I have come to realize living in East Oakland for the better part of 20 years, that to reside in a community of color one has to give up certain amnemities for others. Check cashing places instead of banks. Liquor and corner stores instead of grocery stores. An abundance of apartments instead of single- family homes. It is not uncommon to see someone walking around in my neighborhood drinking beer at 10 a.m.
It is commonplace for my neighbors to be lined up at the liquor store that also doubles as a check cashing outlet on Friday instead of the bank. It is also very possible for these same neighbors to supplement their grocery shopping at the corner store which is more convinient then riding the bus to the edge of the city to find fresh food and meat.
Every time I venture outside of my door, my complex, this is not just my reality but the reality of my neighbors and we are very much aware of our community, the good, the bad and the ugly.
I live near the Coliseum BART station and although this means that I am in close proximity to public transportation, it also means that I hear loud trains all throughout the day and night. After a while you get used to it but it helps that I can see when the next train is coming from my window. Today though, I am walking.
As I walk down 69th Ave. towards International Blvd., I can’t help but feel responsible for the neglect of the sidewalks. Candy wrappers and soda bottles litter the ground.
On the right side of the street the lawns are brown and dead. What draws my attention is not the grass but the beautiful flowers that peek through the gates erected for some greater sense of security or exclusion from a community as thirsty for nourishment as the blades of dead grass.
Farther down the long block is a large baseball park. I remember this park from when my nephew was 5, when he, along with all the other small boys began to play sports. Weeknights, weekends and summers belonged to this acre of dirt and families and friends would yell, chant, eat, cry and cheer together. Sitting on the edge of the metal bleachers, we would pray our boys would grow to be men on this field and they would. Although some not in ways we imagined.
So many parks in my community are erected for children only to be occupied by adults. Two of the four in my community are off limits to children and they know somehow, instinctively. A park where children don’t play just doesn’t look like a park.
In one that I passed on 73rd Ave., right around the corner from a corner store, a man sat on the edge of the slide smoking a cigarette. A few feet away, men in cars with their doors ajar, sat with their radios blaring. There are no children in sight. I wondered what draws these grown men back to the parks of their youth?
I moves on. Farther down the road is a church, Allen Temple Church to be exact. A large church on a large plot of land. Then there is a middle school and a Christian elementary school. Sitting kitty corner, is a funeral home and across from this, a library. I have always thought that there is too much crowded into the communities of color, my community. I suppose that one is expected to have everything he or she needs and not stray too far from it. Some don’t. Some do.
For better scenery I decided to walk back towards the BART and then cross Coliseum Way and head towards the freeway. Three blocks or so is Damon Slough, a beautiful chunk of park land that is almost eight acres. It is in the middle of MLK Jr. Shoreline, a regional park and an East Bay gem!
According to OaklandNorth.net, Damon Slough is home to endangered species like the Clapper Rail, a type of bird, the Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse, a native plant species, the Coast Live Oak as well as the Blue-Eyes Grass. Right in my backyard is a beautiful preserved parkland with miles of greens and blues and browns for my eyes to admire.
On any given day, one can see families and groups of bikes taking in sounds, smells and the sights, traveling over man made creek bridges onto a path, tracking through natural beauty maybe for sport, or fun or serenity. For all the noise of the train on the ground and planes overhead, this spot is peaceful.
The cool breeze from the Bay isn’t too crisp, but it’s there. It’s enough to appreciate it along with the bikes, strollers and people rushing past, just to carve out a spot within this community that may also be endangered but still grows and is beautiful all the same.