MLK Day Reimagined

Originally published in print for Laney Tower on Jan. 31, 2019.

Hundreds of people gathered at Oakland’s Frank Ogawa Plaza Jan. 21 for an all-day gathering of activist organizations to “Reimagine” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy.

The fifth annual celebration was organized by the Anti-Police Terror Project of Oakland. The events started at sunrise with a Black Panther-inspired “People’s Breakfast” and continued with family-friendly activities throughout the day.

By noon, attendees and various activist groups prepared to march with Cat Brooks in “The People’s March.” The program continued with activities and a live concert, featuring such artists as Gina Madrid, until 5 p.m.

Following the concert, Lead to Life, an organization that melts guns and forms them into more useful metal pieces, performed a string of rituals and ceremonies meant to symbolize an end to gun violence.

In the past, the group re-cast the melted guns into shovels. The guns symbolize death, but the shovels symbolize planting and life.

The guns melted at the 2019 ceremony will be poured into constant molds that mirror the constellations in the sky on the night Oscar Grant was killed.

Housing Advocates Use Court System Against City of Oakland

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On a corner of the neighborhood of Brookfield, a plot of public land has been claimed by housing advocates in East Oakland, CA for homeless community members in the area and is now named Housing & Dignity Village.

The city of Oakland served a notice demanding the public land be evacuated on Saturday, Nov. 10. The advocates responded by filing a restraining order against the city. The city was not present to shut the new camp down. A court date is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 13 at 2:00 pm for a Federal judge to hear the case against eviction. The location of the hearing will be at the Federal Courthouse, 1301 Clay St., Oakland, CA 94612.

The Housing & Dignity Village has free breakfast hours, grocery giveaway days, community dinners, medical care, and InterFaith Counseling, It is 100 percent volunteer-run, and sits on the corner of Elmhurst and Edes Ave.

Stay tuned for more updates, as we dig deeper into this story over time.



Oakland Celebrates Weekend of Black Liberation and Calls for Unity with all Communities

October 15, 1966, the Black Panther Party was born in Oakland, CA. October 13 and 14, 2018, we were celebrating a movement that changed everyone’s lives, especially in Oakland. It is the celebration that we need to slap gentrification in the face and let it be known that the descendants of the party are still here. Many may not be able to afford living here, but we gathered in honor of Huey Newton. Bobby Seale, Lil Bobby Hutton, Elbert “Big Man” Howard, and so many more.


Onsayo Abram was one of the men seen harassed in the now infamous “BBQ Becky Video.” Saturday he was seen registering to vote at “Life is Living” in Lil Bobby Hutton aka De Fremery Park.

Life Is Living by Youth Speaks kicked off its annual celebration at De Fremery Park, also known as, Lil Bobby Hutton Park. With performances from youth groups, a tribute to Aretha Franklin, and so many more, it was the creative outlet that the community needed. The park was packed with many community members and organizations that reflect what the Black Panther Party represented. There were young people registering people to vote for the mid-term elections. One man was just released from probation, and he registered right there as he rode in. To witness that moment was something to document.

Sunday’s 52nd Anniversary in downtown Oakland had the messages that we needed to keep that spirit alive. Hosted by Gina Madrid and Saturu Ned, with various speakers from Kenzie Smith, Cat Brooks, Ashara Ekundayo, and performers such as Ras Ceylon, Kev Choice, Jennifer Johns, Khafre Jay, and others, the messages were heard loud and clear. The city is pushing us out, and it is different from when the Black Panther Party started. It is strategic to organize and hit the polls. The celebration was in the middle of the all high rise developments and a few blocks from the Oakland Police Department. It was the epitome of why the Party was established. As Saturu Ned said, “We had determination, and we were serving the community.” With so many of us working independently or with our own organizations in the community, we are doing what the Panthers would be doing. We are the children and nieces/nephews of the original members, and we were instilled to give back and be the impact.

Documentarian/Photographer Michelle Snider who filmed the infamous “BBQ Becky Video” shares her experience, speeches and performances from the Black Panther Party 52nd Anniversary Tribute Rally and Concert.

Register to vote and be the change you want to see. Just like in 1972 when Bobby Seale and Elaine Brown were running for office, the people running for office are local community members who are tired of the system and tired of not seeing anything done in City Hall. There are so many people doing things grassroots that they do not always have the financial capital to do what they do, but they are making it happen. “A local organization became a global movement,” Saturu Ned reminded us. We have to come together to save our schools, neighborhoods, give each other skills so we can employ ourselves. If the Black Panthers were able to do their survival programs, then we should keep providing survival programs. There are way too many resources for us to tap into, especially with the power of the internet. As the theme said for the rally, All Power to the People!

Black Literary Collective Launches at Youth Uprising

What is the Black Literary Collective? How did you come up with the concept?

The Black Literary Collective (BLC) is a group of extremely diverse and talented black authors who are passionate about serving the community through their literary and community work. The idea for the BLC came to me after doing a number of events in schools and community spaces for my book Black Boy Poems. Seeing young people respond with so much excitement to an author who comes from their same context and seeing literary works that feature their context, made me want to find ways to expand that impact. I’m a product of the colonial public school system and know the experience of not seeing any black literature or black authors. Also, not being engaged in the curriculum because my story was never told. I knew we could create a group of powerful brothers and sisters who could make sure that would not be the reality of students in schools today.

You have ten authors. How did you choose your writers? What do they represent in the collective?

We have ten authors as of now, and eventually will expand to include more. The six brothers and four sisters who are the founding members of the collective are tremendous people. Some of the best folks I could ever want to be connected to and work with. Many of them I was lucky to consider friends before starting the collective, and a few I met doing book events. They are all highly respected by the community. They also represent different lived experiences and genres of work. I wanted to create a cross section of the black experience so the community could really see the beauty of who we are in the work that is represented. I was trying to have an equal balance between men and women but I fell short on that for now. We have children’s books, memoirs, poets, fiction writers, emotional intelligence/self development and revolutionary literature represented in our collective. We have college graduates and folks who became victims of the prison industrial complex. We also have a member that fiercely represents our disabled community. It wouldn’t be a true representation of our African diaspora without featuring at least one member from the African continent, we are blessed to have an incredible author from East Africa on our roster. It is a must that our people can see powerful representations of the beautiful diversity that makes us who we are.

You have a launch event on September 15th at Youth Uprising. What do you want people to take away from the event?

The goal of the launch event is to introduce the collective to the community. We have been doing work in the schools and the communities but it is time to expand what we’re able to do for the community. We’ll be highlighting what we offer as a collective. Author’s talks, forums, workshops, collaborative programs, curriculum development, trainings and professional development. Folks in attendance will learn about the collective and we’ll start scheduling dates for the collective to begin working with various organizations. We will have some fun but also get to work.

If people cannot attend, how can they get in touch with you?If folks want to learn more about the collective, they can reach out here:
We all can serve the people in our own ways. I believe the BLC is a great first step in interrupting curriculum that does not prioritize the black experience in classroom settings. We need the help and support of the community to make sure that our young folks receive a proper revolutionary educational foundation so they can be the agents of change our communities needs.

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Elbert “Big Man” Howard’s Black Panther Memorial Marks History


Original Black Panther party members gathered in honor of the history and life of one of their founding members at Lil Bobby Hutton Park, also known as Defremery Park in West Oakland, CA.

Elbert “Big Man” Howard died in Santa Rosa at the age of 80 on July 23.  The memorial service was held on August 25.

Howard was one of six founding members of the Black Panther Party of Self Defense. He was well known as of the most instrumental members in many facets of organizing during his time with the party.

The memorial was packed with original panthers who shared candid stories of their time with Howard. One of the most mentioned accomplishments of Howard’s was writing for the Black Panther Newspaper and traveling internationally to represent the Panther Party.

According to former Black Panther Communications Secretary Kathleen Cleaver, Howard went under the pen name “Brother Dynomite” while he was an editor of the newspaper.

Cleaver, who traveled all the way from Atlanta, Georgia to attend the memorial service described the character of Howard as not a soldier, but a gentle yet powerful passionate man. She described him as a true leader.

“One of the things about our brother Big Man, he had a big heart. He had big ideas. He was extremely honest. He was devoted. And I would like to say he represented the soul of the Black Panther Party.” Cleaver said.

Howard was an international spokesman for the party. Several speakers at the memorial service had stories reflecting on his trip to Japan. Roberta Alexander was one of the party members accompanying Howard on the trip to Japan explaining the difficulties of traveling abroad and organizing.

When speaking on Howard’s character, Alexander said, “We called him Big Man because he was big in stature but he was big in his heart, his soul, and his commitment to the fight for justice in our communities and in the world.”

Original Black Panther member and leader Ericka Huggins recalled Howard coming to guarding her after acquitted of conspiracy murder charges in 1971. Huggins said she did not know Howard that well at the time. When reminiscing on her release, Huggins said Howard reached for her arm. She recalled his gentle eyes and felt safe.  

“I was just aware of being so protected…so held…so loved. How is it that love works in people that don’t even know each other? It’s because it’s bigger than our little minds and the shallowness of our thinking,” Huggins said.

Among other noted announcements during Big Man’s memorial service, host Billy X Jennings read of a proclamation from the city of Oakland officially proclaiming August 25, 2018, Elbert “Big Man” Howard day.

According to KQED, Howard left the Black Panther Party in 1974 to live a normal life. He moved to Tennessee after leaving the party and rarely talked about his life as a Panther.

Howard’s daughter Tynisa Howard Wilson said at the memorial she grew up not knowing much about her father’s Panther past and did not realize how important he was in the movement until he was searching for photos for a 35th BPP anniversary.

Howard was married to his wife, Carole Hyams, a woman he had known during his times as a Black Panther but did not marry until 2005. At the memorial service, Hyams said her late husband would have loved the memorial service.

“His favorite thing, being the center of attention, and being the reason for bringing all the comrades back together,” Hyams said.

Speakers at the memorial read poetry sang songs and recanted stories of Howard with one recurred theme. They wanted him to be remembered for more than the black and white image often displayed of him in a leather jacket with a gun.  He was a man who loved jazz, was gentle and protective towards his friends and family, and a fierce warrior against those who imposed a threat to his community.

Many speakers mentioned the with the current political climate, the fight for liberation is still necessary. The fight for justice and peace will continue in Howard’s memory and the history he made.

Elbert “Big Man” Howard lived a full life from January 5, 1938, to July 23, 2018. May he rest in peace while his legacy lives on.

Calling Out The Media’s Portrayal of Black Victims


Featured artwork by:

There is a history of the media distorting the truth with the portrayal of Black victims  when the killer is White. Recently with the killing of Nia Wilson at MacArthur Bart,KTVU found a picture of her holding a gun, which was a cell phone case cover. There were so many pictures to choose from, but they used the one that would make her look threatening. She did not provoke her killer, and the police had to make a statement so people would not lose focus. She was the victim!

Then, the San Francisco Chronicle wrote a story comparing Nia Wilson’s life to her killer, John Lee Cowell’s life. They wrote it like he did not have a fair chance of growing up and his troubled life led him to that horrible moment. The article read as getting the readers to sympathize with his story and disregard Wilson’s life. I took to Twitter and tweeted to the writers of the article, “Why are you trying to humanize the killer? KTVU tried to dehumanize Nia with that one pic from FB, and you are doing an article to sympathize with John Lee Cowell’s background. It’s so disrespectful to the ladies that didn’t deserve this and their family.”

They did this with Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Emmett Till (until the truth came out last year that he did not do it), and so many others. Then, I thought a horrible killing of a White girl in the early 1990s, Polly Klaas. Her picture of her smiling was always on the news and celebrities took up to support finding her. Her story went national to try to see her and her killer. They did not humanize him at all. In fact, he got the death penalty. The killers of Black victims are mostly getting a slap on the wrist, or they are not convicted. Why are their lives valued more than the victims? They say it is not about race, but apparently, it is.

Again, the media can do a convincing job portraying Black people as savages and will go through anything to tarnish their image before giving them a chance to be innocent. Some celebrities are using their platforms to speak up on the injustices of Black victims and to bring awareness to the social problem. When a Black person is killed, the community has to be ahead and talk about their accomplishments before the media find one wrong thing, no matter how big or small it may be. It is devastating and causing lack of trust between the community and the media. We know that the press is about viewership and spinning their version of what happened. They will edit what witnesses say to fit their narrative. That is why the community and Black journalists are speaking up and calling them out. At the same time, the community needs more independent media coverage that will reflect what the community is about. The revolution has never been publicized so it is our duty to do it with social media (drops mic).

Nia Wilson Vigil Unifies Oakland Activists to Confront White Supremacy and Media Perceptions

It has been over one week since the death of Nia Wilson, an 18-year-old young woman from Oakland who was going home on Bart and was stabbed “prison-style” while trying to transfer trains with her sister.

There was a lot to digest last week. The week before, a bar called Make Westing on Telegraph posted on their facebook page that the notorious right-wing men’s group Proud Boys had contacted the bar intending to do a meet up there the Monday night this vigil happened.

Proud Boys is a right-wing group that started out supporting the Alt-Right movement, but by June of last year quickly disavowed the Alt-Right once they saw the potential violence that was being planned for the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally that happened August 12, 2017, and did in the death of Heather Heyer and many others hurt at the hands of white supremacist groups.

02 Nia Wilson

While Proud Boys boast a diverse roster of members that include Black, Brown, Asian, LGBTQ, etc., they are also known for rallying side by side with white nationalist groups like R.A.M. and Identity Europa. They are also known for going to rallies in what would be dubbed highly Liberal, anti-Trump leaning cities to agitate violence while documenting the fights so they can attract more eager fighters for their cause.

While Proud Boys, later on, denied contacting Make Westing bar, the damage on social media had been done by Monday night as it made its rounds all over social media throughout Oakland residents. A planned protest had already been set to take place in front of the bar to protect anyone who may be in the area.

Proud Boys did not make a comment about the bars posting and the planned protest until after Nia Wilson’s vigil happened which ended in front of Make Westing bar at the planned protest.

While Proud Boys claim they had nothing to do with the meetup, they are not reliable sources considering they also have spread rumors like the “Okay” hand sign being used to mean white power, as a joke.

While Make Westing’s bar post claims Proud Boys did indeed make plans for a meet-up, there is also not enough evidence to support they were planning the meetup other than their post.

The rumor of Proud Boys coming to host a meet up for their group in Oakland had already been circulated earlier in the week of Wilson’s death, which had heightened the communities conclusions even to assume the killer, who at the time had not been apprehended. A few accusations spread on social media that the killer was a Proud Boy or white supremacist.

The vigil march for Wilson was framed around the basis that black woman, and young black girls, need protection from threats reminiscent to the past when lynchings and Jim Crow were the rules of law.

Oaklander’s have plenty of reason to resonate with this threat. Over the last 3 months, there has been video after video of black people having the police called on them or harassed for doing normal everyday things in public spaces. From having police called on black men barbecuing at Lake Merritt while being harassedand told they don’t belong there to a homeless man’s being thrown in the lake at Lake Merritt by a white jogger, these instances have only unified Oakland while at the same time frustrated long-time residents who see gentrification as a constant threat to their ability to live peacefully in Oakland.

Last year there were numerous far right-wing rallies in neighboring Berkeley which many Oakland activists have been actively participating in to stop fascism from growing in the streets. Proud Boys have been active in all of the last years violent Berkeley rallies and have a significant part in organizing them while promoting them online.

During Wilson’s vigil as her friends and family started to talk on the bed of a pickup truck to the over 1000 attendees who marched down Telegraph Avenue from MacArthur Bart station, about 6 men walked across the street causing a disturbance. Many witnesses saw the men pointing at the truck shouting. One of the men allegedly pushed a man saying “Fuck Black Panthers” another allegedly tried to swing at him.

What followed was several of the white male agitators ran in two different directions while one was jumped by numerous people until he was rescued by police. The identity of the men is still unknown.

03 Nia Wilson

Following the coverage of Wilson’s death, local news channel KTVU owned by Fox affiliate had angered the community and Wilson’s family by showing her on a news broadcast with what looked like a gun being held to her ear but was actually a phone case.

KTVU later apologized, but that was not enough as a protest was organized with a list of demands.

Among organizers with Wilson’s family was Alena Museum of West Oakland who posted on their instagram the details for a march from their location in West Oakland to the KTVU studios at Jack London square to negotiate the families list of demands to correct news media’s portrayal of black victims.

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Mainstream media’s continued dehumanization of Black Lives by criminalizing them is White Supremacy! —- OAKLAND ARTISTS SEEK JUSTICE FOR NIA WILSON #justiceforniawilson Calling All Artists, Drummers and concerned Community members. Rally & March Thursday, July 26th – 10am: Congregate at the Alice Street Mural across from the Malonga Center 1428 Alice Street, Oakland – 11am: March to KTVU – 12pm: Rally at KTVU, 2 Embarcadero, Oakland In light of the weak apology offered by Fox News for the racist, insensitive and dehumanizing use of a personal picture of Oakland teen, Nia Wilson who was murdered at the MacArthur BART station, members of the ARTS community have united with the family of Nia Wilson to seek answers and justice from local FOX affiliate KTVU Channel 2. . . We the community of Oakland, artists, viewers and consumers of KTVU news, are organizing to express our anger and outrage for KTVU's decision to air an image of Nia Wilson with a cell phone case that looked like a gun in the wake of her tragic death at the hands of John Lee Cowell. . . Alena Museum will have a altar installation outside of ktvu news station for all to come and pay respects to her life. Art work by @lady_luuz

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We Lead Ours in Oakland Program Sets Out to Turn Troubled Students to Successful Students

One sunny Saturday in October, I was sitting in the stands at McClymonds High School, watching some boys in cardinal red and gold uniforms tackle another team. I was rooting for the Bay Area Seminoles, a new youth football team, which was in their second year. The youth cheerleaders were doing their thang too! The stands were full of parents and supporters. I didn’t remember the last time that I saw so many people show up for a youth football league.


It was like a kid version of The Oakland Raiders’ Black Hole. I saw one of the owners and coaches, Lamont Robinson, Jr., walk by and said, “Man, you got a great football league!” He said, “Naw, I got a great organization!”

Bay Area Seminoles is a part of We Lead Ours Organization (WELO, pronounced We-low). It was officially founded in 2010 by three men from Oakland, Dwayne A. Aikens, Jr., Lamont D. Robinson, Jr., and Trestin D. George, who wanted to lead by example and provide for the different needs in the community.


In 2006, they came together to create a program where they could help the children in Oakland. As Lamont said, “The three of us used our brains to make this. We were grassroots in it, and that foundation was the model for our other programs.

They started off with $500 in donations, and they have never been funded by the federal, state and county. They get their contributions from community grants, individual contributions, and corporate sponsors. They are contracted by the Oakland Unified School District, servicing nearly 45 school sites in the area of substance abuse harm reduction. WELO also provides after-school programming at a variety of schools in Alameda County.


Lamont reflected, “When you see the other parts of the organization and what we do, you see our footprint. That looks like Dwayne. Or that looks like Lamont or Trestin. WELO is the fuel to the engine.” They lead theirs by being more than owners; they are engaged, and they are out there in the fields with the students.

They are the big brothers in the community. They provide after-school programs, summer camps, football and cheer programs, and community service/internships. The students receive life skill service learning, community engagement, college prep, and health and wellness. Their goals are to show the community that there are more career aspirations other than being a rapper, athlete, and to explore different things in and out of the community.

WELO hosts a mentor/career workshop once a month. They bring in professionals to show the youth other career paths. They try to match the students with someone in that profession so they can get the real guidance that they need. They prepare them for the life of being a business owner/entrepreneur. “[The kids say], ‘I want to see what the owner life looks like. [Or] I want to be an entrepreneur.’ With folks like me, Dwayne and Trestin, to come into our community, coming from poor backgrounds, they can see that it’s attainable,” Lamont expressed.

At Oakland Unified School District, they work with troubled students who are dealing with life. Many of the students are on probation or have anger issues. WELO team members modify the students’ behaviors by motivating them to change their actions and showing them the steps to achieve a goal/dream. Dwayne took that part of the organization to the next level, and they are proud of their after-school programs.

As part of community service through their summer camp and year-round programs, they do backpack giveaways, turkey and toy drives, work with Oakland Parks and Recreation to do cleanups at the parks, Save the Bay, and Creek and Bay Day. Dwayne and Lamont echoed, “We make the kids understand to take care of your home, own community, yourself, and give back.” Also, they provide internships and community service to students who need experience, whether it is by working at the snack bar stand or collecting admission fees to the game, helping out at the summer camp, and mentoring to the younger students.

For the Bay Area Seminoles, there are the tricks and the treats. The methods they use are the football and cheer programs to capture the kids, between the ages of 5-14. They check the students’ grades to make sure they are eligible to play, and if the students are slipping, they provide tutoring and academic services to get the grades back up.

The treats are parent engagements, family/community support, mentorships, academic support. For the 2018-2019 school year, they will host their first annual ceremony to celebrate the students’ academic accomplishments.


They have been recognized by Oakland Mayors, Oakland Raiders, Golden State Warriors, Keep Oakland Beautiful (Dwayne is on the Board), and Waste Management. They are thankful for the support from their partners and other organizations, such as Marshawn Lynch, Lorenzo Alexander, Marcus Peters, Mistah F.A.B., Oakland Fire Department, Oakland Unified School District, and many others.

They have come a long way from where they started, and they plan to leave to something in the future. Dwayne said, “There is not enough support in the community, and we aren’t in competition with other organizations. We want to collaborate with others who are liked minded. Our passion is what keeps this going.” And Lamont added,” We love our community. If we’re succeeding, it’s because the community was behind it and saw what we were doing.” Their long-term goal is to expand and work in other cities to give other students in those communities a place to gain exposure and work. And I stand corrected, they are a great organization.
To find out more or support We Lead Ours, you can contact them at

BBQing While Black Part 2 Brought the Vibe and the Politics


Early May, our world was shifted into a new outer-sphere as a video I shot featuring my husband and his friend dubbed BBQ Becky went super viral. Like, The Views Whoopi Goldberg commenting on video while laughing at the memes that exploded all over social media, viral.

In response to the videos 25 minute 101 example of a white woman using privilege to scare two black men out of a park, there have already been two response events to the BBQ Becky video. 510 Day was a previously scheduled event. Since it happened right as the BBQ video was going viral, many people took a stance against the calling of police on Oakland natives enjoying Lake Merritt Park at that event.

The next event happened on May 20, 2018, as the official response to the BBQ Becky video cracked off big time, which featured A LOT OF BBQ.

This newest video of BBQing While Black Part 2 does not have a lot of barbecuing in it. It was a colder day after an extended heat wave in the Bay Area, CA. There was a cast of weird color through the cloudy skies. We experienced debris falling from the sky from some NorCal fires.

What was different about this event were the many subtle political statements. There was an art exhibit group called Alena Museum that put up an entire art exhibit to bring awareness of the eviction they are facing in West Oakland. They wanted to make a statement about gentrification pushing out artists.

Politicians were campaigning, including my husband, Kenzie Smith, who is running for District 2 which covers a lot of Lake Merritt. Despite being his wife, I made sure to give every politician I met a chance to express their platform.

And of course, there was a lot of entrepreneurs, some even included children selling lemonade and cupcakes, others included artists who were painting as people walked around the pathways and watched.

Onsayo Abram aka Deacon, the other black man targeted by “BBQ Becky,” had a moment to go into depth with his conversation with Jennifer Schulte, the woman who called the police on him for barbecuing with a charcoal grill. Abram said of people who think there was no evidence of racial bias by Schulte who told him he did not belong in the park “People who say that haven’t really experienced the different versions of racial bias….it can be body language, the tone of voice….and telling me I don’t belong in a public place.”

One of the woman picture with Andre 3000 when he made a visit to Lake Merritt recently for his birthday made an appearance in the video as well.  The woman who runs a custom made sunglass business named Tres Mercedes remarked how the Outkast rapper loved the sun glasses he got from her.

In the mix of another well-organized event on Lake Merritt, the community came out strong participating in eating, shopping, getting to know each other, meeting old friends, hanging out with family, all while relaxing on a Sunday.
What will be next is undoubtedly a new chapter. The doors have been opened for events like this for all to take advantage of and enjoy.
This may look like a happy ending, but with new horizons come new problems. My husband, Kenzie Smith, has told me that trash was taken out of bins all around the lake last night after their clean up. Some of the garbage containers are upside down with trash thrown everywhere.
The issues people living around Lake Merritt often talk about is homelessness and trash. Every weekend, trash overflows the too few bins around the lake, and the garbage is not picked up until Monday afternoon. A problem that results in many residents taking to social media to complain.

Raw Interview of Kenzie Smith Regarding Run for Oakland City Council District 2


Hey Kenzie, you’ve been really active in the community since April 29th. I’ve been following you and what you’re trying to change in the community.

When Rebecca Kaplan nominated you for PRAC, what was the purpose of that? What does PRAC do?

“PRAC oversees the City of Oakland Parks and Recreation department and makes sure things are getting taken care of. Anyone can put in to be a part of it but it helps when a city council member nominates you. That was what Rebecca Kaplan did for me.”

What was the difference between 510 Day and BBQin While Black events at the Lake?
“510 Day was already happening, and that was no association between me and Deacon. The organizer invited me to be a part of that since my incident had just happened a week before. BBQin While Black was hosted by Jhamel Robinson and Logan McWilliams. They wanted to collaborate with me, and I didn’t want to be in the media, I just wanted to behind the scenes. I cried when I got there and saw about 300 people setting up at 9:30 am. I was touched because people came in from out of town. I’m talking about Washington, Los Angeles, all over. I hadn’t seen people since middle school and high school. The new one on July 1st has the theme of Poetic Justice because I will be having poets perform and people from the city council and PRAC. I want to showcase and bring people together. I want to use my light to shine on other people in the community. Whoever I rock with, I’ll shine the light on them. I’ve always been in the background, never been a person on social media.”

So what changed?
“I’ve been an activist since 2000, doing backpack drives with my bro, Mistah F.A.B.. Then in 2016, I did a community give back where we passed out hygiene kits, food, clothes, haircuts to the homeless. I had totally forgot I did that until Facebook brought back one of the memories and I was like, “Oh yeah.” But when I saw the pictures, I was like wow.

So many mothers showed up who said they couldn’t afford school supplies and backpacks. Even toys. This is nothing new to me. I’ve been in the community, and I grew up in the days where you couldn’t go to certain areas without knowing someone in that neighborhood. Now, we lost ourselves and our values. We have kids raising themselves. I saw a 12-year-old girl who was pregnant, and she told me that she was grown. I was like, [What the hell?] How is she grown? But we’ve got to do much better.”

What you do inspires me and a lot of others. A lot of people don’t know where to go; they always look for leaders. And sometimes I’m like, “You have to be the leader.” I love capturing your brother, Jhamel, you, everybody, really grass-rooting it. Whether people donate or not, you’re like it’s happening anyway.
I was inspired by my brother and my wife, Michelle to become more active. You have to learn to adapt or create your own ways. Sometimes I ask my brother what he thinks. My bro, Mistah F.A.B. was in South Africa, and he called me, and they were talking about it over there. I was worried that he didn’t like the attention, but he was proud of me. He was telling people there that I was his brother and he was proud! He liked the way I used my brain in the situation. I didn’t use my brawn. He said that we brought back Festival at the Lake. I’ve got to get out there and change things.”

So now, what made you want to run for City Council?
“I was speaking at a fundraiser in San Francisco called Youth Awards. Some kids that were there came up to me and asked what can we do? I told them to vote, and they were like for who? They said if I run, they’ll vote for me. That was a doubled edged sword for me to run because I had the younger generation’s attention. If this is what will get them out there to vote, then I have to run. It’s not about winning or losing for me. It’s about getting the younger people active in the political process.”

Now, you’ve announced that you’re running on June 25th, what’s next on your itinerary for running? Fundraisers and stuff?
“Life has changed now that I’ve announced it. I have someone that stepped up to take care of the social media. Other people have stepped up, and I really thought I was going to be doing this by myself. They want to see me win. They want to see Oakland change. Like, I am still helping Jarew get a place, but he needs an I.D. So, I’ve been busy working with a program that will help him and get him settled.

A couple of weeks ago, I did Hands Across the Lake. I’ve been in the community, I want to be accessible to people. I am always at the lake. I have no reason to run away from the people when it’s the people who made me who I am. Whether it’s Black, White, Purple, Blue, Yellow, Green, I accept everybody. I wanted to attend Pride, but I had a conflict. I want to thank the LGBT community for their support. As for the campaign, I want to do it by the book, be transparent.”

We have some heavy hitters running for mayor and re-election that will help our community, like council member Desley Brooks (District 6)…
“Desley Brooks is the homie! She told me to tell the audience at the Juneteenth event at Arroyo Viejo Park that I was going to run. I was trying to chill that day but she encouraged me to let the crowd know that I was there. She’s very supportive, and she’s not in my district. She has seen my growth and my grind and encouraged me.”

I have a lot of respect for council member Brooks. She’s always at community events in other districts, whereas I rarely see the other council members in districts outside of their own. She has done a lot for her district though. Which brings me to this: what are you trying to accomplish as a council member? What kind of impact do you want to make?
“I want; a better arena for the community to come together; whether it’s a weekly event at Lake Merritt or somewhere in the community.

Tackle the homeless issue. Since I’ve done my own work, I already know what works and doesn’t work.

Help the non-profits since their funding keeps getting cut.

Work with schools to provide better after-school programs and childcare. These kids need someone to talk to, someone to guide them. I want to establish programs for youth.

Talk about teachers and increase their pay and get them supplies in the classrooms. As a parent, I was fortunate to buy my daughter a graphing calculator that costs $150. But how many other parents can afford that?

I want to call out the mayor. I was at the celebrity baseball event, and she was sitting next to me. She wouldn’t even acknowledge me, not even a hi. It’s cool because she showed me her true character. I only deal with people who deal with me. But back to her, she’s the reason why we have the homeless crisis and it’s too late for her to do anything. Cat Brooks supports me, and that’s all that really matters.”

Do you think we’re sending a strong message that we are tired and we’re going to beat them at their own game?
“I can’t speak for them, but for me, things in the community needs to be addressed. It not always about being a hero or the bad guy. Have you seen The Avengers with Thanos? Thanos was making people disappear. Well, Blacks are disappearing, Asians are disappearing, Mexicans are disappearing, but the Whites are appearing. I AM NOT DISAPPEARING! This campaign has to be someone who’s not going to disappear. I am here!”