Shemia Fagan: A Force for David Douglas Schools

Nova Newcomer

A new, strong leader in East Portland's "bulging at the seams" David Douglas School District will have impacts in the community beyond just the schools.

The first time I heard about Shemia Fagan, I remember hearing she was a force. Being a skeptical, yet curious person I reserved judgment until I met her. We first officially met at my Emerge Oregon training in Bend last year. She was a 2009 alumna of the program and was back to learn more from the program and engage with the new class.

Shemia presents well -- engaging, full of enthusiasm and confidence, just as you might expect someone described as a "force" to present. And you might stop there and marvel at her presence and move on, but what's special about Shemia is not her presence. It's her depth. I sensed it from the moment I met her, that there was this depth with her that went beyond the charisma. She spoke often about her devout, hard-working father -- family, though times were often tough with an absent mother who battled addiction well until Shemia's adulthood, was her bedrock.

In a recent campaign video, Shemia says, "I believe that public education gives every kid a chance to determine their own life." What I know only from our similar life experiences is that when Shemia talks about schools providing opportunities, it's not a slogan. To a lot of kids, school is THE answer, the way up and/or out. For Shemia, it was her 4th grade teacher, Mr. Wagner at Dufur Elementary, who volunteered his own time to teach her in the Chess Club. She eventually went on to win the Oregon State Chess Championship, which ignited a drive in her. That drive led her to pursue college and then go on to Lewis & Clark Law school where she learned to effectively advocate and resolve disputes.

I recently had the opportunity to see her talents at dispute resolution in person -- a by chance opportunity to join her for a Lakers-Blazers game at the Rose Garden. There's nothing more serious than a couple of Laker fans sitting in front of this Blazer loyalist at her first ever Laker-Blazer game. Shemia quickly made their acquaintance and found out that they were Oregonians (Southern Oregon) just like us and you gotta love 'em, grew up Laker fans. My incredulity at this possibility aside, I thought back to that experience when Shemia recently told me she was challenging a 24-year incumbent for the David Douglas School Board. I thought if she can get me to empathize with Laker fans, I can't wait to see her in action on something that really matters -- advocating on behalf of the kids in her neighborhood.

On a more serious note, the David Douglas School District needs strong, empathic people like Shemia on their side. The number of students on free and reduced lunch has skyrocketed to nearly 80% over the past several years. She knows firsthand the value of public education and believes that East Portland deserves its fair share. For a city that prides itself on all its admittedly fabulous wonders, we still leave far too many people behind. A new, strong leader in East Portland's "bulging at the seams" David Douglas School District will have impacts in the community beyond just the schools.

With endorsements from the David Douglas Education Association, Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian (who just announced his campaign for Congressman David Wu's seat), State Representative Jefferson Smith and even a recent porchside endorsement from Mrs. Betty Merkley (the woman who raised our wonderful Senator Jeff Merkley), Shemia has a growing list of supporters. But it's lifelong David Douglas resident Sam Kahl who says it best: " Shemia Fagan is the kind of leader we need to guide us…young, imaginative, forward thinking and committed to her community through thick and thin."

If you are interested in learning more about Shemia and what she stands for, visit or find her on Facebook "Elect Shemia Fagan to David Douglas School Board".

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    Use the force!

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    Shemia Fagen spoke at the Multnomah Democrats Central Committee (along with other Portland and David Douglas school board candidates) and does indeed impress with her speaking. Even a Wyden staffer later commented to me (unsolicited) that she came across extremely well.

    If her policy chops are on an equal footing (each candidate only spoke for 2 mins) she will do extremely well should she be elected.

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    thanks for including my video, Nova. Shemia is awesome; i meet her 3 years ago, at an Obama primary night party. i'm thrilled she's letting me help her out in this way.

    as is Robert Lee, another East County progressive running for school board (


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