Doom, gloom on the streets of Deep East Oakland

Living quarters to be rented by the month or by the night exist and thrive here in the 9900 block of MacArthur Blvd in the depth of Deep East Oakland.  

The Starlight Hotel, Crown Lodge, and Welcome Inn each possess whole blocks on both sides of Truman Ave.  The three dingy dwellings stand erect, bringing no dignity to a neighborhood that also consists of African American, Latino, and now white families who navigate their way in and out of this gloominess surrounding their homes on a daily basis.  Covered in not so vibrant yellow, blue and grey paint these three hotels, along with the smoke shop, filled with cigarettes, packaged snacks, nourishment devoid drinks, pornography, and paraphernalia that is frequented by folks living in and out of the neighborhood, seem to intentionally reflect the despair of those frequenting the dwellings.  

Sadly, the present state has become the norm of this environment and is quietly accepted by the City of Oakland, the residents, illegal drug distributors, and destitute consumers of intoxicating beverages, as well as smokable rock and plants. Through empty eyes, almost lifeless souls move about on partially swept streets looking for their next shot at a euphoria that never arrives on this Sunday evening.

An almost constant blaring of music from the passing and parked vehicles shake the windows of the residential apartments that trace these MacArthur Blvd blocks with the bass from the musical selections by unmindful drivers.  Many of the forced-listeners do so with pleasure while others listen with disgust as their ears are invaded by music laced with descriptive lyrics of sexual indulgences, drug use, glorification of violence, and emotional abuse. 

Countless drivers disregard the command to stop by the red octagon sign at the corner of 100th Ave and MacArthur Blvd.  The pole upholding the sign is now wrapped in the strings holding on to the memorial balloons for the last body that was laid to rest at its base. Though the mourners are no longer present, the reminder of the loss remains. The sidewalk reeks of spilled liquor, displaced urine, and the grime that coats it.

Just to the right of this corner, my eyes take in the vision of the well manicured lawns attached to the homes that trace the next two blocks. Visually it’s a different world from the one I left behind not steps ago. Even the trash knows not to cross into these blocks, within the same neighborhood. The black and brown residents of these blocks are predominantly working-class and elderly.  Their determination to hold on to their living space and keep their environment one of dignity is so apparent I found myself making a prayer for success. I inhale the mixed aroma of the roses and jasmines that line the nearly picture-perfect houses. The practically flawless painted homes and weed-free lawns temporarily recolor my mind with a whole other view of my world, until I turn the corner to return home.

Author Profile

Amelah El-Amin is a mother, grandmother, and African American Muslim human rights activist. She has been serving our community for over 25 years. She co-founded Mu’eed, Inc, a non-profit which has coordinated Humanitarian Day in Oakland for the past 11 years, a program which services homeless residents and low-income children. In addition to feeding the hungry, she advocates for elderly. Amelah El-Amin is a correspondent for Oakland Voices.

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