Carl Chan, The ‘Mayor’ of Oakland’s Chinatown

Carl Chan is known as the “Mayor of Chinatown” because he speaks and works for Asian people. Jian Di Liang, Oakland Voices 2012.

By Jian Di Liang

Carl Chan, the president of Asian Health Services, is known as the mayor of  Chinatown in Oakland.

But since Oakland only has one mayor, who voted him head of that neighborhood?” The reputation was originally from the Oakland Tribune,” Carl said.

Carl likes to step forward and speak for the business people and residents of Chinatown.  So when a reporter came by his office about a decade ago for an interview, Carl’s office mates decided to play a joke.

“When the reporter asked about who I was, my colleagues told them that I was the Mayor of Chinatown, because I participate in diverse volunteering events,” laughed Carl.

Carl immigrated from Hong Kong to the US in the 1970s, when he was 15 years old. Before moving, Carl recalled, “I thought only white people lived in the US, and I imagined modern technology and high rises everywhere.” Carl dreamed that America was “a new world, and that was really attractive to me. But it was different when I saw what it was.

When I arrived in Oakland, I thought I’d landed in the Chinese countryside, not the modern American city I had envisioned,” sighed Carl. ”The public transportation system was outdated and the far bus stops made things more inconvenient. Seeing the variety of different races surprised me. The segregation and discrimination shocked me even more.”

“It was hard to contact families in China since the only way was to mail letters in the 70s. It usually took at least one month to receive a letter from my hometown,” Carl smiled and said.

Today, Carl Chan is a modern business man who holds on to a strong sense of the past. He wants Chinese people in America to always remember the hard work that Chinese immigrants have done in the US since migrant workers began arriving in the mid 1800s.

Their labor indirectly helped create many of the opportunities that Chinese people have in this country today.  ”Families broke apart and we should all remember their hard work. Without the ancestors, we would not have the happiness we enjoy right now,” Carl said.

Carl often quotes a popular Chinese expression – unifying is strength. He has been effected by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech since he was a child. “We are equal. Everyone should have equal opportunities,” he said. “We are human and we are all the same. We all deserve respect.”

Carl is a really nice gentleman. It is my pleasure to meet with him and know his stories. I have learned a lot from him. By Jian Di Liang, Oakland Voices 2012.

Carl’s day job is director of Claremont Development, an East Bay real estate company. Carl also believes in using his time to give back to his community. Since the 70s, Carl has been volunteering for diverse non-profit organizations, including Asian Health Services, Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, and the Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council. He said it’s important to balance working for a living, and volunteerism.

In much of his work, Carl is focused on making Chinatown better. In order to do that, “we need to improve the city of Oakland as a whole. Oakland has all the elements: the international airport, the fifth biggest port, an updated public transportation system, and the perfect weather. The image of Oakland scares business away from the city. We need to improve the city as well as the image of Oakland, especially public safety. We need to tell the world that we welcome business.”

One way to make Oakland better, Carl said, is to boost the quality of health care in Chinatown. He has been working at the Asian Health Services (AHS) since he was a teenager. He said the low-cost care AHS offers is valuable to the community. Otherwise, many sick people  who cannot afford treatment would end up with more serious illnesses and cannot work. It actually costs the government more to provide treatment in hospitals.

Although the Mayor of Chinatown has his hands in lots of projects, it’s all for one main reason. “After seeing all the discrimination and segregation,” Carl explained, “I became determined to serve the Asian community. I do not want to be famous, but help people with the least talk.”


Teacher Profile: Artist Debbie Koppman Teaches Kids to Make Something from Nothing

By Debora Gordon

Debbie Koppman, an artist-in-residence at Sequoia Elementary School, teaches art to students in grades

Debbie Koppman, Sequoia Elementary School’s Artist-in-Residence, with just a few of her many artworks in her East Oakland home studio. Debora Gordon, Oakland Voices 2012

3-5, where students make art out of “trash and scavengeable materials.”

“At the beginning it was literally taking garbage and making something beautiful out of it,” Debbie said. “It’s a big thing to see how people make things out of nothing. I’m always thinking, ‘Isn’t that really cool?’”

 Half of Debbie’s studio in her East Oakland home is overflowing with papier-mâché creatures, totem poles, and other forms that cannot be categorized. “I am influenced by ruins, crowns, ceremonial objects, connections to some kind of past.  But the things I make don’t look like the things I’ve seen, they look like they’re from the past but also from the future.” 

Debbie Koppman makes jewelry, sculptures and other art in her home studio. Debora Gordon, Oakland Voices 2012

 Debbie has been teaching kids and adults for 22 years, beginning in Puebla, Mexico, and later in Nicaragua and Peru. After returning to the US, she taught  at the Academy of Art and Diablo Valley College.

When She started 14 years ago at the Oakland Unified School District, she was teaching every student at Sequoia. Now a colleague handles the K-2 classes. 

A non-credentialed teacher, Debbie is designated as an artist-in-residence – a position funded first by the California Arts Council and now by Oakland’s “Artists in Schools” program. 

 Her students are trained in what Debbie calls “observational drawing.” She also guides teachers in building lessons that integrate art across all of the students’ classes. “The artist residency is based on the idea that teachers are learning along with their kids,” Debbie explains. This year, she will go from room to room, pushing a cart filled with supplies. “This will help teachers incorporate more art into their instruction.”  

Growing up in Queens, NY, It didn’t even occur to Debbie to become a teacher. She had very few – and mostly bad – art instructors. It was being on the road, not in classrooms, that inspired her career path. “My husband and I traveled a lot, and around 1987, we decided that we loved to be in other places, but we didn’t want to be tourists all the time.”  

They settled in Puebla, Mexico, where she taught at the University of the Americas.  “I worked so hard. I was putting so much more effort into teaching these classes than my teachers had.”

Walking up to Debbie Koppman’s house, you will see artwork everywhere Here is one of her many sculptures.
Debora Gordon/Oakland Voices 2012

Twenty-five years later, she’s found her dream job. “I work with great people.” Although it would be even more perfect if she had her own art room, she’s happy at Sequioa. Debbie finds great rewards in teaching young kids to make art, especially when she gets to “see that kid’s smile – especially kids who have had a hard time – and that they have worked hard, (and are) just proud of themselves.  It’s like you’ve given them to themselves.” 

She works really hard to gives the kids access to thinking and working in a way that no other part of the curriculum does. “It shows them how to notice things really carefully, how to spend time on things over a period of days, how to make judgments for themselves, how to talk about other people’s work.”

What’s true for Debbie, she says, is something she often tells her students: “just because you did something doesn’t mean it’s done. You can improve something. It’s not a criticism to say you can work on it more.” 

Now 54 years old, she has no plans to leave anytime soon. “I can’t retire. I don’t picture myself stopping working.  I’ll always do art, and I would love to always do art that involves community.”

 To see more of Debbie’s work, check out her amazing portfolio at

Send suggestions for Oakland teachers and/or artists to profile for Oakland Voices to






Oakland’s Oasis: Farmer’s Market Cultivates Positivity in the Fruitvale Village

Family-run business find opportunities in the farmer’s market. By Katherine Brown, Oakland Voices 2012.

By Katherine Brown
With every roar of a bus engine and horn toot from an overhead BART train, waves of people fill the Fruitvale Village. Not just to get to their next destination, but to visit the Fruitvale farmer’s market.

On this warm Tuesday evening, the smell of buttery kettle corn fills the air. The calm hum of conversations is interrupted by periodic bursts of children’s laughter, and mothers singing as they dance to the old school jams that fill the plaza.

“This is the livest BART station cuz I be jamming,” says Michael Oliver, a retired carpenter who has been a vendor at the farmer’s market for the past few months.

For two years, he has run a business specializing in soul and R&B mixed CDs, all music from the 70s through the 80s. “O’jays, Temptations,” says Oliver, “that’s my era.” To Oliver, music is a thread that pulls communities like Fruitvale closer together. “Everybody loves the old music – that’s what they grew up to. Latinos, White, Black, Asian.”

As Frankie Beverly’s melodic “Before I Let Go” pulses through the plaza, a racially diverse group of Oaklanders, young and old, sway to the music and snap their fingers to the beat.

Patrons nibble on strawberries they bought from the fresh produce stand, or sip coffee from a nearby café, while thumbing through Oliver’s extensive music catalog. His CD stand is just one of half a dozen businesses that participate in the Fruitvale Farmers Market every Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.

The market is held at the Fruitvale Village, which also houses a variety of brick and mortar businesses, including an electronics store and several restaurants.

Farmer’s market thrives in Fruitvale Village. By Katherine Brown Oakland Voices 2012.

Roxana Arias, 23, works at Powderface, one of the cafes in the building. She says the village and the market together offer a special experience. “The whole environment is diverse, and people are more friendly – it’s very homey.” An Oakland native who has lived in the Fruitvale neighborhood all of her life, Arias feels that this neighborhood has been rejuvenated, especially since the farmer’s market has been in existence.

For Arias, having the farmer’s market in the Fruitvale Village is a “win-win” because of the positive impact it has on the community, and on the bottom line. “About eight years ago, there were no businesses here,” Arias says. “This is the perfect location for business because of the commuters. Business has definitely improved.”

Cynthia and Selena Zamora, both 16, work at JSM Organic, a fresh produce stand their father opened in the farmer’s market about a month ago. The sisters feel that business has been great.

They have also been able to establish relationships with the other vendors, merchants, and patrons – a relationship that feels almost like a “family.” “Everyone looks out for one another,” says Selena. “We’ve really gotten to know one another.”

What seems to add to the abundance of riches, support, and to that sense of family is the market’s diversity. “We meet people that we never would have met if we weren’t here, “says Cynthia. “It’s fun meeting new people.”

The interactions amongst everyone at the market are so genuine and fluid – almost like a dance that blends into the soulful old school jams thumping from Michael Oliver’s stand.

“It’s a really cool place,” says Henry Simmons, owner of Henry’s Flavored Nuts. Simmons, a resident of Oakland for more than forty years, has had a booth at the farmer’s market for the past four years. For Simmons, the market is a way to do something positive for the community. At his stand, Simmons is able to offer “healthy things to eat, like nuts and dried fruits. I’m one of the only Black men out here doing this – I’m just happy to do it.”

As I talk to the vendors and merchants, I cannot help but think about what the neighborhood feels like less than a few blocks away – an environment that is perceived to be unfriendly, unforgiving, and cold. It is as if the farmer’s market is an oasis – filled with warmth and compassion.

Henry Simmons (left) and Pat Cole are all smiles as they greet customers at their stand. By Katherine Brown, Oakland Voices 2012.

Throughout Simmons’ time at the market, he says that there have not been many problems. “It’s been a wonderful time, even with the protest and after Oscar Grant, there haven’t been any problems. It’s an interesting and nice place to be. It’s a blessing.”

Simmons also feels that a community’s destiny is determined by the people who live there. In Fruitvale, he says, crime and violence are “not always the case. It all depends on who is in the neighborhood. You got dope dealers – you got problems.”

Helping Henry Simmons at his stand is Pat Cole, a retired letter carrier for the US Post Office. Like Simmons, Cole feels that “everything in Oakland isn’t negative.” For her, the farmer’s market is also an opportunity to get out of the house and meet people.

However, Cole does have some concerns and worries about what lies ahead for the future generations in Oakland and in this neighborhood. “Seeing young men and women out here begging and how they dress – it’s sad. No one respects themselves anymore. We’ve lost a generation.”

Still, the market place is evidence that positive things do exist in Oakland, and have the ability to prosper. It’s proof that people from all walks of life are able to come together and support one another, and that business has the potential to thrive.


Meet the Deep East City Council Candidates at Tonight’s Forum


Larry Reid, Oakland’s District 7 City Council incumbent, will appear alongside his challengers at tonight’s forum.

By Howard Dyckoff

East Oakland residents – if you’re looking for a City Council member who will best represent your interests, then don’t miss the District 7 Candidate’s Forum tonight  at 6pm at the Allen Temple.

Here’s your chance to hear from all 3 candidates – 16-year incumbent Larry Reid, plus challengers Sheryl Walton and Beverly Williams. They are all seeking your vote this November. This is the only community event to date.

Allen Temple Allen Temple is hosting the free event, which is sponsored by Oakland Community Organizations (OCO), the NAACP, the Block by  Block Organizing Network (BBBON) and the League of Women Voters. Stan Weisner, A BBBON representative working on the forum, said,  ”As one of the co-sponsors, BBBON hopes that the District 7 Candidate’s Forum will help inform all community residents about the candidates and what they stand for as voters decide .”

Beverly Williams will speak tonight about her run for the District 7 City Council seat. By Howard Dyckoff, HD Photography.

Pastor Billy G. Dixon of the At Thy Word Ministry was more specific in what he expects.   ”The first issue is crime. What are their plans for stopping crime? Crime prevents businesses from coming to East Oakland.  They need to have a detailed plan on what they intend to do as council members.”

Dixon said the candidates need to have a plan for the east, and the rest of the city.  ”Schooling is another issue. We know young Black and Latino men are lost before the 4th grade. We need to know how they plan on motivating young people.”

Also concerned about Oakland’s economy, Dixon asked, “how are  they going to fix the budget and how are we going to keep from becoming like Stockton? What are their plans for bringing businesses  to Oakland?  And how are we going to keep our sport teams? And can we bring jobs in for the people of Oakland ? We need to hold them more accountable to the community.”

The event will be held in the J. Alfred Smith Hall of Allen Temple, and it is open to the public.   Allen Temple is at 8501 International Blvd, with its parking lot on 86th Avenue.

District 7 is the southern-most City Council district in Oakland and is representative of Deep East Oakland, including the Elmhurst and Stonehurst neighborhoods.

Sheryl Walton joins Councilman Larry Reid, along with Beverly Williams, at tonight’s forum at Allen Temple. By Howard Dyckoff, HD Photography.

I live in D7 and I know there are many structural problems that need to be addressed.   Public safety and economic development are major concerns here, as are opportunities for youth, the lack of fresh food outlets, and the high rate of foreclosures, which are tearing our fragile communities apart.   I look forward to hearing what approaches and solutions the candidates will propose.

Please come hear the candidates at the  forum and ask your own questions to find out who would be best as the City Council person from Deep East.

Questions about the meeting should be directed to BBBON coordinator Evans Daniels, at (510) 388-4599,  or Kimblyn Bryant, OCO Organizer, at (510) 435-6244.

What if Bay Area Baseball Really Did “Turn Back the Clock”?

  Baseball’s color line, illustration  by Ronald  Owens

By Ronald Owens

It’s a common marketing ploy among professional sports franchises to figuratively return their teams to a bygone era for a game, with an eye towards reaping enormous profits from the sale of “throwback” uniform jerseys and caps to fans.

The Oakland Athletics, who play in East Oakland at the Coliseum, had their throwback event in a game against the Seattle Mariners. The A’s  turned back the clock to the 1950s, “for an afternoon of ’50s fun” that promised to pay tribute to the music and entertainment of the era.

The A’s wore the uniforms of their Pacific Coast League predecessors — the Oakland Oaks — and gave away dark blue, 1955-style Oaks caps,  emblazoned with a white, red-trimmed “O.”

1955 was a great year for rock ‘n’ roll, with Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene,” Little Richard’s “Tutti-Frutti,” and Little Walter’s “My Babe” on top of the charts. It was also the year the Philadelphia Athletics moved to Kansas City, where they played for the next 12 years before moving to Oakland.

The San Francisco Giants had their own throwback game against the Chicago Cubs at AT&T Park. The Giants “turned back the clock” 100 years and wore 1912-style uniforms featuring the old “NY” logos from when they were the New York Giants. The teams’ starting lineups for the game were announced by megaphone. And organ music filled the air, instead of the usual ear-grinding digital cacophony of dance music that blares from the ubiquitous loudspeakers.

The Giants even turned off the video on their humongous multimedia scoreboard, and employed a barbershop quartet to serenade the masses.

You might think the Giants would go ahead and roll back the clock to 1912 for something that mattered, like ticket prices, for example. They’ve pretty much sold out every game at AT&T Park (not to mention selling out on the naming rights) since the yard opened in 2000.

Don’t you think the Giants might want to give back a little something to the people who pay same of the highest ticket prices in the country, just to come to the park and play with their smart phones? Uh, nah.

Good the Giants didn’t really turn back the clock. Most of the players and probably many of the fans wouldn’t have been allowed to be at the game. That’s one little detail the Giants overlooked: Major League Baseball’s pre-1947 “color bar,” the quaint euphemism for overt, intolerant, institutional racism. MLB didn’t allow black players until around the middle of the last century, when Jackie Robinson was allowed to integrate the sport.

Of course, it wasn’t really a “color” bar. You could be brown-skinned — the effect of a nice suntan, perhaps. You just couldn’t be black. No matter what shade or color your skin might actually be.

Don’t tell the Giants, but everything was not hunky-dory in 1912. According to statistics from the Archives at Tuskegee Institute, there were 64 people were lynched in 1912, all but two of them black. Hate to think of what might have happened to Pablo Sandoval — the Giants’  lovable “Kung Fu Panda” who was accused of sexual assault— although no charges were filed— if he had been around in 1912.

Although baseball no longer excluded black players by the 1950s —  when Oakland’s minor-league Oaks team played in Emeryville —  the game still had a race problem, like America in general.  The Athletics left Kansas City for Oakland in 1968, and had finished in first place in their division five years in a row by 1975, when 27% of baseball’s rosters were African-American, according to an article by Bob Nightengale in the USA TODAY. By 2012, wrote Nightengale, the number of black players had tumbled to just 8.05%. Does the game still have a race problem?

Jemile Weeks, the Oakland A’s starting second baseman, has a grandfather who had played in the Negro Leagues, where talented black professionals were allowed — or obliged — to play before MLB unlocked its gates.  “He’s a real inspiration to me,” Weeks said of his grandfather to “Just having that in your background, and understanding and listening to the stories, it inspires you even more.” 

Should the Giants have made some effort — any effort — to recognize or acknowledge that their game didn’t even allow black players in 1912?  Not to mention acknowledging black fans, who probably would have had to sit in some “colored only” section of the park if they were allowed to attend at all.

Today there’s more of an economic segregation going on in professional sports. You won’t go to the game if you can’t afford the price of admission. For their 1950s throwback game, the A’s offered discounted plaza outfield tickets for $5 and field level seats for $19.55.  But the Giants’ website shows that the price of a left-field bleacher seat for their turn-back-the-century game was $54. Yes, fifty-four dollars. For a bleacher seat. And the price for a club-level outfield seat was $111. And don’t even think about getting a lousy beer unless you’ve got $10 on you.

If it was a “color bar” in 1912, it’s a “money bar” in 2012. Either way, it ensures that a lot of certain types of people won’t be seen at the old ball game.  Say what you will about the A’s and their supposedly run-down ball park and their desire to get out of Oakland. At least they bothered to give fans a break on ticket prices for their turn-back-the-clock game.

Teacher Profile: Boku Kodama Brings ‘Fire,’ Entrepreneurial Spirit to Urban Education

Self-described “serial entrepreneur” Boku Kodama puts a lot into his work as a teacher, but tries not to take himself too seriously. By Debora Gordon, Oakland Voices 2012.

By Debora Gordon

Boku Kodama became a teacher at the age of 50. In a way, it was the latest venture in  Boku’s life as a self-described “serial entrepreneur.” His organization Urban Financial Intelligence, Responsible Entrepreneurship (Urban FIRE) targets mostly low-income adults who may have limited education. His main objective is “self-sustainability.”

In Boku’s business classes, which meet in West Oakland, students are taught that “they can do what they really want to do. That would the greatest contribution they could make.”

Before becoming a teacher in 1999, Boku was a successful entrepreneuer, which afforded him the opportunity to travel around the country and abroad.  “I had the luxury of being able  to think about how I could contribute back to my community,” Boku said.

He got some classroom experience in college, when he taught a class on “multimedia at San Francisco State. I didn’t think I was very good. I didn’t think I had good information and I was pretty critical of myself.”

Boku came back to teaching many years later. “At fifty years old, I finally said to myself, ‘I’m ready to be a teacher,’ and I really was ready.  To teach entrepreneurship, you really have to have had entrepreneurship.”

Everyone is “capable of being a world-class performer” – a point Boku stresses to his students. He built a curriculum called “The Science of Success” based on studies of great athletes, artists, and scientists. ”I teach how you can maximize the information and turn it into success. These are things you can learn.”

Many of Boku’s students have gone on to create successful enterprises.  “There was a woman who took my class in 1999 and then she disappeared. She had AIDS and she had never touched a computer at the time of the class. When I saw her 4 years later, she was in remission and had her own web-development company with four employees.”

 Many of his adult students face reading challenges. Boku works with a professional editor to translate class texts in short videos, PowerPoint, and other visual presentations that he uses at the beginning of each class. “I’m putting in words from experts, TED conferences, materials from the  Internet, plus my own research.  I try to make a story out of it.”

Boku is a self-trained entrepreneur.  He spent time doing independent research at a range of high-end educational institutions, including the Department of Education at UC-Berkeley. He also studied at the Highlander Center - the South’s civil rights Mecca – completing intensive training in “popular education,” which emphasizes teaching from one’s own experiences and using experiences to help one learn.

Boku would like to see a change in “the paradigm of this country’s attitudes about teachers. It’s one of the most important occupations that we can have, and how we as a society succeed is based on how students emerge from our educational system and how they contribute and come back to society.

As strong as his curriculum is, Boku feels much of his success with his students comes from his approach to the classroom.“When (students) come to class, the first thing we do is review the reading. I set the culture in the classroom on the first day of class. I present them with the research that shows that you can learn a lot more than you think you can. I’m going to set this classroom up into a sanctuary so you leave everything behind, and what you’re working on right now is yourself.”

Boku feels coming to teaching in mid-life was a good decision, one he would make again.  At 63, Boku has no plans to retire.  In addition to teaching his Urban FIRE classes at OHA, he has just recently begun working with the new Renaissance Marin Center, a non-profit small business development center in San Rafael, where students are taught the businesses of music, art and food.

Click here to learn more about Urban FIRE, and to sign up for classes at the Oakland Housing Authority at 935 Union Street in West Oakland.

If you are a teacher or know a teacher doing interesting, innovative work in Oakand classrooms, please contact me at

The food stamp cash-in: East Bay businesses capitalize on EBT

Pizza Hut on Fruitvale Ave.

The Pizza Hut on Fruitvale Avenue now accepts EBT cards. But the two-inch thick bulletproof glass and absence of dine-in seating make it very unwelcoming. By Michael Holland, Oakland Voices 2012.

By Michael Holland

Alameda County residents who are receiving food stamps, cash and other forms of public assistance as an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) can now purchase prepared meals at Pizza Hut and Dorsey’s Locker – two establishments that didn’t accept them a month ago. But they have to be elderly, disabled, or homeless.

August 1st was the first day that Pizza Hut  began capitalizing on EBT. With two participating locations in Oakland and seven more throughout the East Bay, Pizza Hut should see an increase in sales.

But those increases in sales could also lead to an increase in the obesity rate as well as the rate of diabetes in the inner city. Dr. Kenneth Matsamura of the West Oakland Health Center said, “a lot of my overweight patients got that way by eating comfort foods like pizza in excess.”

The Mayo Clinic’s “Living with diabetes blog” published a very unfavorable report on the relationship between pizza and diabetes in 2009. Although pizza can at times be rich in protein, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates, it has also been linked to obesity and bad cholesterol. The best things that Pizza Hut have to offer are hot wings, deep dish pizza, and sodas galore. Not good.

Dorsey’s Locker has been in business since 1941. Their menu is comprised of soul food with a New Orleans theme. The food is delicious. It is also very fried and very sweet – rich in sodium, sugar, and fat.

I personally grew up eating soul food. Today, I am slightly overweight and I am also a diabetic. I attribute my diabetes to the diet I grew up on – soul food. The traditional, Down South type of deep-fried dinners that are served at Dorsey’s are what many black families still eat. Like I said, the food is delicious. But all that flavor comes with a price. A lifetime of eating such foods can lead to a lifetime of health problems.

The food at Dorsey’s Locker is also slightly overpriced for someone trying to survive off of the meager allotment of food stamps they receive. The average meal and drink at Dorsey’s runs about twenty dollars. At those prices, a recipient can only afford to eat for maybe a week.

The benefit amount varies, but according to the Alameda County Social Services website, the average applicant receives $73 a month in food stamps. If the person is head of a household the size of one they can receive up to $200.  

In the 1990s, Subway sandwich shops accepted food stamps in Oakland. They no longer do. Subway might be at least a slightly healthier option than pizza or soul food (although some of their food is also high in sodium ad fat). But health has nothing to do with the bottom line. Pizza Hut and Dorsey’s Locker did not start accepting food stamps to promote health. It seems to me like they accept stamps now to increase profit. That unhealthy food isn’t helping anyone but themselves.

Programs like CalFresh (once officially, and sometimes still, known as Food Stamps), and General Assistance were put in place to help those in need feed themselves until they get on their feet. If those in need are eventually diagnosed with diabetes, heart disease or other illnesses as a result of poor diets, state and federal governments may find themselves spending heavily on healthcare in the near future.

Fast food and soul food are parts of American culture. Knowing that, these two establishments have made a choice to capitalize on the EBT market.

Hackers and coders unite, building apps for a better Oakland

More than 140 community activists and code hackers worked together on projects at Code for Oakland. By Howard Dyckoff, Oakland Voices 2012.

By Howard Dyckoff

 It was a beautiful Saturday in Oakland. And that made it only harder to sit with coders and civic activists, planning and prepping mobile and web applications, behind glass walls as the sun fell on Lake Merritt.

More than 140 committed digital citizens gathered on July 21st at the Code for Oakland event. Hackers and coders worked to improve life here in Oakland and throughout Alameda County.

The grand prize went to Hack the Budget, which allows anyone in Oakland to review the city budget and express their views.  The app, which was awarded $1000, is designed to be accessible from a mobile phones  and web browsers.

Hack The Budget also took the prize for the best civic engagement tool. earned the runner-up slot. The application is designed to share restaurant inspection data collected by the Alameda County Health Department. That may tell us things we don’t want to know about our favorite eateries and may drive customers to new businesses. But I don’t think it will help new restaurants to open in Deep East, where it’s mostly fast food outlets.

This sign pointed the way to the Code For Oakland project room that overlooked beautiful Lake Merritt, which was quite a distraction for even the most dedicated coders. By Howard Dyckoff, Oakland Voices 2012.

A prize for the best use of civic data went to the Edible Fruit Trees project, which connects homeowners who have surplus fruit with interested Oaklanders.

And there was also a project that may be the most used in Deep East Oakland: Top Cop, which is a mobile app for rating OPD officers.

There was lots of food and caffeine, and interesting presentations from the open source software company Red Hat. Participants also heard from Code for America – the organization that helped create Code for Oakland. Code for Oakland is dedicated to civic improvement through Internet development.

Code for America said Oakland would be a focus of its work in 2013, and that has to be good news. That will be the third year the group runs projects in individual cities around the nation.  

As for the Code for Oakland event, interactions there have seeded some on-going efforts to develop other new applications for social and civic engagement.  (I am working with a group preparing a web site to help visualize data sets from Oakland and Alameda County.)

Click here for a slide show from the Code for Oakland event.


Hundreds of Oakland communities prep BBQs and block parties for National Night Out

Tina Ramos, owner of Tina’s Tamales, and Mayor Jean Quan spoke at a recent City Hall event promoting tomorrow’s National Night Out. By Howard Dyckoff, Oakland Voices 2012.

By Howard Dyckoff

National Night Out (NNO) is happening tomorrow and Oakland is on track to establish another record for neighborhood get-togethers, according to Mayor Jean Quan and OPD Chief Howard Jordon.

There will be 605 BBQs, parties and gatherings this year across the city, up from 554 last year. 

At City Hall, during their July 25th press conference, both the mayor and the chief spoke to the importance of these community building events and introduced more than a dozen hosts and neighborhood organizers who were standing beside them.

“I want to urge everyone to sign up to host a block party for National Night Out,” Mayor Quan said after the event. “This is an easy, fun way to meet your neighbors and make your neighborhood a stronger, safer place. Participating in this event with so many fellow Oaklanders is one of the great joys in living here.”

The purpose of NNO is to get neighbors to meet and better know each other. In Oakland and many other large cities, the police and fire department help coordinate NNO and encourage the formation of Neighborhood Watches and Neighborhood Crime Prevention Councils (NCPCs).

Fostering neighborhood cooperation and reviving non-functioning NCPCs is in fact part of the mayor’s signature 100 Block Strategy. She has spent many weekends walking through different parts of East and West Oakland and talking to residents about neighborhood cooperation and community building.

Marlon McWilson spoke about the family-friendly Edes Street NNO block party he is helping to organize at the East Oakland Sports Center tomorrow. By Howard Dyckoff, Oakland Voices 2012.

Last year, NNO events in Oakland rose from less than 440 in 2010 to 560 events on NNO day, about a 25% jump. According to Mayor Quan, there are already 520 events scheduled, and the city was expecting to break 600  tomorrow. 

Many NNO events grow form small potlucks to full block parties with entertainment for kids and adults.  But the important part is getting to know and understand your neighbors.

To find guidelines for organizing your own event or find NNO events in your part of Oakland, contact Brenda Ivey at 510-238-3091.

Click here for a slideshow of the July 25th NNO press conference at City Hall.



The business end of a bullet: My not-so-blind gun violence survey

Will my 5 year-old Micalynn (middle) and her friends know someone who has been shot by the time they’re teenagers? By Michael Holland, Oakland Voices 2012.

By Michael Holland

I decided to do my own survey. A “man-on-the-street” sample. No margin of error, no questionnaires, no statistics. Just one simple question that gets right at the heart of some pain going on in The Town right now.

I asked almost fifty East Oakland youths from the ages of 13 to 17,”Do you know anybody personally that has been shot?” Most of them didn’t want to talk about it. At least, not to me.

But, ten teens did speak up. The results were interesting.

First off, I’m in East Oakland, so the majority of the population is Black or Hispanic. Although I had originally planned to ask 100 teens, only 10 were willing to even speak to this random community corespondent.

The first participants were two Hispanic male teens standing at the bus stop on the corner of Seminary Road and International Blvd. They both had on red caps and red Nike shoes. Being Hispanic and wearing a lot of red can easily be read as you showing your allegiance to The Northern Structure, but these two young men didn’t look like gang members.

When I asked my survey question,  the taller of the two spoke. “My brother got shot in San Jose. He didn’t die.” The other young man added another name. “Gabriel Martinez – the 5 year old that got shot and killed by the taco truck earlier this year – was my cousin.” Both of the young men were 16 years old.

Next, I approached a group of 3 young Black men standing in front of Hamilton’s Barbershop at 60th Ave. and International Blvd. Their ages ranged from 13 to 15. They could hardly hold back their laughter as the youngest, yet the tallest, answered, “in February, our friend Keevon Davis got shot in the leg inside The Village.”

They all began to laugh, as though something was funny about Keevon being shot. I never did figure out what was amusing about Keevon catching a bullet. Maybe he walks funny now.

Or maybe it’s that guns are treated so casually that getting shot today is like when we got chased by the neighbor’s dog when we ran through his yard as kids. The slow one always got chomped in the backside. That was funny. For me, I don’t think a bullet ever will be.

As they chuckled, a group of three young Black girls exited the cigarette store two doors down from the barber shop. 

I asked the group of girls if they knew anyone who had been shot. One of them chimed in and said that her 18 year-old boyfriend Charles Willis was shot on International and 82nd Ave. The other two nodded their heads in agreement. The girls did not wish to give their ages, but they could not have been any older than 16 years old. The girlfriend’s voice rang with what sounded almost like pride as she described how the Willis didn’t cooperate with OPD, even though he knew the shooter.

Inside Hamilton’s Barber Shop, two Black 17 year-old boys were waiting for their turns at the barber’s chair. Again, I surveyed. But my answer this time was a wordless one. Instead, one of the young men simply rolled up his shirt sleeve to reveal a memorial tattoo on his forearm.


Both teens went to school and grew up with Jabari, who was shot in Richmond following a high school basketball game last year. They are going to be seniors at Fremont High this year. Jabari was set to graduate this year.

The youngster’s tattoo looked freshly done. Twenty years ago, an RIP tattoo on a 17 year old’s arm would have been frowned upon. But we are living in a time where the average teenager is exposed to as much violence as a John Singleton movie.

The teens that didn’t participate in my survey chose not to speak to a stranger. You can’t fault them for that. Had they participated the results might have been even more revealing. Maybe they all too would have personal relationships with shooting victims.

As of July 26th, there were 65 gun-related killings in Oakland. All of the teens I spoke to answered yes. That is only a micro-microcosm of the bigger picture. The fact that they all knew someone on the business end of a bullet is disturbing.