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.



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.

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.

View this post on Instagram

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

A post shared by Aleńa Museum (@alenamuseum) on

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.

Oakland Neighbors Take to Organizing Offline

Oakland, CA – After several viral videos hit national news in the last month at Lake Merritt Park, neighbors became even more active and outspoken on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

In response to issues like BBQ Becky, where a white woman told two black men they were not allowed to be at the park at all and called the police intent on arresting them for barbecuing with charcoal. To a white man trashing a black homeless man’s belongings throwing them in the lake and then coming back and attacking an activist who was filming. Lake Merritt neighbors are fed up.

Activists and longtime organizers like Cat Brooks, Gina Madrid, and Kin Folkz took a moment in need and organized an “Oakland Hands Around the Lake” on Saturday morning. While there was not enough people to create another mass holding of hands around the lake as they have done before, the event enabled many neighbors to meet each other, discuss local issues and prepare for a more significant event in July.

Among some of the most critical topics; the high cost of rents, homelessness, and stripping of Oaklands culture was major boiling points. Brooks mentioned the hardship of artists being able to afford to stay in Oakland as well as the slow stripping of longtime traditions like old school cars no longer allowed at First Friday events.

Video of First Friday event before old school cars were banned.

Folkz spoke of when she first moved to the Bay Area and attended school in San Francisco. She told a story about a man who was the first person she befriended despite locals who judged him as possibly mentally unstable just because he was not well dressed. Her story ends tragically with a reminder that community should not condemn and ignore neighbors merely because they do not look “normal.”

Kenzie Smith, one of the men in the BBQ Becky video, spoke of coming out and talking to neighbors being an essential part of a change. JJ Harris, the man who filmed “Jogger Joe” also spoke of a need for unity in the community.

Many neighbors who never met each other before had their chance to discuss important issues and life in general. Local city council candidate Nikki Fortunato Bas used the opportunity to campaign and speak for the interests of district 2 which Lake Merritt park is in..

The next “Hands Around the Lake” event will be held July 14 with hopes that each person will bring ten people with them and slowly build community unity. All of Oakland is welcome to join.