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

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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!”

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.

Oakland Organizers Take Action After BBQ Harassment at Lake Merritt

A week after a video of a White woman harassing two Black men barbecuing at Lake Merritt for hours went viral the story has somewhat lost its narrative.

The two men involved, Kenzie Smith and Onsayo “Deacon” Abram, did not get a chance to share much of their side of the story to what happened before the filming of the woman.

The story went viral at the same time Urban Peace Movement and DNas had already organized 510 Day. 510 Day is an annual event that happens on May 10th (5-10). People from the Bay Area knew of 510 Day and used that to say “fuck you” to gentrification.

People outside of the Bay Area thought it was a cookout and us having a party to spite the White female harasser who we like to call the “Charcoal Police.” Others on Twitter have been using the hashtag #BBQBecky.

510 Day is a day for Oakland natives to share our history about the Black Panther Party and other historical events that happened in Oakland. The lake was the perfect spot since it was a smaller version of Festival at the Lake.

However, 510 Day was taken out of context for those outside of the Bay Area and knew of Oakland’s culture. It was a day for us to come together and celebrate, but we were also bringing awareness to the institutional racism in Oakland. That was not enough though.

Smith and Deacon had a chance to share their perspectives with iNeverWorry podcast hosted by DB Bedford, and you get to see what that day was like from them.

Smith is a godson of original Black Panther member Saturu Ned, and Deacon is an Oakland native. They grew up going to Lake Merritt for barbecues and parties and know how it used to be before new park laws put in place that now negatively affect Black residents from hanging out at Lake Merritt.

A rally called “Grill Your Government” was organized on May 15 at city hall by Carroll Fife to make demands for change in policies with the city of Oakland. Council member Brooks of District 6 was the only one who reached out to help organize the group to speak at city council.

Before going inside, the speakers rallied in front of city hall for different community members to talk about the effects of gentrification mixed with longtime Oakland residents who have had hidden racially charged motives to put new Lake Merritt rules in place such as “non-charcoal barbecue approved zones” which are not currently enforced.

Some of the speakers included Oakland mayoral candidate Cat Brooks, Oakland city council District 2 candidate Nikki Fortunato Bas, Laney College journalism student and filmer of the BBQ harassment Michelle Snider, Mike Hutchinson, and Samba Funk who used to drum at Lake Merritt. The purpose was to demand Oakland city council change the rules to benefit residents of all Oakland districts better.

This incident was without question racially motivated considering the two men’s collaborating stories along with the video and a third witness who live-tweeted the entire event.

Many Oaklanders have been seeing an increase of cops called on Black people for doing normal activities and having fun. It is often a game of  White privilege exercised and abused in a show of power, and that was not going to be accepted by people who grew up in the community.

“They want us to follow the rules when they accommodate you, but you change the rules on the floor to suit you. We demand a formal investigation into the background of this woman who called the police regarding this possible contract work with the city,” Fife said to the city council.

Fife also said there was a need for police protocol to determine how many city resources have been wasted by minor non-threatening response calls.

“We want this reconsideration by the council of the regulations that allowed this to happen and that are imposed at Lake Merritt. And finally, we want a resolution from city council to impose fines on people who make baseless 911 calls and waste resources,” Fife said just before leaving as a group of protesters walked out with the speakers yelling out five times, “All power to the people!”

In closing, come join us at BBQ’in While Black at Lake Merritt on Sunday, May 20th from 11 am until we are done. Most importantly, if you’re registered to vote in Oakland, pay attention to the June and November ballots. June is the state and county district elections and we have to put in a new District Attorney, most likely Pamela Price. In November, Oakland is voting for a new mayor and new council-members for Districts 2, 4 and 6. Organizing and speaking at city council is exercising our power but what is more powerful is voting and getting rid of the people who are enabling gentrification.

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