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.

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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!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 https://www.weleadours.org.

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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