He made national headlines by standing up to white supremacist threats

By NECN Staff

Shawn Penney

A powerhouse of the Northeast Portland community, Shawn Penney passed away Oct. 3, 2021. He was for many years the visionary Executive Director behind the Good in the Hood Festival, who impressed the nation when he stood up to white supremacist threats against the beloved event.

A third-generation Portlander, Penney descended from Texas rail yard workers, and attended King Elementary School, Harriet Tubman Middle School and Jefferson High School.

He worked as District Controller at Waste Management and retired after 20 years before being named President of the Good in the Hood Festival. There, his dynamic style of leadership shaped the growing organization for years to come.

Penney’s fearless approach to community-building hit center stage in 2017, when Good in the Hood received anonymous death threats — including threats against him, personally — which many feared would shut down the annual weekend of events. 

But Penney led local organizers in going on with the show, eventually bringing his unique voice to media interviews all across the country — including a powerful interview originally aired on OPB, but now hosted as a podcast at WNYC.

At Good in the Hood that year, Penney’s friends and supporters wore bright red baseball caps that said: “I am Shawn Penney/Good in the Hood 2017.”

In tributes across multiple social media pages since his death, hundreds of people shared memories and praise for Penney’s contributions to the local community — and individuals’ lives — over the years. On Facebook, 2021 Pulitzer Prize winner Mitchell S. Jackson, who also grew up in Portland during the 1990s, left his condolences, part of a river of posts by loved ones. 

Another post, by Montrail Menefee, said: “… I never understood how he could be in so many different places doing so much and helping so many different people, he was EVERYWHERE! Always trying to help out. He was one of the most intelligent black men born and raised in the HOOD that I’ve ever met. He could sit and talk for hours about sports, politics, the streets, the community,  anything you brought up… ”

Community supporters launched a fundraiser to cover funeral costs, here.