Late in the afternoon next to the Grand Lake Theater, a group of strangers piled into a van to have a one-of-a-kind, educational experience in The Town. Called the “Oakanda tour,” this specialized guided tour took us through Oakland to visit some of the celebrated locations tied to the Black Panther Party. The tour was also to celebrate the premiere of Marvel’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, directed by Oakland-raised Ryan Coogler, during the movie’s opening weekend.
The tour itself was not related to the Marvel movie, but rather it was an opportunity for a chartered visit to locations highlighting Black history while also supporting some local Black-owned businesses. Our tour guide, Acacia Woods-Chan, co-founder of Ethnic Ties Travel, said the purpose of the tour was to engage in cultural awareness. Woods-Chan, who is Black and Chinese, has previously guided a Black Foodie tour, a Chinatown tour and an Oakland taco tour.
“Oakanda” is the phrase used many have adopted to describe Oakland’s emerging Afro-futurism art scene since the opening of Marvel’s first Black Panther movie in 2018. For this tour, it was a chance to see parts of Oakland that I had either previously visited or read about but never saw up close. While the tour was only offered as a limited run event during the opening weekend of Wakanda Forever, these stops are available to the public for anyone who wants to learn more about the history of the Black Panther Party.
The first stop on the tour was It’s All Good Bakery, located on 5622 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. The bakery was the original meeting place and headquarters for the Black Panther Party. The bakery is seated on the same block as the original Merritt College campus, where Black Panther Party co-founders Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale met in college in the early 60s.
Owner Kim Cloud is in the works to sell the property due to structural and repair issues with the building. But news of the sale has not stopped the sale of baked goods. As we were leaving for the next stop on our tour, cars were lining up outside with people waiting to pick up their orders. The bakery still offers up a selection of desserts including pineapple coconut cake and sweet potato pie.
Next on the tour was a stop at Marcus Books, the nation’s oldest Black-owned bookstore. Founded in 1960 in the Fillmore district of SF, the bookstore carries primarily books written by people across the African diaspora. The bookstore later moved to Oakland, in the 70s. On the shelves, I saw Danyel Smith’s Shine Bright, Adrienne Maree Brown’s Pleasure Activism, and a host of other titles from people who had lived, worked and built a community in Oakland. While it was the oldest bookstore, it maintains a relevant and current selection of books to choose from.
For lunch, we stopped at Smokin Woods BBQ in North Oakland, a Black-owned restaurant serving savory barbecue dishes. Fortunately for me, who is a pescatarian, there’s a salmon option and a vegetarian-friendly Veggie Meat roll: mac & cheese topped with vegetable “Smokin’ Medley.”
Our final stop on the tour was to The Women of The Black Panther Party Mural and Mini Museum in the home of Jilchristina Vest. I’ve been to see the mural at various stages of the mural’s development but hadn’t returned to visit the museum, installed on the first floor of a West Oakland Victorian home. Visitors were required to remove shoes or wear shoe coverings before seeing memorabilia, books and photos that tell the story of the women who supported the programs that would later inspire WIC and school lunch programs.
By the time we departed the museum, we needed to hustle through Saturday evening traffic back for our scheduled showtime to see Wakanda Forever. One stop we missed due to time was a visit to see the 16th Street Station or Oakland Central, where Southern Pacific Railroad employed many Black people migrating from Jim Crow in the South. The location has been and continues to be used for event gatherings and in films.
During the ride, there were also conversations shared by the passengers who either heard stories or lived in Oakland. This brought home the rooted and lived history that is shared by people who come through Oakland at different stages of their lives. Woods-Chan pointed out there were spots during the tour using Black Terminus, an augmented reality application to interact with art around the city. Seeing the posters in All Good Bakery or exhibits that come to life to tell the story of the Black Panthers added an extra layer of education that falls in line with the Oakanda Afro-futuristic theme as we made our way back to see the film.
Our final stop, of course, was a ticket to Marvel’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever film at the Grand Lake Theater during opening weekend. We arrived at the theater, which had just released a crowd from the free private showing co-hosted by East Oakland Youth Development Center, Hack The Hood and The Town Experience. Since I was fortunate to attend Thursday night’s opening premiere screening featuring a DJ, costumed dancers, and a prayer circle, an event coordinated by Subversal, I didn’t take advantage of the showing on Saturday. But standing in front of the theater upon our return, I could feel the excitement and energy lingering from the children and community members who were there before.
Seeing all the sites reminds me of the richness that Oakland inspires for the phrase “Oakanda” to exist. Watching the first movie and now the second installation of Black Panther was a welcomed treat. No spoilers here, but the movie is worth seeing in theaters.
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