Introducing Mariah Rocker, Oregon Black Pioneers’ new Public Programs and Exhibits Manager! Mariah will be leading our guest speaking program and managing our traveling exhibitions. Mariah regularly celebrates “Halloweek” by portraying different “badass Black women” role models, and she creates handmade miniatures, using her spare time to highlight influential people for Black History Month, Woman’s History Month, and Pride month. We asked Mariah some questions so we can all get to know her.
Oregon Black Pioneers: How did you first learn about Oregon Black Pioneers?
Mariah Rocker: A few years after moving to Oregon, my partner and I stumbled upon an amazing exhibit called Racing to Change at the Oregon Historical Society Museum. The exhibit provided a unique and enlightening perspective on the local impact of the Civil Rights Movement, and piqued my interest in the organization.
OBP: What stories from Oregon’s Black history have really resonated with you so far?
MR: The determination and resilience displayed by early settlers is incredibly inspiring, especially when considering the legal exclusion they faced. The story of Letitia Carson is particularly remarkable; arriving in Oregon as an enslaved woman, giving birth on the Oregon Trail, suing a white man for lost wages and the unlawful sale of her cattle (and winning, twice!), and ultimately becoming the first Black woman to successfully file a Homestead Act claim in Oregon.
OBP: Tell us about an idea you have for a future program or exhibit topic.
MR: I’m excited by the possibility of partnering with local artists to create engaging and innovative multimedia experiences. Such a collaboration would not only bridge cultural and generational gaps but also support our local arts community and attract new audiences. By working with local artists, I hope we can bring history to life in exciting and fresh ways.
OBP: What are you most looking forward to as a member of the organization?
MR: For me, the opportunity to learn something new every day and share that knowledge with the community is a great source of excitement. I’m also eager to collaborate with creative individuals and see my ideas come to life with new programs and exhibits.
OBP: Tell us about your favorite Badass Black Woman that you’ve portrayed?
MR: It’s genuinely difficult to pick just one to highlight, as each woman I’ve portrayed has a captivating story to tell. However, if I had to choose, I think I would go with Millie Bailey. She was one of the first Black women in the Women’s Army Corps and served as a commander of the Women’s Colored Detachment, during a time when women were often not accepted into the military and racism ran rampant in the South. She spent the rest of her life helping others, and is quoted saying “live every day thinking ‘what can I do to make it a better world.’” The year I dressed up as her she celebrated her 102nd birthday by skydiving, continuing to demonstrate an ability to persevere despite the odds. That, to me, is the ultimate definition of a badass.
Keep an eye out for Mariah at events all over Oregon!