A new energy is gathering in Deep East Oakland. Two community meetings in early December focused on familiar issues, such as improved schools and illegal dumping, as well as the not-so-familiar topics of creek restoration and the promotion of small businesses. The organizers are younger with new technology skills and an entrepreneurial spirit. This energy and new leadership, and changing demographics, could spark a revival in East Oakland, the have-not half of the city.
“Bringing Our Voices,” a Deep East Oakland “listening session,” was sponsored by the young East Oakland Collective (EOC) and held at Youth Uprising, a teen-oriented social center and cafe next to Castlemont High School. An East Oakland Town Hall was held at the East Oakland Boxing Association (EOBA), a youth service organization, in partnership with the Hope Collaborative and Merritt College Environmental program.
The collective, formed in early 2016, is primarily 200 millennials committed to social change in Oakland. Their mission is to give “under-served populations, especially communities of color residing in deep East Oakland, a chance to have their voices heard,” said Candice Elder, CEO founder.
At the listening session more than 100 residents spoke to three topics – economic empowerment, housing and urban blight — and suggested solutions. They called for better educational opportunities and more minority teachers, programs focusing on ex-offender re-entry, more small businesses and services to support and enrich neighborhoods, including banking.
Anita R. Johnson, Merritt College student body president, challenged the myth that business can’t thrive and cluster in East Oakland, which makes it difficult to raise capital for new businesses. She said the city has funds to create Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), but little of that comes to city council districts 6 and 7.
“If we can access that money, we can build our own economic base,” she said. “We know what we need in our communities. We have entrepreneurs here in this room and in our communities, but do we have access to that capital?” The implied answer was no.
The discussion moved to the housing crisis, and the link between rising costs and gentrification to homelessness. Several people called for more homeless shelters in Deep East.
Residents said they’re being priced out of the housing market by absentee landlords and investment groups who aren’t from Oakland. Elder said she herself had been out bid by outsiders during the financial collapse. Another participant noted that New York City has a moratorium on international investors buying and sitting on property.
The East Oakland Town Hall focused on issues such as taking down fences in Sobrante Park, planting trees, filling oversized potholes, and developing grocery stores in all of the district 7 flatlands. Merritt College students talked about the San Leandro Creek Greenway project, and ways to create links to it from other environmental projects.
East Oakland Boxing Association appointed Solomon Howard as its new executive director in September. Howard has worked with Bay Area tech startups, including Uber and ENJOY Technology, but said he wanted to return to nonprofit work to give back to his community. Like the members of the EOC, he is young and has a collaborative and entrepreneurial spirit. He said the organization also wants to have more interaction with its neighbors.
“We want to encourage more gardens and more family services in our immediate area and in the greater community. Now we want to create a web around us to make impacts on a greater scale,” Solomon said, noting EOBA hopes to hold town hall meetings every two or three months.
EOBA has been providing education, enrichment, and health programs for children and youth in East Oakland since 1987. Its programs include field trips, tutoring, organic gardening, health and nutritional information as well as instruction on boxing and karate. Just eight years ago, EOBA’s neighborhood had the third highest crime rate in Oakland, but no longer.
Allene Warren, who volunteers with EOBA and other groups, liked both events. “The EOBA Town Hall reviewed accomplishments and also offered a vision for the future with partner organizations like the HOPE Collaborative,” she said. “At both events people seemed ready to make a difference in their neighborhoods, especially at the town hall meeting.”
“The most important outcome was that we heard from the community on issues and how we can all come together to impact change,” Elder said. “East Oakland Collective is going to take this data and create initiatives in 2017. We are invested in the state of East Oakland,”
This listening session in deep East Oakland was funded by grants from ‘All In Alameda County’ and the Akonadi Foundation. A video recording of the entire session is available online at http://bitly.com/2hePZLR.
Find an album of photos from both events here https://goo.gl/photos/V7bUUnugFsgLf2oj6.