The Spirit of MLK’s Dream Alive in East Oakland

Urban Releaf volunteers prepare to plant trees

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Celebrating the 86th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birth, East Oakland residents of District 7 organized an annual street clean-up and tree-planting.  More than 150 people from the neighborhood, East Oakland and neighborhoods beyond gathered to help organizer Mary Forte and friends beautify G Street between 92nd and 86th Avenues on a cool but pleasant Monday morning.

This segment of the street has been plagued by garbage strewn along the sidewalks, up against residential fences, commercial buildings, warehouses, emply lots and along curbsides. Yet each year, Forte and local residents convene friends, supporters and advocates for a better and cleaner East Oakland to pull weeds from overgrown sidewalk lots and gather 33- gallon plastic bags filled with every imaginable kind of rubbish. They collect the trash in a spirit marked by conviviality, gentle conversation, laughter and words of encouragement.  And with the help of Waste Management.

The well-organized event draws a wide variety of groups to help each year. This year representatives from P G & E, Girl Scout Troop 30017 from East Bay Bible Church, My Own Two Hands, AmeriCorps, Block-by-Block, the Oakland Catholic Worker and several families gathered at 9 spend the morning helping with the clean-up.  Seamlessly organized and carefully instructed by Forte, the volunteers were encouraged to be safe, to avoid picking up sharp items and animal remains and to carefully use the 100 shovels, hoes, brooms and other tools District 7 representatives had received from the City of Oakland for the job.

 As the volunteers sifted through the trash and removed weeds,  Urban Releaf, an Oakland-based non-profit, stood by, ready to plant new trees and flowers.  This was not the first time they had visited this neighborhood. Forte proudly told the volunteers that “23 trees had been planted along this stretch since last year.”  The recently-planted trees could be seen growing up and down the street..

 Asked why they had come out to help, volunteers offered various reasons.  “I brought my daughter to help with the tree planting,” said Mysesha Lillard whose daughter is a member of Girl Scout Troop 30017. Pam Temple, whose daughter is also a member of the same girl scout troop, said she accompanied her young daughter, “to do community service and to teach my children about the importance of giving back to the community.”  She also laughed and  said, “We need trees, too.”  AmeriCorps volunteer Johanna Callca came to help  “to bring life back to the community.”  Henry Cerrites, also of  AmeriCorps, hoped his colleagues could “help make the neighborhood better for the youth and the community at large.”

 The buoyant optimism and hope of those gathered embodied the vision and spirit of Martin Luther King’s beloved community.   Shelby McNabb’s enthusiasm for the project inspired two  friends to join her,  one of whom was visiting from Chicago. “I volunteered  today,” McNabb said, “because I felt the purpose of the day was to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr by doing service.”






Author Profile

Tom Webb was born and raised in Santa Rosa, CA. Since 1980 I have pursued graduate studies at the University of San Francisco (Theology, 1982), Duquesne University (Formative Spirituality 1994) and Catholic Theological Union (Pastoral Studies 2003). I have spent nearly 20 years living and working in the San Francisco Bay area as a Catholic high school teacher, lay pastoral associate and non-profit administrator. Additionally I have been involved in faith-based justice and peace and reconciliation efforts, including serving on the national council of Pax Christi USA. After spending nearly 13 years outside the Bay Area, I have now returned and serve on the staff of the Oakland Catholic Worker.

1 Comment

  1. Nice focus on a neighborhood in need of up lifting. Great pictures of community members working together for an excellent purpose.

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