HAPpy People - Dametris Harrison

March 20, 2019

By Christina Malango


How long have you been a board member for Human Access Project?

I’ve been a friend of the Willie, and his wife since they opened their first Popina store on 42nd, but have been a member of the Human Access Project board for

about 3 years now.


What does being a HAP board member involve?


There are many roles involved with being a board member. Collectively, we oversee and manage all things related to our mission, of getting toes into the river; and basically that is Willamette River exposure… ensuring swimmers that the water will not make their skin fall off, due to all of the negative history with the river. Our mission is to change historic thinking patterns, and acclimate the community with the river. I also hope to bring diversity and inclusion to the river’s edge, advocating that the Willamette is for everyone.


Are you also a swimmer? Kayaker? All-around water fan? 

I am a swimmer, and a huge fan of water, all bodies of water; as a matter of fact, I was awarded a scholarship out of high school for swimming on our high school swim team – rare for a woman of color. I was also certified as a lifeguard in Los Angeles County, and spent many summers on the beach, practicing lifesaving drills, which is what you’re doing when you’re not actually saving lives. I even chose vacation locations based on water activities and access. Some of my favorite places involve snorkeling and underwater biking. Underwater biking is basically scuba biking under water; mostly visited in tropical waters somewhere around the Bahamas, or Jamaica, which is where I first tried them (two separate occasions).


Where does your interest in improving Portland's relationship with the Willamette River come from?

Years ago, I was introduced to the Willamette as a kid, swimming the beaches of Sauvie Island. Later in life a friend rented boats from the Columbia River. He gave us a tour of the Willamette, boating us to Lake Oswego. We saw people jumping into the river, and discussed why more people didn’t have swings into the river. (Still a valid question.)


What are your hopes for HAP and the future of the river in Portland?

I’ve visited many places during my travels abroad that look as if they are not designated swim holes; that have been roped off for swimming. There have been places that I’ve been that have brought in sand and developed manmade beaches for swimming. I’d like to see people swimming in the water, more than what we’re seeing today. Families in the water is my hope.


What do you do in your personal life?  How about in your work life? 

In real life, I open and operate hotels for McMenamins Pubs and Breweries. In hotels that I run, we have saltwater soaking pools where I’ve taught and watched children from countless families learn how to swim. Being a part of water is self-care for me, and thoroughly enjoyed.


What else do you think our readers should know about you?

I think your readers should know that I’ve participated in two Mayoral Swims, and had a team of swimmers with me who swam the Willamette for the first time, and loved it. No one got sick, and they sign up yearly now for Willamette River events.

Return to HAPPY PEOPLE Main Page