Teacher Profile: Professor Neha Dave Blends Poetry and Economics at Mills Business School

By Debora Gordon

Neha Dave teaches at Mills College’s School of Business. She often works at her desk under the watchful gaze of a brass image of Ganesha, a Hindu deity revered as a remover of obstacles. By Debora Gordon, Oakland Voices 2012.

Professor Neha Dave (pronounced Da-vay) blends economics and poetry, international business and critical thinking, in her Mills College classroom.

“Including other flavors enriches what I teach,” Neha said. “Understanding poetry crosses many barriers, it has a lot of wisdom in it.  One has to be in a constant mode of learning. To be effective as a teacher, I thrive on learning more and new things.”

Neha started her teaching career at the age of 11, in the poor inner-city Dharavi neighborhoods, near Mumbai (Bombay) in India. She taught poetry, mathematics, English and hygiene to younger students, as part of a series of short community service projects.

Neha went on to earn an MA in Applied Economics from the University of Michigan. Before graduating, she taught classes in her own fields, and lead Hindi courses in the South East Asian Studies department.

As a professor of Economics and Business at Mills, Neha teaches graduate and undergraduate students in a range of topics including international trade, macroeconomics, and banking.  All of these courses are infused with her interest in the arts. Students may be asked to deconstruct a contemporary question in economics that Neha frames with a quote from any of her favorite writers, such as Voltaire’s observation, “It is not enough to conquer, one must learn to seduce.”

Sitting under a statue of Ganesha, an elephant-headed Hindu deity sometimes known as the “Remover of Obstacles,” Neha described moving to the US from India when she was 16.  She neither rejected her own culture nor tried to completely assimilate.  Balancing what she learned growing up with her American experiences has afforded her a lot of wisdom when it comes to dealing with her students. “It can be a harder road. But I decide in each case and situation, I think it through.”

Her approach to teaching is very inclusive. “I try to appeal to many modalities. There is an emphasis on working with others, by yourself, with me, working based on research.  I try to awaken as many senses as possible.”

As a teacher, she sees herself also as a learner.  “I am in a relentless search to make myself better. The character of a nation is built in the classroom. What an honor to be part of it.”

As much as she loves to teach, Neha said the classroom is turning more into a marketplace, which hurts the learning process. “I am  disappointed and gravely concerned that education has increasingly been perceived as a product which you can purchase, and the teacher is looked upon as someone who can demand learning. It troubles me that people have lost sight of how important it is what happens in the classroom.”

Neha loves her job, despite the challenges. “Being a teacher should be regarded as an honor.  You have been entrusted by the universe with the task of building people, shaping their infrastructure, so you want the best of your people in your society to do that.”

If you know of an Oakland teacher to feature in this on-going series of profiles, please contact Debora Gordon at debora.gordon@gmail.com.

Learning Hard Lessons in a New Land: My Immigration from China to America

I have met some nice people since I came to the US 2 years ago, but I still miss these friends in China. By Jian Di Liang, Oakland Voices 2012.

By Jian Di Liang

Moving to a new place in order to have a better life – that was what my family expected before we left China and came to the US.

On September 25, 2010 – the day which we separated from my grandmas, sisters, aunts, other relatives, friends and neighbors – my mom cried continuously until her eyes were swollen.

I will never forget the first flight in my life. I was a teenager and it was the first time I was ever on an airplane. They served me cheesecake and I still smile when I think about how incredible it tasted. Just like ice cream.

Waking up in the middle of the night and feeling sleepy, tens of thousands of feet up over the Pacific Ocean, I opened the window and was surprised by how beautiful the sky was.

Welcome to the USA

I was both excited and tired when we arrived in the United States. Because of the time difference, I slept day and night for the first week after we settled at my aunt’s house here in Oakland.

Our cousins took some time to show us around. We went to the usual tourist attractions in San Francisco – The Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman’s Wharf.

 Eventually, we had to venture out and fend for ourselves. Everything was so new. Even learning new routines like getting around on the buses were tricky but exciting.

Speaking American

One of the toughest things for all of us was using the English we’d learned but never really spoke in China. It was time to put all of that studying to the test. We felt like babies, really, as we learned the way people speak and how Americans use vocabulary. I used to feel frustrated because I could not express what was on mind.

Sometimes body language could help make people understand, but that made me feel helpless. For my whole first month in the US, I just stayed at home because I was afraid to talk in English.

Like most parents in the world, my mother and father devote themselves to providing better chances to their children. I cannot bear when I see people making fun of them because they cannot speak English. But since we have been in the US, I have heard and seen this a lot. It breaks my heart.

Costs Of Living

When we first came, the exchange rate between the US Dollar and China’s Yuan was about 1:6.67, so our money from home was worth less in America, and things were really expensive for us here. Our activities were limited by the cost always.

I tried to do many different new things, such as working part-time jobs and doing internships. Everything was fresh and interesting. However, I also felt  insecure because the economy did not become any better. What made me even more nervous was that crimes happen often in America. It is legal for people to use guns and that makes a big difference.

It has been getting hard for me to trust people even though my personality was the opposite. Maybe this is because I am becoming more like an American – more suspicious of others.

When I first realized that strangers’ greetings only stay on the surface, I knew that it would be harder for me to make friends in the United States.

I have also had some bad experiences that have made me less trusting and more cautious. When I once insisted stubbornly there should be no racial discrimination, I was mocked by people of different races for no reason.

Then, I was robbed by a black person at Fruitvale Bart station one night after school. Since then, I find that I have a hard time trusting black people whom I don’t know. Maybe this isn’t right, but this is the way I feel now – a bit crushed.

I used to believe that if I did not do something harmful to other people, they would not do any harmful things to me, either. So I treat every stranger in my life with basic respect. I believe that all human beings were born good people.

But no matter what the reason was for that person to rob me, it was not forgivable. His behavior broke the law, and shattered the peace in my head. The wound will always be there. The experience also hurt me because I know that most people work hard for the things they have. So if others want those things, they should also do what it takes to earn them, instead of stealing from people.

Something else that broke my sense of peace in the US what when my sister went through a big car accident. She did not take any pictures as evidence, so the other party lied and said it was her fault.

And when I felt like knowing people from the same country as me would be a wonderful thing, I was cheated by an old Chinese man who asked me for help on the street.

Of course, I cannot make my judgements only based on a few personal experiences. But overall, I am changed.

When I was in China, I never felt lonely because my friends were always with me and gave me the support I needed. But in the US, people are always busy with school, work or their own families. I have met a few friends, but many of us meet each other only rarely. Sometimes just once every several months.

All the difficult things I’ve learned about race in America and the trying times we’ve had here in the last couple of years – it has all closed me down a little bit inside. As life has gotten more harsh, my thoughts have been increasingly occupied by fear. And that makes it harder to live.

Here is my hope: I have seen a quote, “Life always brings us wounds all over the body. But the wounds will certainly become the greatest strength finally.” The more challenges I take, the stronger I feel.

Besides adapting myself to this new environment, to American culture and the people here, what could make life better?


‘Great Urban Dancing Warrior’ making moves to unite Oakland’s deaf & hearing communities

Antoine Hunter meeting with eager fans after a performance. By Katherine Brown, Oakland Voices 2012.

By Katherine Brown

Before taking the stage for an hour-long dance performance, Oakland native Antoine Hunter launches into his usual preparation routine. He runs through some stretches, reviews the choreography with his dance company, makes sure the music is tight and arranged correctly, and then adjusts his hearing-aid.

“Without the hearing aid, I can’t hear anything,” says Hunter.

At the Deaf Counseling, Advocacy & Referral Agency’s (DCARA) 2nd Deafhood forum, Hunter prepares to tell an audience of more than 60 hearing and non-hearing spectators his story through dance and sign language.

Hunter was born completely deaf in his left ear and hard of hearing in the right. Despite this challenge, he continues to have a strong passion for dance. He started breakdancing when he was boy, but was sidelined due to a knee injury.

Then, when he was 9 years old, his mother took him to see the Oakland Ballet. He was in awe at the poise and beauty in each and every one of the dancers’ movements. In his heart and soul, dance was what he wanted to do.

He wanted to take lessons with them, but unfortunately his mother could not afford them.

Again, dance was put on hold.

It wasn’t until he enrolled in Skyline High School in 1997 that Hunter’s passion for dance was reignited. He joined the Dance Production Program lead by choreographer Dawn James, who has headed the program for more than 20 years.

Hunter’s flame has burned strong and brilliantly ever since. “It’s always a blessing to move,” he says. This blessing is truly reflected in each of his graceful and soul-stirring movements. He has the ability to teach and perform a wealth of dance styles, including Ballet, Afro-Haitian, Ballroom, and Hip-Hop.

When Hunter choreographs a dance, he listens “with the spirit. With the eyes. Most hearing people say I hear better than them,” says Hunter.

“I care about the truth of dance. Sometimes I’m off beat with the dance, but who cares? I don’t choreograph to the music. I choreograph to how the body moves – the heart beat.”

At the forum, Hunter uses his own special technique for getting closer to the music. Literally. He stands with one ear right next to a speaker, cranks the amplifier volume up as high as possible, and presses the play button.

Music car bomb-blasts out of the stereo, so loud that it jars a few hearing people out of their seats. But to Hunter, the tunes seem to come as gently as if they were from a bedside radio. He begins to softly tap his feet, nod his head, and move his arms – leading into leaps and spins that his role model Alvin Ailey would be proud of.

(Hunter says he does this same preparation at home. At first, his neighbors would complain about the noise, but now they enjoy it. It usually takes him about hour to memorize the music and the moves that he has created.)

 After his performance, Antoine is showered with applause from the whole audience. Hunter puts a lot of body, sweat, love, money, and tears into dance. The positive feedback and the ability to break down stereotypes that people have about the deaf makes all of his hard work worth it.

Antoine says that he is proud to be deaf, and is thankful for the ability to use dance as a communication tool that connects hearing and non-hearing communities. Through teaching and performing, Antoine draws “inspiration from the spirit” of others. “I find out who they are and what their story is. We have different bodies, different languages, and different emotions. Dance becomes a healing tool.”Antoine think of his way of listening to music differently as one of his “super powers.”

One of Antoine’s missions is to bring more opportunities for the deaf community to Oakland. “I’m about the community. Oakland is my home. If you have something in Oakland, people will come. Hearing and deaf. Black and white. Young and old. I have a passion for that.”

Hunter wants to improve the deaf community resources in Northern California, which he says lag way behind other parts of the country. On the east coast, for example, he says increased access to transportation, media, and business opportunities give deaf people a strong sense of empowerment, and an atmosphere where “a lot of deaf people can be themselves.”

He’s taking steps to improve the quality of life for the East Bay’s deaf residents by building connections with non-hearing communities. Hunter arranges free events called ASL Meetups, where people who know American Sign Language (ASL) can socialize and connect with those who don’t.

Hunter has coordinated these events twice a month for the past four years. Today, there are nearly 300 members, and the group continues to grow – a fact that Hunter says proves a connection between everyone who comes. “Hearing and deaf people both have heart beats, [and] want to be heard, want to be alive. Hearing and deaf people are both human – just different cultures.”

In dance and deaf circles, Hunter is known as the “Great Urban Dancing Warrior.” It’s an apt title for a man working hard for Oakland’s deaf communities.

As a black man and as a deaf person, he’s also addressing racial discrimination that exists within deaf communities. One of his goals is to break down the stereotypes of both cultures. “People see a strong body, but discriminate when they see the hearing aid. As a dancer, I have to work 5 or 6 times as hard.”

Hunter helped re-establish the Bay Area Chapter of the National Black Deaf Advocates (NBDA), which became active again in March. “It took seven years to do it – we started with 3 people and now there are 12,” says Hunter.

The NBDA formed in 1982, Hunter explains, after the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) refused to address the concerns and needs of its black members at its 100th anniversary convention. As an NBDA board member, Antoine is active in the community, working to make sure that there is equity in resources, especially for deaf children. Antoine is instrumental in arranging family-friendly performances and events. He advocates for schools to afford the same educational opportunities for deaf and hard-of-hearing children as there are for hearing children.

Through his work as a dancer, teacher, activist, and community leader, Hunter is convinced that his “job is to be a pioneer. I want people to be strong enough to reach their dreams.” With the “Great Urban Dance Warrior” leading the charge, these dreams are becoming realities.


Innocence Lost: East Oakland teen shot twice for his iPod

When T was shot, the bullet passed through his abdomen, and exited his lower back. By Michael Holland, Oakland Voices 2012.

By Michael Holland

To protect his identity, the shooting victim’s name has been changed.

On Saturday June 30th, a young man was shot on 50th Avenue and International Boulevard. The fact that someone was shot on the infamous streets of East Oakland was not too surprising. Lately, people seem to get shot in Oakland almost everyday, at all times of the day.

Like many residents, I watch the local news and read the Tribune to find out what crimes happened overnight. So when I found out about the shooting on 50th Ave., I had no idea that the victim was someone I knew. No one involved had their names released. The story was, as usual, a bunch of nameless, faceless people involved in another shooting.

Later that day, I found out that the victim was a young man named T, whose family I know through my in-laws. He comes from a solid and stable home, and has never been involved with gun play. His family has a long record of charity and service to the city of Oakland. I know him to be an athletic and intelligent teenager with excellent manners.

Finding out T had been hurt made me reflect back to earlier in the year. He and I helped a near and dear friend move some things around in a storage locker. He struck me as a bright-eyed, almost innocent young lad.

I monitored his recovery through my stepdaughter, who is very close to his family. He underwent surgery after surgery. The doctors at Highland Hospital’s trauma unit worked on him around the clock.

As time went by information surfaced about the shooting. It was a robbery attempt. T was on his way home when two young black  men approached him, demanding his iPod. One of them pointed a gun at T’s stomach, firing two rounds which struck his large intestine and his bladder before exiting through T’s lower back.

I wanted to check in to see how he was healing, and I wanted to hear from him more about the assault. So last week, I met with him at a family home in East Oakland. The house was well furnished and the padded carpet was so clean, I thought I should take my shoes off.

My eyes wandered around the living room, and landed on T, whom I saw through his bedroom doorway sitting with a  computer on his lap. He looked surprisingly well. He’d even grown a bit – at least 3 to 4 inches since I last saw him.

He moved to greet me, and before I could say “You don’t have to get up,” he was already standing and shaking my hand. But as he went to sit back down, I witnessed his face cringe with pain. I asked him how he was doing and he said, “I’m getting better.”

For someone who had been attacked and shot, T seemed pretty calm, and we spoke casually about the incident. He told me that the would-be robbers did not get his iPod. We laughed. But as we laughed, T grimaced. He was hurting bad.

“I couldn’t believe I was shot. Twice at that,” he said. T didn’t remember being taken to the hospital. “I think some passerby called 911.”

He then lifted his shirt to reveal entry wounds. When I saw the scars at his front lower abdomen, the thought crossed me mind that the shooter may have been trying to kill him.

T imagined what he would do different in the future to try to avoid something like this. ”I have to watch were I go from now on.”

For now, he’s taking things day by day. The experience has forced T to change his routine. Things he used to do with ease, like playing sports and participating in school, are now almost impossible. He plans to be home schooled next year. His intestinal health has been at risk since the botched robbery. I pray that he has a speedy recovery.

As we spoke, I didn’t notice any animosity in T’s speech toward the shooter. It was almost as if he had already forgiven them. Besides, there are no suspects in the case, and in a city like this one you have to get killed to create a buzz.

Like many of our Oakland youths, he has been forced into a situation that is beyond his control. He was headed to the safety of home when he was shot. His iPod made him a victim. Times are tough now, and apparently people are willing to commit attempted murder for the resale value of a little digital audio player. In east Oakland there isn’t an abundance of industry, and jobs are scarce. People have been left with no alternative other than creating their own income, doing what they can to survive, even at the risk of another’s life.

When those two guys confronted T, all they seemed to be going for was his $200 iPod. Although they didn’t get it, they took a lot more. A kind, energetic kid has been robbed of the chance to make his last two teenage years healthy ones.

Now he has under his belt the experience of being a shooting victim. A young man with so much life already wrapped up in something so deadly.


Teacher Profiles: Park Day School’s Michelle McAfee uses the arts to help her students soar

Michelle McAfee, a teacher at Park Day School for more than 20 years, sits near the fireplace of the East Oakland she purchased this month. By Debora Gordon, Oakland Voices 2012.

By Debora Gordon

After more than two decades perfecting her craft as a teacher, Michelle McAfee is at the top of her game at Park Day School. She begins the school year by analyzing “The New Colossus,” a 19th-century poem by Emma Lazarus, with her class of 16 second-graders.

She challenges her students to examine the issue of whether we as a community and as a nation really stand by the 129-year old classic poem. The words are emblazoned on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in New York City, welcoming immigrants with the famous lines, “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

The poem is the basis for a poetry project that is the centerpiece of her English and social studies curriculum. The final product is a published collection of student work written, revised and polished throughout the school year.

“I put a lot emphasis on the language arts because that’s my love,” McAfee explains, “and parents know when their kids go to the second grade, they’ll be learning a lot about poetry.”  The study of “The New Colossus” also opens the door to an entire social studies year-long theme, during which Michelle talks with her classes about what it means to be welcome, and unwelcome, in America.

The Table of Contents of the 2011-2012 Poetry Anthology

Social studies in her second grade class includes a focus on immigration, and where students’  families came from.  She encourages students to have pride in their heritage.  She leads her students to ask themselves what they might have done differently at various points in history.

After 22 years in the classroom, Michelle still loves teaching.  “When the kids are so inspired by the new material,  you see the ‘ah ha’ moments, when they’re beaming, when they’re synthesizing pieces from different streams, this makes it all worth it.”  Michelle says when students come back years later, and tell her ”you were my favorite teacher,” or “I still look at the poetry book, I know it by heart,” it gives her a sense of accomplishment and pride.

Michelle continues to find new challenges, such as getting seven-year-olds to work together as a community. It is frustrating not always being able to respond to all of the students’ needs all the time. Also, the demands beyond the classroom are endless. “You’re always thinking about teaching, you’re never quite satisfied.  You see things you could use, you’re always processing, ‘how can I use this in my classroom?’”

Teaching may well have been in Michelle’s blood. Her mother was a teacher, a counselor, and administrator who taught the neighborhood kids in their family backyard in the summer.

“I played school all the time with my friends,” Michelle remembers, “and I liked doing that.  I was the teacher. We loved it. I always thought school was fun, but I never thought I’d be a teacher. I thought I’d go into graphic design or acting.”

“Teachers do make a difference,” from Michelle’s point of view. She says that a great teacher “is one who understands where a kid is and takes them forward from there, one who challenges kids to challenge themselves, and one who finds a personal connection with each kid.”

She recalls her own best teachers, because they took an interest in her and made her feel confident, talented and intelligent.  “One was my kindergarten teacher, she was so comforting to me. She spoke in such a loving way, never raised her voice, she felt nurturing.”

“I believe that kids really learn by interacting with the community,” Michelle says, “where kids feel like they’re part of creating something.” A few years ago, Michelle attended Harvard’s Project Zero, a research group that uses arts education techniques to teach across various disciplines. That experience clearly impacted Michelle, who uses art, literature, drama and hands-on science and math to help her students grasp new concepts.

Students also affect teachers’ lives, and Michelle recalled one of her most memorable students.  “She was a girl who was very sweet and grounded. She had a wise soul and she was the most creative writer.  Her writing flowed beautifully, it was beyond her years, her vision, her perception were very mature.”

Michelle works hard to make her classroom a safe and supportive space where students can realize their talents, and “where they might think they’re terrible at something, and I can turn that around.  I think I’ve always been good at

“I Am Julian,” a poem by Julian Bennett, one of Michelle’s second-graders.

that, but I’ve honed it over the years.  I think I’m good at making kids not feel like  ‘bad kids’. I want them all to know the goodness in them, remind them that they have choices. Make a choice that will work out for everyone around you.”

Living in her newly-purchased home in East Oakland, having raised two sons now in their twenties, Michelle plans to continue teaching until retirement.  “I would still choose teaching if I had it to do over again,” she says with finality. “I love teaching.”

If you know a teacher who works in East Oakland that you want us to profile, please leave a comment.



Photos: Lakeview School’s Last Day

By Katrina Davis

Kids hug each other goodbye, clumsily clinging to their belongings. They have giant grins as they run to the sides of their parents on the last day of school.

Embracing summer break is a pretty common scene this time of year. Add in the barbeque on the basketball courts, the kids playing a game of Four Square and the adults watching them from the shaded area, and you have yourself a regular end of the year school party! But none of these children will be returning to Lakeview Elementary School next year.

In early fall last year, the OUSD school board voted to close 5 schools to save an annual $2 million. Although the school board might see closing 5 schools as necessary, since it will supposedly be affording the schools that are still operating more academic opportunities, some people don’t see that silver lining.

“We first found out about it when Tony Smith put his proposal online and parents got wind of it and we had to find out actually on the website through Oakland Unified School District last year, 2011, around September.” says Joel Velasquez, a parent of 3, who has had two children attend Lakeview, and was planning on having his youngest attend when she was of age.

“We first found out about it when (OUSD Superintendent) Tony Smith put his proposal online,” says Velasquez, whose son was attending Lakeview when the closures were announced. “Parents got wind of (the closure plan) and we had to find out actually on the website through Oakland Unified School District last year, 2011, around September.” Velasquez was planning on having his youngest attend when she was of age.

When asked how he feels about the closing of a school that his children grew up in, Velasquez says, “Honestly, it’s not really about me. This doesn’t just affect the families at these schools. This affects a community in and around the schools.”

Pamela Chinn-Scoffern, a first grade teacher who’s been at Lakeview since 1987, also shares her sentiments on the school’s closing. “Lakeview was my life,” she explains. “I’ve taught a total of 27 years, and I felt Lakeview calling me back, so I came back again after just a short hiatus… I love the culture, I love the parents, I love the teachers, the community.”

OUSD’s handling of the closure prompted Chinn-Scoffren to retire early. “I was so disillusioned with the district and their school board and their decision to close the school under the guise” of budget constraints, she says. But she’s not going to get out of the educational field however. “I’ll be substituting, and I hope to write some children books based on my experiences here on Lakeview”.

Lakeview alumna Elle Misiluti came by to show her support on the last day school. “Lakeview means everything to me. This is my home. It’s heartbreaking that they’re going to take it away.”

Being at Lakeview on it’s final day of school and speaking to children who will be attending other elementary schools next year makes you realize it’s more than just a school that’s being closed. It’s a community being displaced, and lives being disrupted.


Polite Policing

By Michael Holland

Oakland Police watch me as I watch them. By Michael Holland, Oakland Voices 2012.

East Oakland’s Lockwood Gardens – also known as 65th Village – has undergone a metamorphosis. The landscape seems suddenly well kept.  The maintenance crews ride golf carts from building to building.

From the 1970s through the 90s, the spot I am standing on was known for drugs and murder. But thanks to remodeling and heavy policing, this area has gotten somewhat better. Oakland Housing Authority and the Oakland Police Department have established themselves firmly in the complex. I am not saying they have done away with all of the crime. But they have made themselves known, and their presence is a strong deterrent.

So, here’s what happened one day to make me question the real value in having all these cops around. A man pedaled towards me on a bike that was towing behind it a big green garbage can – the kind you use for yard waste and food scraps.

He saw me pull out my camera, and asked, ”Why you taking pictures?”

“I don’t need no permit to take no pictures,” I reminded him. We both laughed it off. Seeing that I’d broken the ice, I asked him about his rigged bike. He told me his name was Bobby, that he’d been living in the area for 30 years, and that this was his “scraper bike.”

Just as we began talking, two police cars pulled up – a Housing Authority car alongside an OPD cruiser. Bobby said, almost like a warning, in a tone that was cautionary, “They rolling,” he said, and then sped off on his bike.

The officers got out of their cars, and stood about ten feet away. They looked in my direction. I felt awkward, but nodded anyway, and said, “Mornin.”

They both looked at me but, saying nothing, they walked past me on their way to the Housing Authority office inside the complex.

I felt disrespected, and retaliated by taking a picture of them both. They gave me the evil eye. Them being upset made me feel very good.

Bobby pedals through 65th Village with a trash bin hitched to his scraper bike. By Michael Holland, Oakland Voices 2012.

That exchange made me think back to Bobby’s warning. “They rollin.” Why would he warn me? I am not doing anything illegal.

But sometimes that seems to be beside the point for the law officers who patrol our neighborhoods. They have a way of making us residents feel as if we’re doing something wrong, like standing in our own communities and talking with our neighbors makes us suspicious.

Law enforcement gets criticized often for its hard tactics in our communities, and the criticism sometimes is right on. Occasionally, police may need to be aggressive in East Oakland. I get that, too. But the officers who patrol these areas should be approachable. A little polite policing wouldn’t hurt.

That’s especially true because the police need our help to solve – and prevent – crimes. I remember that  a young man named Tyrell Smith was just shot to death on April 19th while pushing his 1 year old son in a toy stroller here in the Lockwood Gardens.

My heart goes out to the family of that young man, especially since his murder remains unsolved. And with rude, detached officers like the ones I encountered, the crime will probably remain unsolved.

Gun violence forum held in urban oasis

The gates of Preservation Park                        R. Owens

By Ronald Owens

In the impeccably restored assembly hall of a Craftsman style theater in Oakland’s Preservation Park, genteel people gathered to address gun violence at a forum sponsored by the Oakland Tribune and the Maynard Institute.

A seven- or eight-year-old white boy, wearing $300 black “Beats By Dr. Dre” brand headphones, played an alien-attack video game on his iPod while his parents (presumably) and the audience of 60 or so mostly white attendees pondered Oakland’s persistent gun problem.

The forum’s panel consisted of a police sergeant, a lawyer, a reporter, and a preacher from a prominent Oakland church. The audience – or choir, if you will – appeared to be a relatively well-heeled assemblage of law-abiding Oakland denizens.

There were no representatives of the targeted group – the gun-toting bad guys – on the panel. And no one on the panel appeared to be under the age of 45. Many of Oakland’s gun-violence victims are teens and younger.

The gun forum  focused on gun sellers and looked at how the weapons wind up in the hands of people who use them to commit crimes. And the panel discussed police efforts and the obstacles they face in trying to deal with the problem of people killing people with guns.

One of those obstacles was said to be the reduction in the past several years of the number of police officers on the streets. However, the Oakland police sergeant on the panel was not asked to address the fact that the homicides rate was as high or even higher in the years when there were more officers on the street.

The panel didn’t really speak to what it would take to stop the shooting from a shooter’s perspective. Maybe it’s not realistic, safe or sensible to bring a bad ass to the table and get his views on stopping the gun violence. On the other hand, maybe a would-be criminal’s opinion on what it would take to make him stop shooting could give more insight into how to stop the killing.

Why not go straight to the source and ask what it would take to make the shooting stop? Why would someone like you spray into an innocent crowd of people? How does shooting someone improve your world? Just what the hell happened to make this a viable alternative?

Maybe the panel could include  some representatives from juvenile hall. Ask them some questions. How did you get that point to do what you did? What was it like growing up? Are you depressed? Have you ever had any type of treatment for depression or anger? Do you hate yourself?

Of course, it’s probably not very likely that some young gun blaster would entertain the idea of joining a police officer, lawyer, minister, and reporter on a stage in this small oasis of restored architecture, just across the freeway from West Oakland – an area of our city painfully familiar with gun violence.

It’s also unlikely that any of those panelists – all mannered professionals – would jump at the chance of sharing the stage with a gang banger.

In that case, maybe someone should hold a gun violence forum on the corner of 73rd and Bancroft. Or 98th and International. Or Foothill and Fruitvale. Just set up a table on the sidewalk and let the community speak.

If you can’t bring the people to the panel, bring the panel to the people.

Share Your Ideas: Building Apps for East Oakland Communities

By Howard Dyckoff

The idea is simple:  our lives are enmeshed in digital information and technology.  We use mobile phones and computers every day and the arcs of our lives are  recorded in the vertical silos of government data banks and the private silos of Facebook, Google, Twitter and other online service providers.

A developer team bangs out code for a new app at the 2011 Code For Oakland Hackathon. By Howard Dyckoff, Oakland Voices 2012.

Why not create applications to solve real problems, right here here in East Oakland?

That’s what community activists and tech heads will be doing this Saturday at Code For Oakland’s Hang Out and Hackathon.  And this year there will be discussion of how to keep the joint community and techie effort ongoing.

Attendance is basically free for community members and those who work for nonprofits.  Developers are only requested to make a small donation of $1 to $20 to help cover costs. Lunch is provided with lots of caffeine to get the coding done. And there will be prizes – rumor has it, $5000 worth.

The action starts at 8:30 Saturday morning in the Kaiser Center at 300 Lakeside Drive, facing Lake Merritt.   This is a comfortable space with sweeping views of the lake and a beautiful rooftop garden.

Learn more about this weekend’s Code For Oakland event by clicking here. You can click here to register. The event’s hashtag is #codeforoakland.

Developers will all be tackling this one essential question: what kind of cell phone-based application would make East Oakland a better place to live and work and play?

The organizers and sponsors of Saturday’s event are part of the emerging Open Data Movement which tries to create access to public data held by city, state and federal governments and also foundations and community groups.  These data can be used to find things and visualize what is happening in our neighborhoods.

There are data collections on which stores take food stamps, on income levels by neighborhood and census tract, on bus and BART schedules, on crime, on drug use, on HIV incidence.  Data miners are also interested in information about foreclosures, voting patterns and political contributions.

Pressure from the Open Data Movement is helping to make those figures open to the public, and soon we will all be able to search and visualize the numbers – information that belongs rightfully to the public.  Oaklanders can now begin to envision ways to combine and mashup that open data and make all of our lives better and help to build a better Oakland.

Bay Area News Group reporter Angela Woodall is imagining a phone app that finds fresh food outlets in East Oakland, lists which ones take food stamps or an EBT card, and also allows users to rate the locations listed.

Click here for a list of data sets now available to all of us.   What can you imagine doing with these?

If you have an idea for a small mobile phone or web application that could make your life better or your community better, then please consider coming down and sharing it with everyone.

You might find a team of developers who will make your idea a working reality!

At Code For Oakland’s debut event last year, teams broke out to turn concepts into real cell phone-based applications that would help improve the lives of Oakland residents. By Howard Dyckoff, Oakland Voices 2012.

The Code for Oakland organizers say this weekend’s hackathon is focused on “building apps, hacking public data and building tools to support economic development in Oakland, improve civic engagement, improve digital education and literacy in our residents and provide tools to attract and sustain local business in the town.”

At Code For Oakland’s debut event last year, $10,000 in prizes and federal sponsorship were awarded for the best applications.

Almost 100 developers and community members toiled together all day to build several applications. The winning mobile app, Txt2work,  was designed to help people reenter their communities and search and apply for jobs via their feature phone.

A second app, BettaStop (@BettaSTOP), used  text messaging to post comments on the quality of bus rides on AC Transit in Oakland.  OakWatch was a mobile/web project to allow real time neighborhood reporting via mobile systems.

Come on down and help bring The Town even further into the Digital Age.

VIDEO: Oakland homicide victims of 2011 – their names and faces

Renee, victim No. 83

This video commemorates the 110 victims of homicide in Oakland in 2011.  Darnell, Allen, Donald, Lovell, Ishmael, Alejandro, Kerry, Derek, Terrance, Raheim, Eddie, Berresford, Martin, Matthew, Brian, Sean, Terrance, Michelle, Stanley, Marion, Yancy, Charles, Deandre, Marcellus, Evan, Dinh, De, Jesus, Jeffery, Andrew, Dawoyne, Lamont, Beatrice, Billy, Adam, Quay, Antione, Fletcher, John, Antonio, Timothy, Bianca, Ditiyan, Eric, Latoya, Dong, Leo, Marty, Germaine, Christian, Lionell, Christopher, Dionte, Rodnelle, Jeremiyah, Russell, Reginald, Vernita, Ezra, Lark, Monica, Pretis, Donald, Damon, Paris, Giselle, Charles, La’shawna, Carlos, Jesus, Ernesto, Evan, Jepeabo, Jose, Ricky, Terrance, Chaz, Jolan, Renee, Waleed, Remilio, Arthur, Hassan, Michael, Darius, Nathan, Abram, Raymond, Joshua, Miyoko, Frank, Antonio, Darian, Luis, Arian, Kayode, Norris, Hiram, Thourn, Jeremy, Jahnell, Charles, Hector, Gabriel