The Key to The East Oakland Collective’s Candice Elder: Purpose

An African American woman wearing a grey head wrap and black cardigan poses in front of a grey marble like background for her portrait.
Candice Elder, founder of The East Oakland Collective. Photo by JoAnn Bell.
An African American woman wearing a grey head wrap and black cardigan poses in front of a grey marble like background for her portrait.
Candice Elder, founder of The East Oakland Collective. Photo by JoAnn Bell.

My initial telephone meeting with Candice Elder provided me with an opportunity to learn not only about a few of her efforts generated within the East Oakland Collective, but more importantly, it provided me a chance to learn more about Candice Elder, the person.   

Candice Elder, CEO and Founder of The East Oakland Collective, is an advocate and organizer. She is a force to be reckoned with if you try and stand between her and her primary focus. Candice has found her purpose, centered around some of the most pressing issues affecting Oakland: housing, homelessness, gentrification, and displacement — situations that seem primarily centered in what Candice refers to as “deep” East Oakland, the flatland areas of East Oakland.  

She grew up in East Oakland and has witnessed firsthand the inconsistencies, loss of investors in the community, gentrification, and the decline of places to live. At the same time, she has seen what she views as what might just be the last frontier: the last affordable living dream for many residents of Oakland.

These views instilled a deep sense of purpose within and Candice started to form goals which were meant to preserve and prevent the further disparity and displacement of citizens and at the same time led to her attempts in coordinating her thoughts and aspirations with like-minded people. Her primary focus appear to be directed towards issues of homelessness, inadequate transportation, lack of civil engagement, and limited leadership.

She initially committed her vision as a service and community support project, but she soon realized the communities around her would ask for her to continue her support. Many people in the community, especially those suffering housing and the decline in services, had lived so long with a sense that people outside the area just didn’t care, which further motivated her to show that she cared. Not only would talk the talk, she was ready to walk the walk with them.

She looked at this community and decided to advocate for the invisible and at the same time committed herself to do what she could to develop a sense of trust, commitment, and integrity. 

Elder founded The East Oakland Collective in 2016 in an effort to to provide better representation of East Oakland residents. She focused her energy in areas that would aid in providing a voice on community boards, city and neighborhood committees, as well as she bring a voice to the table regarding a lack of resources and representation in governing areas that affected the invisible residents within East Oakland. As she devoted her advocacy and policy work, she also noticed few women at the governing table and more women affected by the disparity in services. These are just a few of the things that keep her motivated.

Her efforts against disparity and wanting the voices and needs of East Oakland residents heard required her to sit with everyone, including the City of Oakland partners, transportation services, and other community services. And although she wants to hold The City accountable she must continue to sit at the table with them and keep the communication constant.

Although Elder is self-motivated by the people of East Oakland, thoughts of nirvana would be to continue to grow positive and fruitful, and maintain and achieve action. One might surmise that the work Elder does has to be tiring, but she firmly expressed that the work she does is crucial, including moving people in front of her home and allowing people access to it.

In an in-person meeting with Elder, I was surprised to learn that her “Team” consists of just herself, Marquita Price, the Urban and Regional Planning Office for the East Oakland Collective, an extremely supportive family, and a host of volunteers, community members, and residents. She proudly commented, “My mom is a terrific help.”

The East Oakland Collective’s bi-monthly “Feed the Hood” program as well as other programs provide food, opportunities, goods and services to the unhoused residents of East Oakland is self, volunteer, private, and some grant-supported. 

When asked what would be helpful for her projects, she told me that without the support of her “village” of volunteers, it would be hard to provide even simple needs, such as diapers, and winter items. She works without a volunteer coordinator and happily receives volunteer support as provided.

Elder’s thoughts for Oakland are to hold a better presence and future for East Oakland residents. But that thought brings with it a sense of anxiety felt in the existence of the new Oakland and the increase in residential transplants. Some ways to address housing issues include availability of tiny homes, temporary housing in abandoned and unused properties, and land that could provide housing resources and opportunities for the displaced.  

Elder is also working with the Housing and Dignity Committee, reviewing lists of publicly-owned land but unused properties, and churches with underutilized but available resources.

Her vision continues to focus on collaborating for a better Oakland, East and West. 

In closing our interview, I asked Elder how she manages to handle burnout, especially with limited help and a task that seems to continue to grow. She responded, “I take a walk. Go on a hike. Read a book. I even meditate.” 

I left with a feeling of thankfulness for Elder finding her purpose within the needs of Oakland.

Correction: An earlier version stated that Elder worked with Moms 4 Housing.

Author Profile

Jo Ann Bell works as an office manager and administrative support person in a private independent high school in Berkeley, California. She is an avid reader, loves people and travel and especially the written word. She is a 2010 graduate of Oakland Voices and after several years away has returned to join the Oakland Voices Alumni group.

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