Community Investment – By the People for the People

Editor’s Note: The following article is in response to an Oakland Voices article, “Heroes, Pyramids and a Colossal Head.”

By the East Oakland Youth Development Center Family

Regina Jackson, President and CEO of the East Oakland Youth Development Center

Regina Jackson, President and CEO of the East Oakland Youth Development Center

The “G” word—gentrification. This word evokes pain and fear in many parts of the Oakland community, particularly the black community. And for good reason. Displacement—typically of low-income residents and people of color—is a key marker of gentrification.

The East Oakland Youth Development Center (EOYDC) has lived in the heart of the Elmhurst neighborhood of East Oakland for nearly 40 years. This neighborhood represents one of the most economically challenged areas in the City. The primary mission of EOYDC is to aggressively support the success of youth from underserved backgrounds, especially youth of color who face the foremost challenges associated with intergenerational poverty in this community. EOYDC achieves this mission through a program model geared towards serving low-income families via free, year-round services spanning the arts, wellness, education, and careers.

Given this continued, long-term commitment to serving the historically under-served, it was quite alarming and disheartening to see EOYDC’s hard-won community investment referred to as “a reminder of gentrification”[1]. Rather than seeking to displace members of our community, EOYDC sought to engage. Four years ago, EOYDC invited community stakeholders, parents, and youth to help us develop our strategic plan through a series of retreats, workshops, forums, and meetings. One of the key needs identified through this comprehensive stakeholder analysis was the need for EOYDC to expand and renovate its then-35 year old facility in order to serve more young people, enhance technological capabilities, and increase safety and security. While EOYDC’s President & CEO, Regina Jackson, recognized that the $11.5M capital campaign required to realize this dream would be no small feat, she decided to step up to the challenge. Why? Because our kids are worth it. Despite some perspectives, we believe that “state-of-the-art” does not have to be exclusive to affluent neighborhoods—our young people should feel like this beautiful space is reflective of them and their potential for greatness.

After putting forth tremendous effort and overcoming multiple setbacks and challenges, EOYDC was excited to celebrate the unveiling of the newly improved facility. The theme of this Ribbon Cutting Ceremony was, “New Era”. While some have erroneously portrayed the “New Era” theme to represent a rejection of our heritage, EOYDC’s New Era is, in fact, about honoring and building upon our legacy while expanding and deepening our impact. In addition to the facility updates, one of the hallmarks of EOYDC’s New Era is the return of several EOYDC alumni—children of Oakland—to key leadership roles.

With all progress comes sacrifice. While EOYDC was able to preserve many historical pieces—including a 13- year- old internal mural project led by Oakland artist Keith “K-Dub” Williams and a 30- year- old art installation—there were some treasured markers of the past that could not be salvaged. A painful example would be bidding farewell to the first mural project commissioned by Regina Jackson 20 years ago titled, “A Part of the Solution”. When the concrete required to support the addition of the new Wellness Wing was placed over the legendary mural depicting heroes of the civil rights and labor movements, tears rolled down Ms. Jackson’s face. While the bitterness of this moment was felt deeply, there was comfort in knowing that this change would ultimately enable EOYDC to serve more young people.

While the old mural holds a special place in all of our hearts and will never be forgotten, we are excited to work with our young people to develop a new series of visual art that pay homage to the old while representing the next generation of heroes. It is our hope that the next generation of young leaders may not only build upon layers of paint to find themselves, but also utilize the expanded resources of the Center to realize their full potential and drive positive change in their community.

[1] Scott, A., “Heroes, Pyramids and a Colossal Head,” 2015

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