My Oakland Is: Everything

A friend once asked me to hang out. Remembering how long it had been since I’d last seen her, I was beyond excited to get together. It wasn’t until her response to where I resided that my excitement quickly faded. “I’ll pick you up. Where do you live?” “East Oakland.” My reply was met with an “oh…” expressing nothing but empty judgment. Now being born from the soil home to oak trees, sideshows, Kwik Way, and everything hyphy, my cultured mind couldn’t understand. I wanted so badly to reprimand her for her empty opinions based on images she saw on ABC7 news. To her, Oakland is baby Iraq. To her, Oakland is a city where violence and everything scary has been wed; matrimonial vows to keep the cycle of death flowing; a city full of places one should not park their car. Nothing more. How sad.

How sad that a city as beautiful as mine has been labeled a place of darkness one should avoid, a place that makes outsiders clutch their pearls in awe that anyone would choose to live here (as if crime and unpleasant things don’t happen elsewhere). That is, until the privileged cleanse it. In places like Oakland, gentrification is a dark hovering cloud. Like a broom, newcomers are putting in time and effort to sweep away the culture, soul, and essence of our city, to drive out the very people who make this place what it is.

I could write a novel based on the hours’ worth of stories the OG’s would tell, and not a soul would ever put that book down. That’s how captivating they were, stories of Oakland back then. Culture was alive; everything from stores to art studios to restaurants to nightclubs and more were in full effect. The atmosphere was full of such positive vibes one would never think to leave. But fast forward, and over time you will see the saddening increase of people leaving. Those who made the Town what it is. Venturing out to cities like Stockton, Antioch, or Pittsburgh. Why?

For the past six years, I have lived alone in a two-bedroom apartment, paying rent that didn’t break my pockets. But housing in Oakland, like much of the Bay Area, has become quite ridiculous. The amount of money one needs to make in order to barely make it has skyrocketed, serving as the tool to remove the soul from the body of Oakland. Buildings are torn down and replaced with luxury apartments. The uncultured try to replace scraper bikes with little blue pieces of gentrification called Ford Go on every corner. Local mom-and-pops are closing doors after years’ worth of business, while disappointing chains such as Starbucks move in. And through it all, I have heard this question: Isn’t all of this making Oakland better?

Ask yourself this: Would you enjoy going to a Beyoncé concert knowing the queen herself would not be there? This is the point. Nothing can truly be valued if the essence and heart of it fade away. But while it is evident that Oakland has been negatively affected by the driving out of its people and its culture, I must shed light on the bigger picture: We are rising back up. Oakland’s heartbeat is one that its true natives love to hear, a heart beating to the rhythm of First Friday turn-ups in the street until the wee hours of morning, creativity from spoken-word artists, musicians, and dancers, Sunday afternoon vibes, old-school music, and ten grills going at once all over Lake Merritt; that is, without creepers like BBQ Becky arriving on the scene. Her spirit is the prime example of that ugly “G” word, a spirit that has no understanding of true culture and love. When I saw that same spirit in my friend, I knew I had to speak up.

No matter what is spoken about Oakland, those who grew up here take such pride in their hometown. It is a place where I have gotten my car broken into yet would never leave by choice. If I had the chance to speak to that old friend, I would say to her: Look beyond. Look beyond what the media pushes on society. Look beyond opinion to see truth. Look beyond what you’ve heard, and find out for yourself. My Oakland is not what TV says it is. My Oakland is what the people who make it say it is: Everything.