The Shepeople’s Artist Collective Showcases Womens’ Creative Voices

At a recent event, Shepeople's founder Valerie Troutt (fourth from the right) thanks several artists, inculding her mother Valerie Brown-Troutt (far right), and visual artist Corinna Nicole Brewer (fourth from the left).

By Peace Harmony

OAKLAND, CA – A new habitat for female artists was born last November. Valerie Troutt started The Shepeople’s, a collective of female vocalists, musicians, poets, dancers, filmmakers, visual artists, craft makers, foodies and more.

“I was inspired to create The Shepeople’s after meeting female artists who needed a space to showcase their work,” said Troutt, who coordinates and hosts events the third Friday of each month.

The project is based at the New Community Fellowship Church in Oakland‘s Dimond District. The group regularly seeks out new female artists to present and share their talents and to add fresh faces to the ensemble. “For some artists,” Troutt explained, “it’s their first time performing for an audience.”

More than a monthly event, The Shepeople’s is a place for artists to showcase their talents, create followings, and expand their networks. This community encourages and celebrates diversity among women through the arts. The Shepeople’s events are open to everyone.

As a singer and songwriter with an EP coming out this month, Troutt said art has always been a major part of her life. Her mother, Valerie Brown-Troutt, is a visual artist, and her father Robert Troutt, sings, and plays piano and guitar. Both of her parents are also pastors who believe strongly in helping their community.

“My father is a Renaissance man,” Troutt said. “(He) can often be found helping young men fill out job applications, feeding the homeless, or fighting for the rights of Oaklanders at city council meetings.” Valerie Troutt has always been inspired by her parents’ mix of art and service. “My father is my number one fan, and has encouraged me to be a successful artist.”

Troutt wants to make The Shepeople’s more visible in the Bay Area. Her greatest hopes are to make the collective a destination for female artists all over the world, and to create an all-female residency and festival in Oakland.

Visual artist Corinna Nicole Brewer joined The Shepeople’s last November after attending the group’s first event. She remembered the place being “hella packed. People were sitting on the floor. It was amazing.”

She was so impressed, she emailed Troutt right after the show and asked to be featured. Brewer became the first visual artist to exhibit her work at a Shepeople’s event. It was also her first California show.

For Brewer, making art started as a childhood hobby. She’s been painting for about 5 years, creating pieces that address identity and human relationships. “I tend to use myself as inspiration for my subject matters, whether it is about the dynamics between myself and others, my desire for women, my bi-racial heritage or my interests in gender identity.”

The Shepeople’s has introduced Brewer to a lot of talented people and exposed her and her work to art lovers. Since showing her art, she has worked with the group’s SheCommittee, where she helps with event planning, media and communications. “It feels good to be a part of a supportive and creative collective.”

Next month, The Shepeople’s will mark its one-year anniversary with a concert at Shattuck Down Low in Berkeley. For more information, visit The Shepeople’s website.

Go to Corinna Nicole Brewer’s site to see some of her art.

Peace Harmony is a former Oakland Voices correspondent.

Reentry Programs Help Ex-convicts Find Jobs, Repair Lives

As Oakland's reentry employment specialist, Isaac Taggart helps convicts write resumes, develop work skills, and find jobs once they are released.

By Ida Hancox

OAKLAND, CA – For most of Shawn Vasquez’s life, he’s been in trouble with the law. He started ditching school to sell drugs before he was a teenager. He hit the ninth grade and dropped out all together. Vasquez, now 35, spent almost two decades in and out of prison, including six and half years at Lompoc federal prison.

“The long stretch behind bars was especially painful to my wife and children,” Vasquez remembered. Watching his wife Tracey Mason struggle alone to take care of their four young children was a huge wake up call.

When Vasquez was released in last September, he decided he owed it to his family to do things differently. So, he finished drug rehab, and took some time to himself to plan his next moves.

What Vasquez really needed was a job. Oakland’s Young Adult Reentry Services program had his back.

When convicts get out of  prison, they face problems finding work, health care, and housing. YARS expands the quality of life for those who have been through the prison system. by teaching young people on probation or parole how to write resumes, fill out job applications, and conduct themselves during job interviews.

Isaac Taggart is Oakland’s reentry employment specialist. He works with several of the city’s reentry programs. Taggart visits prisoners throughout the Bay Area, telling them how he and other agencies can help them get their lives in order once they are released.“I continue to help to stabilize families and develop projects that allow former prisoners to be home with their children.”

With Taggart’s help, Vasquez  found a job at Healthy Oakland as a community health ambassador. In the same neighborhood where Vasquez used to sell cocaine, he now does street patrol. “If I can change, you can too,” Vasquez says to the young guys he meets, telling them about how the reentry program helped him put his life back together.

Without YARS, he explained, he and his family would not have made it. “They are my number one in life.”

The program is more than two years old,  and is funded by Measure Y – the Violence Prevention and Public Safety Act of 2004 – as well as state and federal agencies, and community foundations.

Ammie Scott is 70 years old and raising her son’s  two daughters while he serves 3 years  in federal prison for robbery.  Although she had not heard of the reentry program, Scott said,“it sounds like a good thing.”

She believes YARS would help her West Oakland community a lot, and wondered why the program isn’t more widely advertised. “My family needs this, and so do others. This kind of help would put parents back into the children’s lives.”

Taggart would like YARS to help as many families as it can, and it keeps its doors open to those who have finished YARS. The former convicts – men and women who are now going to school, working, and home with their families – can come back to support each other and new members. Some of them are even bringing in their brothers, cousins, and friends who have just been released. Taggart said that mutual support system is his way of giving some hope back to Oakland’s communities.

Click here for more info about Young Adult Reentry Services and other reentry programs in Oakland.

Dropping That N-Bomb: OV Needs Your Help

It is one of the most painful, difficult, and quintessentially American words in our language.

It’s been used to dehumanize, to hurt feelings, to show love, and to sell records. When popular talk radio host Dr. Laura Schlessinger let fly with it on her national show last week, she stirred up a small hornet’s nest.

This Saturday, August 21, we’re having an OV family dialogue about the “N word.” Two of our correspondents – 64 and 21 years old – will have an inter-generational conversation about its meanings, uses, and controversies.

We will videotape and post the discussion.

Here’s where you come in. Please send us a ONE-sentence question or comment that you would like to be included in our conversation this Saturday.

Below, you can leave your thought as a comment. You can also comment on our Facebook page, or Tweet us using #OVNword. Be sure to give us your name (with pronunciation), and tell us where you’re writing from.

Have your comment or question in by Friday evening, Oakland time.

The debates about that word – about who can & can’t use it, when (not) to say it, whether or not its noxious history is a good enough reason not to use it today – aren’t new. They are all around us. Some complain about it with their friends. Others offend their elders with it. And of course there’s its confusing potency when it comes off the tongues of white people.

OV wants to bring some of those debates out into the open.

Adeline Street Neighborhood Still Tight-knit Even After Decades of Change

As blacks began migrating out of the South and into California during the 1940's, Rene Richard opened his home near Adeline and Fourteenth Streets to family and strangers alike. He and his wife Nolia had a commitment to community that still can be felt in the central West Oakland neighborhood.

By Jo Ann Bell

OAKLAND, CA – A warm and secure feeling of community thrives in the neighborhoods along Adeline Street.  Reflecting on the West Oakland stretch of Adeline during the 1940’s and 50’s brings back the memory of a narrow oak-lined street stretching from Berkeley’s south side down to Harbor Homes.

Adeline Street has transformed over the last half-century into a five-mile thoroughfare that cuts through city and suburbs, ducking under two freeways to link the Port of Oakland with parts of the East Bay.

What hasn’t changed over the last six decades is the importance of community to the people who live along the strip of Adeline running just south of DeFremery Park.

“I came to West Oakland from Montrose, Arkansas in 1943,” said Dorothy Paynes, 81, who has lived in the area for more than six decades. She moved there because “it was an area where black people had settled.”

It took two Southern Pacific trains to get her to 2nd and Broadway.  She took the Key System A train to West Oakland and walked to 1423 Adeline Street, where Paynes spent her first night in the city with a family she knew.

Paynes has traveled around the world, but she still calls this block her home. “The area grows on you,” she said. “The people are friendly. I like the area because it is close to downtown, the city, and transportation.”

This neighborhood believes in social ties, and that affinity runs deep through its history. Rene Richard migrated from Youngsville, Lousiana, with the conviction that a community is strengthened when its members reach out to help one another. He and his wife Nolia moved to West Oakland in the 1940’s, when the neighborhood was a mix of Italians, blacks, Greeks, and whites.

In the next decade, the Richards started taking in boarders, while the couple also kept its home open to immediate family members. The house provided for loved ones during life transitions. Five generations of families and many friends have benefited from Rene’s belief that everyone should have a place to call home.

Long after the couple’s death, the Richard’s spirit of caring endures at their 1020 Adeline Street home. The woman who lives there now looks after her elderly mother, who struggles with Alzheimer’s. Her neighbors are always offering their help.*

One of those neighbors, Laverne Bell, 42, spends her summer afternoons supervising her grand children’s games of tag and hide-and-go-seek.  Shouts of “it’s my turn!” and “you cheated!” echo up and down the block, while Bell referees to ensure fair play.

Bell and Will Delaney, 65 moved to Adeline Street 3 years ago.   “We were looking for a larger space and a safe environment for the children, and we wanted to stay in the area,” Bell explained. “Since moving here, I feel connected to the neighborhood and hope to stay.  I feel the neighbors are supportive of one another.”

Will Delaney and Laverne Bell moved into their Adeline Street home in 2007 because of their love and respect for the people in their neighborhood. By Jo Ann Bell.

Will Delaney and Laverne Bell moved into their Adeline Street home in 2007 because of their love and respect for the people in their neighborhood. By Jo Ann Bell.

Bell also whispered her concerns about her community’s future. “I just wish there would be less violence and crime.  I want a place for our youth to get into activities that are safe.” Dorothy Paynes agreed. “I love my neighborhood,” she said, “but would like to see more owner-occupied residences. This would tie more people to the community.”

Even with its problems, this mostly black neighborhood has such a powerful draw that newcomers will go to unusual lengths just to fit in. When Michael Taffet decided to move to the block ten years ago, he went from home to home, ringing doorbells and introducing himself as the new owner of 1027 Adeline Street.

The gesture was especially strange, because Taffet, 40, is white. The news also seemed odd to some residents because the house Taffet was buying had been abandoned and boarded up since the late 70’s.  It was a mere shadow of the building that once served as offices for a black doctor and two black lawyers – professionals who were sources of pride for the community.

The house had withered down to an eye sore when Taffet, a geologist originally from Brooklyn, New York, started a five year renovation. The work was worth it. “I love the sense of friendliness of the neighborhood,” he said. Taffet is part of Adeline Street’s return to its diverse roots. “Although I’m white, and the neighborhood is predominantly black, I have always felt at home.”

That sense of belonging is what keeps many of the residents attached to this area, despite the obvious changes that have come to Adeline Street. Gone is the Adeline Street of the 50’s where the moms and grandmothers sat on the stoop, calling each other to play cards.  Hopscotch and jump rope haven’t completely disappeared, but the Wii and Wi-Fi are offering some stiff competition.

The sense of community along this slice Adeline Street in central West Oakland has survived. People still yell “Hey!” to one another as they go in and out of driveways and doorways. Little ones still play outside, some until “streetlights,” but always with someone watching after them. The spirit of mutual support, and traditions of reaching out to help, have resulted in a strong bond here, both for long time residents and newcomers.

*Jo Ann Bell lives at 1020 Adeline Street, where she – with the help of family and neighbors – takes care of her mother who is living with Alzheimer’s disease. Jo Ann writes about that experience at “Life According to Ruth,” in our Blogs section.

“Just Let My Soul Shine:” Dancers Flex Their Skills In Contest Downtown

Breakers and turf crews faced off at the All Styles Dance Battle last Friday at Jack London Square. By Tyrese Johnson.

By Tyrese Johnson and Adimu Madyun

OAKLAND, CA – Break, glide, pop, lock, backspin, suicide. These moves and more were on display last Friday at the All Styles Dance Battle in Jack London Square. The contest was part of Home Grown, an annual event sponsored by the East Bay Express, and featured duos competing for the Best of the East Bay title.

The pristine hardwood dance floor was installed hours before the competition began. As DJs urged bystanders to congregate on the dance floor, 21-year-old Malia Jones was already enjoying a warm up.

Jones, who is studying cultural anthropology at University of California – Berkeley, has been dancing since she was four years old. She’s a trained ballerina who has also studied contemporary, jazz and hip-hop dance.

Battling is a new world for Jones, and this was her first competition. “Freestyle battles are so different than being in the studio,” Jones explained. She and her partner practiced for only one day. “He told me to just let my soul shine.”

The competition – which was hosted by YAK Films and thePeople promotion group – was reminiscent of New York City dance battles during the early 80’s. Young African Americans and Latinos ushered in a new style known as b-boying, or breaking. Street gangs – with dancers calling themselves b-boys and b-girls – often used breaking to settle disputes over turf or bragging rights.

Today, breaking is combined with new styles of expression like turf dancing and house.

“Battle dancing helps me let out my anger and frustration, and it helps me keep out of gangs,” said Fabion, an 18-year-old b-boy who came up from San Jose for the battle. His dance partner Jeremy, 17, agreed. “I used to be a gangster. Now I’m a dancer. Dancing opens up more opportunities.”

“(We) didn’t get in the competition, but it’s all good,” said Fabion, smiling as he practiced his moves in the middle of the crowd. “We just love to dance.”

21-year-old Eric “Eninja” Davis qualified for the battle. He’s been dancing with his crew The Turf Feinz for three years. They tried out in Los Angeles for a spot on MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew. BET’s 106 and Park featured The Turf Feinz on its “Wild Out Wednesday” talent segment in New York City.

Davis practices a dance style called turfing. “It’s basically miming, and at the same time telling a story. How you feel is how you move.”

He believes that his dancing can help his community. “When we dance, we bring people together.” Because dancers in Oakland get respect in the streets, Davis explained, “they don’t have to watch their backs as much. They don’t have a reason to get into (altercations).”

Agreeing with Davis, Malia Jones said, “You don’t have time to be getting into trouble when you’re rehearsing something so difficult. In dance, you’re forced to collaborate. It creates positive relationships, and can be very therapeutic.”

Whether audience members gathered because they believe in the social power of dance or because they enjoy watching the back-flips and windmills of seasoned performers, many seemed mesmerized by the amount of talent on the dance floor. Navneet Grewal, 28, watched the battle with admiration. “I think these kids are amazing.”

Jones agreed that the talent was so hot, they “should get paid for what they do.”

A few dancers at the battle are making a living from their passion. A b-boy named Iron Monkey has won or placed high in many international battles as a member of Team USA. “I have been dancing for 17 years,” said the Alabama native who now lives in San Francisco. “I get paid to compete against dancers from all over the world.”

Getting to Iron Monkey’s level takes more than practice. He encourages aspiring dancers to do some research. “Learn about the pioneers of b-boying. Study the foundation. Learn all dance styles, so you can incorporate that into your own style. If you don’t know the history of this art form, you can’t do anything with it.”