“Oakland is… Diverse; Creative; Starving; Exploding; Curious; Amazing; Scary; Serene; Neo-Local; Roots; Culture; Life-Style; Trend-Setting; Southern; Eastern; Northern; West-Coast; Vibrant; Old-School; Chocolate City; Hipster; Political; Occupy; Arts; Poor; Rich; Needy; Full; and…ME.” ~Atiim Chenzira
I have been featured on the front page of Oakland Local this past week: http://oaklandlocal.com/2015/03/the-oakland-neighborhood-project-5/
Photo journalist, Steve Texeira, has taken on the project of documenting 146 districts in Oakland, California. And, after reading his story in the local news paper some months ago, I reached out to him! I was utterly amazed with his work, and wanted, as a native Oaktowner, to be included in the history of my town through his Oakland Neighborhood Project (Link). Over the years, I have met many people from around the world in Oakland, and in surrounding Bay Area cities, and they have mostly been surprised to have met a true native… This would of course mean they need a tour guide of the real ‘Town’, as they have not been dipped in the local environment properly. However, as I look around now, all parts of Oakland are being filled with fleeing San Franciscans, Mid-Westerners, East Coasters, and Southern migrants all searching for the next ‘Brooklyn’ or affordable housing, and/or the First Friday explosion has drawn them closer like the Toucan Sam’s Froot Loops. Oakland gives artists and musicians some promise of exposure… AND every Oaklander has an origin story.
My Mother’s people settled in Oakland from Queens, New York via the Philippines & Philadelphia, and my Father’s people settled in Oakland from Dallas, Texas & Lake Charles, Louisiana, and this is only one generation of my family line. I remember reading in the Oakland Tribune, about 16 years ago, that Oakland was rated the most diverse city in the world, as there were over 100+ languages and cultures here then. I wonder if she is becoming more diverse, or less due to this new boom of population and curiosity. Nevertheless, she moves forward with or with out me, and the others, as change is the only constant.
In my limited perspective, Oakland has been and is ‘being’ injected with a renaissance that is slowly but surely leaving natives unable to move for fear of losing their homes, or, fleeing further away, whether back to their family origins in other states, or out-skirt cities, where living is affordable, and sustainable. You see, my reasons for contacting Mr. Texeira were solely my own, as I wanted to be documented as a part of Oakland history, as I am, have been, and will continue to be for some time. His photo journalism and art is showing the many districts of this diverse and ever-changing city of mine, and I wanted to be a scribble in his journal of who Oakland is. It seems Oakland changes every 5-10 years, and Steve is capturing slices of Oakland’s Past, Present, and Future.
The art scene here is bursting at the seams, and in five to ten years, I predict Oakland will likely be unable to support its’ artists, as San Francisco has recently shown very clearly with the booming Tech-Start-Up culture. Music venues have been shutting down left and right, in favor or condos to house the influx of people. But what about the music? What about the artists? What about the artistic class in general? Well, I know quite a few of them that have recently moved to Oakland… Rent here has gone up 35% from 2010 – 2012 and 12.1% from January 2014 to January 2015 due to the demand for its supply of housing, AND house prices up 76% since 2010. It’s crazy how anyone can live here, especially artists or musicians who traditionally put more into their arts than they ever receive back in return; I know I do. It has been quite a blessing to live in the same place for 11 years now, and my rent is truly a blessing. It is what has allowed me stability in many areas of my life.
Rent, on average, is $1,500 for a one bedroom in Oakland, and $3,400 in San Francisco. So, with limited affordable housing, the number of places to play or display their work, it doesn’t make sense how arts are surviving at all here. On the other hand, the art scene in Oakland’s spark of genius with the explosion of it’s Art Murmur, better known as First Fridays, has inspired the Nation with Coolness and has given artists, musicians, and small business owners an opportunity to be seen, heard, and to make some money. So, it appears that people are migrating to San Francisco and Oakland for many reasons; the hipsters and techies, the artists and musicians, etc., etc.. We all love how ‘cool’ these cities have been and are becoming, but the cool can’t afford to stay for just one Friday a month, and when the smoke clears I wonder what story Oakland will tell then.
I share an Oakland history with many family and friends, and they have all either migrated here one to three generations ago, were born here and still live here, have died here, moved away from here, or have recently moved into my town, ‘The Town’. I grew up in East Oakland in the Allendale District, as my mother’s family owned a four unit apartment complex; where my family lived until 1989. All of her siblings had children, and every weekend there were flocks of my cousins and neighborhood kids in the streets playing jump rope, riding bikes, skateboards, playing football or baseball in the streets, or heading to the local recreation center to the play ground or swimming pool, etc.. I had Black friends, Korean friends, Samoan friends, White friends, Latino friends from various countries, and a pre-milk carton world to explore as a child. Fear of exploring Oakland as a child did not consciously exist for parents or kids. My world-view was consequently shaped by my Oakland experiences as a child and teen.
Diversity is nothing new to me. Every district in Oakland has its own mix of culture and class and history. In 1989 my father moved our family to Berkeley, CA. so that we could attend Berkeley High School, his alma mater. Again, into diversity we went. Berkeley High School was THE ONLY public high school in Berkeley, and it had kids from all of the neighboring cities filling its halls, and kids from rich families and poor who lived in the flat lands of Berkeley, and the hills. It also functioned like a miniature college campus, as students had to choose their own classes through various departments, as it had one of the only African American studies departments & Asian American studies departments in the nation. Navigating BHS prepared me for life after high school in so many ways.
Three college degrees later, and after moving around California; Southern, Central, and Northern, I have re-settled in the Golden Gate District, where I have a live-work studio. (From) Here I work on music with my band FatheR BrotheR Sun (http://FatheRBrotheRSun.com), paint, organize mixed media events, work as a lighting and sound contractor, and make a daily commute to San Francisco to work as a Marriage and Family Therapist with Felton Institute (aka Family Service Agency of San Francisco) as a Lead Therapist for the Back On Track program. So diversity has also made its way into my interests, skill sets, and actions. In the community I live, I have taught kids in both Oakland and Emeryville, and performed therapy with kids from Kindergarten to 12th Grade the Emeryville Unified School District. (Side-Note) Emeryville and the Golden Gate District of Oakland share a jigsaw of a border, and are so intertwined and related that I rarely say I live in Oakland, as the EPD (Emeryville Police Department) show up right away when needed, but OPD (Oakland Police Deparment) is stretched and largely unavailable unless it is a crisis! Speaking of Police, I have both respect for, and traumatic experience with OPD, so I won’t begin a conversation about OPD that I can’t possibly finish in a paragraph or two, so, let’s just say, as a native, I know Oakland intimately.
What I do as an adult professional was surely shaped by my experiences in Oakland, and the Bay Area at large. Huge questions were posed as the diversity of class in Oakland seamed more like segregation than coincidence, and a matter of privilege than chance or choice. I received a bachelors of arts in both Pan African Studies and Sociology, and a Masters degree in Counseling Psychology, because of my curiosity with the disparity between classes, ‘race’, and income, and their correlations. You see, there is more to an environment and an individual than their current state. There is a history that precedes any assumption of what exists, and history is the key to unlocking any systemic analysis, prognosis, or helpful interventions that may follow. In short, I have found that all that I contribute to my world helps me, and support others in some minor or major way, which is well worth it to me. There is a quote by Virginia Gildersleeve that I love to use in one of my email signatures, which goes, “The ability to think straight, some knowledge of the past, some vision of the future, some skill to do useful service, some urge to fit that service into the well-being of the community – these are the most vital things education must try to produce.” And so it is.
As a Black Adult Professional Man, and an empathetic, concerned, and engaged human being, I am doing what I can to change my World, my USA, my California, my Bay Area, and my Oakland. By sharing my talents and skills, my true self, I can speak up for, affect, and plant seeds of change every day. And, so long as I can breath, I will honor the rich history of Oakland. She has a world wide reputation and history for vocalizing the need for justice and equality, one that inspired free lunches for children in public schools; sought fair treatment of city citizens by Police (which we sadly still fight for today) and local government; inspired a generation of Black parents to give their children names like Ayana, Kahlil, Shani, Kali, Salim, and Atiim; has produced numerous famous and non-famous artists and musicians, intellects and scholars, etc., and is now calling artists to occupy and breath new life into her streets. I just hope that our city officials see the need to protect the artistic class and to preserve the Soul of Oakland in doing so. Oakland is home, and will always be home to me, no matter where I decide to live in the potential future.
Read more about Steve Texeira: http://oaklandlocal.com/author/stephentexeira/
Stephen Texeira’s Website: http://www.texeiraphoto.com/
Stephen Texiera’s Oakland Neighborhood Project: http://www.oaklandphoto.org/neighborhoods/
Check out the previous post about Steve’s project:
(Photos by Stephen Texeira, 2014)