Articles by Sheila Blandon

Sheila Blandon

About Sheila Blandon
Sheila Blandon is an 19 year old Nicaraguense woman from East Oakland. She would like to get politically involved on the local level, representing the voices of minority populations. Eventually she would also like to open up her own non-profit dedicated to women in abusive relationships.

From Newtown to My Town

By Sheila Blandon

I first heard about the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary through online media.

I saw all the attention it got by the media and social networks. As soon as I saw news of the shooting I already expected it to be covered nationally. At the same time, communities and government officials began to take action. The national debate about gun control has heated up once again.

My heart goes out to those hurt by the Connecticut tragedy – to all of those killed, their families and classmates, and their communities. But with all respect to those victims, as I watched the news coverage grow, I couldn’t help but think about my own city. People here are shot and killed regularly, sometimes in broad day light. Our community also suffers from this issue of gun violence on a daily basis.

We’ve lost men and women, too – young adults and teenagers. Even little children, like 5-year old Gabriel Martinez Jr., 3-year old Carlos Nava and 1-year old Hiram Lawrence Jr. - all killed in crossfires. And yet, nothing has caught the attention of those that have the power to improve our circumstances.

Some of our local leaders are scrambling for solutions. Last December, 11 current and former Bay Area mayors signed a letter to President Obama that calls on the president to push reforms to strengthen federal gun trafficking laws and require criminal background checks for every gun sale, and asks him to appoint a director to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (it’s been 6 years since the bureau has had a confirmed director).

But boosting law enforcement and police presence in our communities won’t really help our city without a more holistic solution that deals with roots of the violence in our streets. Oakland’s young people need more support systems that help those who engage in crime get out of that lifestyle instead of incarcerating them. Give them something to do everyday and motivate them to change for better. Build organizations that teach them job skills. Once they’re occupied, people won’t have their minds so much on negative things and they won’t have to go to the extreme of shooting someone for something they need.

Our communities have become immune to the violence and this can no longer be accepted. If residents themselves do not take action and create awareness, we will continue to live this nightmare. Community members can patrol their own neighborhoods by simply taking a walk around their neighborhood. This will create a more friendly environment and others will become motivated and hopefully feel safe walking around their own homes. This will soon create unity between neighbors, cultivating a community and more awareness on what’s going down in their community. Is time that we unite, to help our city. Another alternative can be to attend city hall meetings and becoming more active on the local political level.

Some people get involved with crime because they have no other choice but to break into someone’s home or rob someone. They are hungry or they have mouths to feed. This leads to many killings because they will eventually get caught if victims are alive to identify them and testify against them. We can not keep identifying them as gang-related or thugs.

If we look deep into their lives, we will see that most of these youth and adults who commit crimes feel hopeless and live in poverty. Their circumstances often push them to engage in crime because they are desperate for a solution. Living in poverty can put you under many different types of pressures. Having no money, shelter or clothes can make people feel like they need to get their hands on something quick and easy. Getting a job is a long process, and even more challenging if you have a criminal background. Once they are released they will be under more stress because of bail or restitution fees, and go back to doing what they know how to do. It’s all a cycle. Incarcerating them as a consequence can only make the situation worse.

I am not saying they should be free to go after committing a crime or killing someone. But creating more opportunities for youth, while they are young, will be an essential component in keeping our youth off the streets. In fact some of our killings are gang-related. But we cannot blame those youth who end up joining a gang because they are neglected at home or don’t have a support system.

Oakland Residents Unite to ‘SAVE’ City from Gun Violence

A group of about 100 community and church members gather on different corners of the city to create awareness in the streets of Oakland.
By Sheila Blandon

As our death rates increase, community members came together on December 29, 2012, on the corner of 92nd and International Blvd. to mourn for the cell phone store owner, Wilbur Bartley, who was gunned down during a robbery two months ago. Churches all over Oakland partnered to create awareness about the issue of gun violence with other Oakland residents.

The gathering was one of many “peace stands,” held by Soldiers Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE) every Saturday throughout many different neighborhoods all over Oakland. SAVE was created by Pastor Zachary E. Carey of True Vine Ministries to raise awareness about the crisis of gun violence in our city, Oakland – helped lead the gathering.

As I approached the peace stand on 92nd and International Blvd., anti-violence protesters prayed in a circle, in unity, in hopes of one day seeing the change they advocate for. Then they split up into smaller groups and spread throughout International  in different groups chanting “Throw your peace signs up!”

SAVE describes our city’s crisis with gun violence as a public health issue that can no longer be tolerated in our communities. Its mission is to build community and ensure safety in our streets and neighborhoods. The group encourages residents to break the silence, speak out, and take a non-violent stand against the rampant murders in our communities.  SAVE is a citywide, grassroots movement to provide resources and solutions for a more peaceful existence in Oakland.

As cars in traffic passed by honking and putting their peace signs out their car windows, they continued chanting, “Somebody died here, we need to care!” ”Increase the peace, not the violence!” ”Don’t take a life, save a life!”

Ashley Lindsay, an active member of True Vine Ministries in West Oakland, comes out every Saturday with her young son, Kalani Conner.

Lindsay expressed that we need to act as a community no matter how long it takes, “We need to speak on what we see out here. And we know who they are. We want peace in the streets,” she said.

Pastor Gregory Payton is president of the Baptist Minister Union of Oakland and pastor of Greater St. John in West Oakland. He described gun violence in Oakland as a national epidemic.

“We’re gonna have to be active,” he said, calling on  residents, city officials, the mayor and the governor to work toward solutions.

To watch footage from the peace stand on 92ndand International Blvd click here.

To learn more about SAVE Oakland and the weekly peace stands, visit save-oakland.com, or facebook.com/SoldiersAgainstViolenceEverywhere. Get involved in your community!!

The Hustle: Homemade Jewelry, Just to Get By

By Sheila Blandon

Ivet Castro is a 20-year old immigrant Mexican woman living in Oakland with hopes to improve her living circumstances and help her mother at the same time. Castro is fluent in English, and is a waitress at a Chinese restaurant.

She stresses that because she is not an American citizen, her options in the job market are very limited. She is enrolled in a community college close to her home Even though she is not eligible to receive financial aid from her school, that does not discourage Castro from pursuing her dream.

 Castro decided to make her own products and sell them as an alternative to getting a job that requires a social security number or being rejected by  financial aid. Besides school and working as a waitress she makes jewelry and phone cases for individuals. She would like to open up her own business soon.

Castro explained that she would have liked to attend the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in San Francisco, but because of her citizenship status she was not eligible to receive financial aid “Since I am very limited I can’t really do what I want to do, so I’m at a junior college studying to become a nurse,” Castro said.

Her obsession with fashion started back when she was a child. Today she reminisces about going to Walmart and buying arts and crafts tools and making necklaces for herself. She then noticed that as she practiced she was getting better, and began to read books and really got into it.

Being raised by her single mother pushes her to become someone in life. “My mom is my main motivation,” Castro said. “I just want to make her proud and make her feel like, ‘wow, I did a good job raising her.’”

Castro said she gets real satisfaction from knowing that her jewelry “makes my customers happy and knowing that they are happy with a product I made with my own hands.”

 If you would like to see more of her designs follow the link below.  http://icdesigns.bigcartel.com/

 Oakland: what’s your hustle? Let us know here, on Facebook, or Twitter.

 

 

Rising Local Talent Rayven is Ready To Soar

By Sheila Blandon

There are many artists in the Bay Area, but Rayven’s passion and motivation sets him apart from the rest. He has came a long way, from being a part of a group along with his brother, to now launching his own carreer.

Born and raised in East Oakland, Rayven Justice and his younger brother Raymen attended Westlake Middle School and Oakland High School. They were always very well-known kids.

Rayven knew his voice was a gift, but didn’t really acknowledge it until one of his neighbors next door overheard him singing one day. ”He had a studio and asked me to come get on one of his songs, singing the hook. Ever since then I just loved singing and practiced everyday.”

Rayven and his brother Raymen eventually began producing their own music. Rayven sang for the most part, and Raymen would rap on the track. Back then, most of their songs revolved around girls and relationships. Their classmates knew the brothers’ music from YouTube and mix tapes floating around the school. It only made the duo more popular.

The brothers seemed bound for a bright music career when Raymen was shot and killed near Oakland High on September 21, 2010.  This was a very difficult time for Rayven. “My brother’s death put me in a dark place. I had thoughts of suicide. I wouldn’t eat or drink. I even had a panic attack.”

But it also influenced Rayven to go harder for his little brother. ”When I returned home from the hospital I laid in my brother’s bed and thought to myself, ‘what would he want me to do?’ So from that moment on I committed all my time into my music.”

Rayven’s dedication to his music has given him amazing results. He currently has songs featuring more than a dozen artists like Kafani, Gucci Mane, Too Short,  Trina, J Valentine, Pleasure P and many more.  A  lot of his music is played on our local radio station 106 KMEL.

Through hard work, Rayven has also created his own clothing line called, EXACTLY – a name he choose “because I say the word a lot.”

And he’s not stopping there. Rayven said his goals are “to have a hit single that goes big all over the world, and to have a music video on MTV and BET, (and) to perform at the Summer Jam.”

Even as he plots his career, Rayven is always thinking about his family. With success, he also wants “to buy my parents a house and new cars. the list can go on and on,” Rayven chuckled.

Rayven wants to keep his brother’s spirit alive through his music and making sure Raymen will not be forgotten.

Rayven’s new single “Cheater” is out now – on 106 KMEL and iTunes.

 

More Than a Tattoo: Body Art Honors Lost Loved Ones

Miriam Mendez’s tattoo mural of her husband on her left shoulder.

By Sheila Blandon

Tattoos are a trend among the teenagers I know. But these are not just regular tattoos.

Mimi Mendez’s neck tattoo.

As more young people die on the streets in the Bay Area, it’s becoming common to see young people showing their respects to their loved ones by inking themselves with something that reminds them of that person –  sometimes simply an R.I.P. followed by their lost friend’s name or nickname.

Miriam Mendez recently lost her husband, Henry Faa’aloalo Tautolo, when he was killed in a drive-by shooting in San Francisco at a relative’s house party.

As Mendez grieves daily, she shows her respects to her husband with the tattoo of his middle name on her neck. Faa’aloalo means “respect” in Samoan. “He would always talk about the meaning of his name,” Mendez remembered, ”and I simply got it because he’s not here with me and it has a lot of meaning to it.”  She is also creating a large mural of her husband for a tattoo on her back.

Sarah Harris’ tattoo of her brother-in-law on her left arm.

Sarah Harris lost her brother-in-law in a 2009 shooting in front of his Hayward apartment complex. “I got him tatted because I would always have him,” Harris said. She also has a tattoo of her father’s name. He died from lung cancer in 2004.  This tattoo is a big cross in the middle of her arm, with “Dad” written in the cross.

“The reason I got him tatted is because I didn’t really know him that good,” said Harris. “But when I was around him, it was a pleasure. So when I look at my tattoo every now and then, all those good memories run through my head.”

Davone “Bones” August tattooed on his chest the cartoon Spongebob Squarepants – his older sister’s favorite TV show. “She loved him,” Bones said. Davone got the piece after his sister was fatally shot.

Ruby Johnson has two big tattoos of her grandparents – one on her arm and the other on her leg.

Ruby Johnson memorial tattoo of her grandpa on her leg.

The art, she said, ”is a sign of respect and shows that I miss and love them still. I feel happy knowing it is for them, knowing they are still a part of me.”

Ja’Quan Taylor has seven different people that have passed away tattoed on his body. All of the deaths were related to gun violence, and all of the memorials on his body are for those who recently passed away.

Two of the people he has tattooed on himself are uncles who passed away together at his mother’s birthday get together.

“They were just chilling in a car and two people snuck up to the car and started shooting,” Taylor explained. “They were in the car in a parking lot. It wasn’t a drive by; it was a planned murder. One was my blood uncle, and the other was like an uncle to me, too.”

Ja’Quan Taylor’s tattoo of one of his uncles.

After talking to these youth, a major trend I noticed was that most deaths were due to gun violence. These tattoos have such an influence on their lives. The art gives its bearer the motivation to go hard in life.

 

 

Poverty Puts Young Women on the Verge of Prostitution

 

Mary Moore’s father kicked her out when she was 18. Homeless and unable to find work, she was forced to trade sex for a place to live. Photo: Sheila Blandon, Oakland Voices 2012.

By Sheila Blandon

The names in this story have been changed to protect the young women’s identities.

Young people find themselves being rejected so often by jobs that are apparently hiring, that many of them eventually opt for quick and easy ways to make money. Living in under resourced communities, many young people here in Oakland feel hopeless for a positive solution to come their way. Oakland is known as a city with high rates of prostitution, drug abuse and murders. What doesn’t get told often enough are the stories of young people who make up those statistics – young people struggling just to stay alive.

Of course they can become unpaid interns or volunteers at an organization or workplace that interests them and wait until there is an open position. But until then, how will they feed themselves? How will they live?

For young women, the easiest and fastest way to get money is to sell their bodies or exchange sex for shelter, food or cash. Mary Moore, 21, from Oakland, became homeless in spring of 2009 when her father put her out right before her high school graduation.Four years later, she is still unemployed and homeless.

Moore and her father never had a good relationship and he eventually put her out. “He didn’t even stay for my elementary graduation. He left before I even walked the stage,” she said. “He was there, but not there, more like a fly on the wall.” Moore does have a relationship with her mother, which is the only reason she still sees her father at all.

Faculty at school were aware of Moore’s living situation, but did nothing to help. They knew, Moore recalled, “but they didn’t help me.” However, she was affiliated with a non-profit organization in Oakland which supported her.

Moore said it has become increasingly tempting to engage in prostitution because she is homeless. After her father threw her out, Moore was stuck – homeless, broke, borrowing money from friends just to feed herself. She said she applied “everywhere” for work – in person and online – but nobody was calling her back.

Some women are forced to walk the streets, selling their bodies for cash. Mary Moore has never done that. Her exchange was different – not for drugs, or money, but just to keep a roof over her head. “I never done it before but I contemplated it. No woman should ever have to think about selling herself,” Moore said.

Even though Moore had never stood on a corner and sold her body to strange men, she had a boyfriend who made her feel like sex was the only thing keeping a roof over her head. Moore explained that if intercourse did not happen occasionally when he wanted, he was not happy. She stayed with him because she really needed somewhere to live.

Before she realized it, sex had become like a form of payment for rent. She soon saw that she could not live like that anymore – exchanging sex for somewhere to stay – so she left. Unfortunately, soon after leaving Moore had no other option but to return to her boyfriend’s home, where she currently resides.

Moore is a strong advocate for sexually exploited minors here in Oakland. She counsels young women who have been trafficked and are coping with leaving that life style. She said that because of them, she stays strong and her work helps her not get too deeply into that lifestyle. “Thinking about it is one thing. Thinking about it and thinking of the possible income, I shouldn’t have to think like that,” Moore said.

She strongly feels that authorities need to stop criminalizing sexually exploited minors by sending them to jail. And media should stop using the word “prostitution” because of negative associations with the word. Instead, they should try to understand why young women choose this route and help them out.

“They need to get the Johns and pimps and incarcerate them,” Moore said, “instead of the young women!”

Health of the Hood: 73rd & Bancroft/Eastmont

Each of our correspondents took roughly a 3 square-block walk around their neighborhood, taking stock of the area’s services, stores, homes, schools, and especially how people in the community were living their lives. The goal is to give real, detailed texture to our understanding of the quality of life in East Oakland’s neighborhoods from the perspectives of people who live there. These pieces were done in conjunction with Oakland Tribune Violence Reporting Fellow Scott Johnson’s Oakland Effect project.

By Sheila Blandon

My neighborhood is one long narrow block. The streets are very close together with long blocks. There are a lot of homes with families, only a few apartments. The streets are kind of clean – cleaner than other neighborhoods around the East. The block of 69th avenue is pretty friendly and welcoming. There are always a lot of people outside. We sometimes throw BBQs in front of our home on the porch. The people that are always outside are often drinking alcohol, dancing, and smoking weed. They don’t bother anyone and they are familiar with everyone on the block. Everybody knows each other and speaks to one another. We are a urban community filled with Latinos and African Americans.

Stores:
Near my home, there is an alley way which leads to a corner store. They sell vegetables and some fruits but it’s a little store so they don’t have much, and don’t sell any alcohol. However, on the other side on 73rd we have a  liquor store. This store is bigger and sells more. They sell meat, liquor and some vegetables.

Schools and Parks:
Up the street we have Markham Elementary, which is a public school. The school is either fairly new or it has been remodeled, because it looks good. When I drive by and they are in recess, I see them playing outside in a nice courtyard. We have no parks near our neighborhood.

Services:
There is a Bank of America, as well as a supermarket, clothing and shoe stores, and the welfare and police departments. Most of the people that visit are African Americans and Latinos.