anyone. “Know the joke about Jamaicans having nine jobs?” he asks. “Well I am half Jamaican.” When reminded that he was then only required to work half as hard, he laughed heartily. He has received numerous honors and awards. In the convention and meeting industry business, he is an important industry name. In November 2006, Jay was named national chairperson by the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners; he was only the 4th chair in 23 years and the first from the west coast. His plan was to take the organization from “good to great!” He was named Newsmaker of the Year (2006) and was recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. Drum Major For Justice Award in that same year. A leading contender for the 2008 mayoral race, Jay had to disqualify himself when it was discovered that his newly purchased Street of Dreams home was a mere blocks from the Portland city line.

And Mama would have been proud of her son’s early morning solution to his musings about the shadow people. Here is what they were. A program that helps nonviolent offenders and scofflaws get prepared to reenter work life by cleaning up their records and tarnished identities. His plan is to get these people to “good.” Their hard work can then push them to “great.”

The AACCO board members clearly thought Jay’s idea was in the “good to great” ratio, too. While attending a chamber board meeting, a circuit court judge, called the District Attorney at home, and suggested that this idea be implemented as soon as possible for everyone in the region. A meeting soon followed with all imaginable agencies – Police Department, Sheriff’s Department, Child Support Enforcement Division, Motor Vehicles Department, Social Service agencies, Mental Health agencies, community colleges, public defenders, private attorneys, Portland City Council and numerous members and associates of the African American Chamber. Any group that seemed reasonable to conduct pre-planning services for people wanting to emerge from the shadows, rejoin society and become productive citizens.


On July 9, 2005, Project Clean Slate opened its doors, assuming a very large number of people – perhaps 500 – would attend because of the referrals expected from the combined agencies. According to Mr. Jay, “3000 showed up, including gang members from both sides of the tracks, waiting patiently for up to 10 hours! We actually took the court house and moved everything to a local community college”. Roy Jay, aka “Mr. Portland” 13 Roy named it Project Clean Slate, because it helps clear up a significant portion of the county’s backlog of unserved warrants, which is particularly helpful for less-serious offenses such as jaywalking or failure to appear in court on a speeding ticket. Connections to necessary social services helps people sign up for the Oregon Health Plan, food stamps or drug treatment if those services are warranted.

The African American Chamber had the juice to pull this off. They are highly respected for the work they do and the values they hold. The AACOC is a non-profit organization of individuals and businesses who ban together to advance the commercial, financial, industrial and civic interest of the community. Jay says that nearly 45% of their current 955 members, associates and supporters are not Black It is a civic clearinghouse, a public relations counselor, a legislative representative at the local, state and national levels of government. The Chamber is an information bureau and a research / promotional medium. It is also, says Roy, a place that “refuses to partner with sports groups because sports have been the downfall of young folks. Killing each other over shoes! We are cautious of sports companies. They have to prove to the community that they are seriously empowering young people far beyond scoring points and touch downs”. What I say to everyone I work with in Project Clean Slate is this: We are trying to raise a new generation of men. The Players Manual has expired. It doesn’t work here. If you don’t step up, no one else is likely to help you.

Rehabilitating lives is not an easy process and it is not one that incarceration typically provides. In addition to released felons, there are 60,000 fugitives in the four-county area around Roy’s Portland, Oregon community. To become employed, people with arrest records, active fugitives, and other “shadowy” characters cannot begin to live in what most of us consider to be a respectable manner until they can pass a background check. For this, you need to produce identification.

This knowledge led to Roy Jay’s insomniac brainstorm. It was why he awakened his friends at 1 a.m. It is how Project Clean Slate was born. We may all be born as tabula rasas but if we write the wrong information on our lives, Project Clean Slate is now available to provide people with an opportunity to wipe their slates clean and rewrite themselves. To date, the program has helped thousands of people regain their driving license privileges, expunged minor criminal convictions (juvenile and adult), arranged for back payment of child support and begun the essential processes to gain, upgrade and maintain employment, housing and other opportunities to reintegrate into society. This, of course, is the lie of our current system of justice for those who have been incarcerated. If few people will hire you because you have been a felon, then there are limited legal options for how you might work and find housing. Most of us have little respect for the challenges faced by those who leave jail and wonder why they return. In many cases, it is as simple as not being able to find legitimate forms of work. Project Clean Slate makes this process easier for those whose truly want to turn over a new leaf.

It is not surprising to learn that many of those who seek the help of Project Clean Slate have few skills and limited educational profiles. While their ages have tended to range from 21-29, there has been a recent influx of people in their 50’s resulting from recent program publicity. The program’s clients are racially and ethnically diverse; most program clients (61%) are not African American. Many fit the stereotypes society holds of people who cannot make it. Clean Slate gives them stereotype-busting tools in the form of the knowledge that they can pass a drug test, have no outstanding warrants and tickets, have supportive medical and mental health services to work through problems that have attended their lives. They have jobs to show stability. And the pride that comes with doing a task well.

Roy stays on the road much of the time, talking to people in other cities about the utility of such the Project Clean Slate model, receiving awards for his innovation, blowing off steam because he works so hard he may just burst at the seams. He has a lot to share, certainly, especially now that the Clean Slate Bill (HB 3054) has been signed into Oregon law on June 22, 2007.

apa-awardthinSupported by District Attorney, Judges and Public Defenders, The Project Clean Slate bill, which is based on a highly successful community program launched by the African-American Chamber of Commerce, is a way to help those with past minor criminal and civil offenses on their records start over and reintegrate into the community. Project Clean Slate recognizes that many offenders find the process of returning to their communities difficult and alienating. This, combined with a lack of assistance and options, can lead to a cycle of repeat offending.

“When [Chamber President] Roy Jay approached me with the idea of implementing The Clean Slate project on a statewide level, I knew it was an idea whose time had come,” Oregon State Representative Chip Shields. “This bill will go a long way toward breaking the cycle for Oregon’s former inmates.” The Clean Slate bill was funded at $275,000 for the initial biennium (2007-2009) and is designed to help reformed offenders and the communities to which they return, because when a person successfully turns their life around, everyone benefits.

When he is not traveling, he is at home, working away on one of his many computers. Who would believe that Roy is a “computer geek”? Certainly, the computers give him something to do in the middle of the night when he is looking for the next Big Idea and whom in Portland to corral to help him pull it off. So if you are a friend, and he has many, stay tuned at 1 a.m. If the phone rings, its Roy Jay calling with the next Big Thing to help the citizens of the city that he and you love.

For more information about Project Clean Slate, visit their website at (

*Lora-Ellen McKinney, Ph.D. is an expert in community health, social services, social justice and education. She heads her own consulting firm and is a published author.



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