Talk of the Town: How would you describe Oakland to someone who has never been here?

Image of three Oakland residents.
Tanna Simone asked Oakland residents, "How would you describe Oakland to someone who has never been here?"

Oakland. Oaktown. The Town. However you refer to this place, if you live here, you can call it “home.” We live in different neighborhoods and arrangements which contribute to our own perspectives and experiences of the same municipality. Are they unique? Similar? Both/and?

There are so many lenses to view our city from. How do other Oaklanders see home? What picture would they paint if they were to depict it for an audience who hasn’t laid eyes on The Town? What do my neighbors think?

To find out, I went down the block and to the closest BART Station. I asked people, ”How would you describe Oakland to someone who has never been here?”

Tyrie “T” Radford

Tyrie “T” Radford

“Oakland is beautiful.”

“Oakland is beautiful. You can’t just duplicate it,” Tyrie “T” Radford said. He said he is from “all over Oakland,” though our chat occurred in the Allendale neighborhood. 

Radford said that Oakland welcomes everybody. “We love everyone,” he said. Radford believes peace, love, and community have been cultivated here thanks to the influence of hippy culture and the Black Panther Party. “The aura never changed,” he added. The Black Panthers brought people together and political awareness to the Town, he said. “All the people who died, paved the way.” The group of guys he was with agreed. 

Tyrie “T” Radford, from all over Oakland, pictured in Allendale Neighborhood

Kevin Wells

Kevin Wells

“Basically you better stay on your toes. We got some dangerous cats around these camps.” 

Kevin “Kev” Wells has lived in Allendale for the past 12 years or so, though he is originally from 88th Ave. We conversed on Penniman and 38th Ave. He said he’s spent most of his 47 years in East Oakland. When asked how he would describe Oakland to someone who had never been here before, he said, “We got some dangerous cats around these camps.” 

He went on to tell me about how he and the friends he hangs with, lookout for the neighborhood. He said he has established great rapport with neighbors and local business owners. One business, Donut Savant, that moved into the neighborhood within the last five years, used his image in a mural on the side of it. He wanted to show it to me. He and the owner get along and have each other’s backs, Wells said. 

After taking his picture in front of it, he shared that recently, the donut shop had been broken into. The window next to the mural where we were standing had been broken too as part of the break-in. The act upset neighbors who feel the owner is adding to the neighborhood by hiring local residents, upgrading the nextdoor laundromat, and painting murals on each wall.

Wells suggests being observant. “Basically you better stay on your toes.” 

Kevin “Kev” Wells, Allendale

Donyall Newton

“Oakland has a lot of history,” Donyall Newton told me when asked at the Fruitvale Village, near the Fruitvale BART station. He grew up in Oakland. We were in his neighborhood when we spoke.

Donyall Newton

Donyall Newton, Fruitvale Neighborhood 

Ain’t nothing like the Town

From my neighbors and other Oaklanders, I heard our home described as: beautiful, historical, welcoming, in flux with an aura that hasn’t changed, loving, yet dangerous with a need for vigilance. As Radford said, it can’t be duplicated. Or to quote the hook and title of Baby Ray’s 1997 song, “Ain’t Nothin’ Like The Town.”

How would you describe Oakland to someone that has never been here?

Author Profile

Tanna Samone was born in “The City” and raised in “The Town.” She has gratefully served both San Francisco and Oakland in Emergency Medical Services and Education. Community journalism is community service. Oakland Voices is an opportunity for her to serve information for and from its residents, her neighbors.

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