Category: Arts and Culture

Oakland Steps Out for Faith with a Joyful Noise

The city of Oakland has long been considered the citadel for progressive civil rights and political movements involving activism for racial and social inclusion and equity.

 In response to neighbors’ complaints about the loud sounds of music coming from churches, ministers and churches called for a public demonstration of respect for its churches instead of using the police and fines to punish their congregations.

More than 30 pastors stood in solidarity with Pleasant Grove Baptist Church. They were joined by city and county officials along with the SambaFunk! drummers, church choirs, gospel soloists and Black Arts groups.

True to its radical and revolutionary roots, Oakland is redefining respect for religion. Ministers called for the city to declare itself, to be a sanctuary city for its sanctuaries.

The First Amendment and religious freedom were embraced by a coalition that included the Oakland NAACP, the Post News Group, Baptists, Methodists, Muslims, Mormons, COGICs, AME, Catholics, the Black Arts Movement, Soul of Oakland, Oakland Private Industry Council, Pastors of Oakland, Baptist Ministers Union, Seventh-day Adventists and many others.

The event took place Saturday, Nov. 7 in front of the Pleasant Grove Baptist Church on Adeline Street in West Oakland. It was the response to a city noise complaint against Pleasant Grove that kicked off the current solidarity movement.

Speaking at the event, Amos Brown of the Third Baptist Church in San Francisco said his church has faced similar attempts to silence worship.

He told the crowd that earlier this year “two rogue cops” entered his church one afternoon to tell parishioners to quiet down during a service, where a gumbo band was playing in honor of a church member who had passed away.

But he told the police: “We are going to sing, we are going to shout. We’re going to let nobody tell us to shut up.”

The arts community and the religious community are coming together, said Theo Williams of the SambaFunk! drummers, who performed at the event.

“We came here to stand with you in solidarity,” he said. “This is monumental.”

Said Mayor Libby Schaaf, who spoke after Theo Williams, “This city has some strong roots, and these roots are in our faith community and our arts community.”

“My city has some SambaFunk!,” she said.

City Councilmember and Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan, who is a rabbi, urged people to raise their voice and sing out in praise.

“It is a miracle that we are still here to sing praises,” said Kaplan, referring to the holocausts faced by Black people during the Middle Passage, Jews during World War II and indigenous people in the United States during the Trail of Tears.

“We give thanks that we have survived to this day,” she said. “Let us use this as a force to unite.”

Bishop Joseph Simmons of Greater St. Paul Baptist Church praised church and community members who have spoken up about attacks on the right to worship.

“I want to thank the people who complained because your complaints made us stand up,” he said.

Rev. Ray Williams of Morning Star Baptist Church said people have to stand up to forces that want to push them out of the city.

“We used to steal away to Jesus to worship,” he said. “(But) we aren’t going to steal away anymore. We’re here to take back what gentrification has taken away from us.”

“We need our council members to have the courage to challenge chase bank for reneging on it’s promise to Oakland,” said Post publisher Paul Cobb.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, November 13, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Art Exhibit at Oakland’s Betti Ono Gallery Exposes Realities Migrants Experience in Detention

Visitors to the Betti Ono gallery exhibit "Visions from the Inside" work on a collaborative mural.Photo by Tulio Ospina.     Visitors to the Betti Ono gallery exhibit "Visions from the Inside" work on a collaborative mural.Photo by Tulio Ospina.

Visitors to the Betti Ono gallery exhibit “Visions from the Inside” work on a collaborative mural. Photo by Tulio Ospina.

By Tulio Ospina

The Betti Ono art gallery opened its doors Monday evening to the public for the creation of a mural using images from the “Visions from the Inside” project, depicting the experiences and hardships of undocumented mothers and children held in detention centers in the U.S.

Led by local cultural activist group CultureStrike, exhibition is the collaborative effort between detained migrants at the for-profit Karnes Detention Center in Texas and several artists and activists from across the country, designed to amplify migrants’ stories and show that art can be used as a tool to highlight these issues.

Julio Salgado, project manager and visual artist for CultureStrike.

Julio Salgado, project manager and visual artist for CultureStrike.

“The idea for the project came out of a trip earlier this year we took to the border and met with folks in detention centers,” said Julio Salgado, project manager and visual artist for CultureStrike.

“They mentioned that writing letters was the only way they could communicate with the outside world, since other communication is unavailable or too expensive,” he said.

As a result, the project team collected letters written by detained mothers and children and asked visual artists to illustrate interpretations of the letters, exposing “the realities that migrants are experiencing inside of detention facilities, what led them to migrate away from their home countries, and the resiliency of the human spirit,” according to the project description.

“I am trusting my God who will quickly end this nightmare,” said one of the letters. Another detainee wrote, “We are not a threat for this country, all I want is refuge in this country for my children and for me.”

People and a few of the illustrators crowded into the gallery space on Monday night, water coloring the large square prints of the artists’ illustrations that lay on the floor and then pasting them onto the gallery wall.

In one corner, members of Mujeres Unidas y Activas—a grassroots organization of Latina immigrant women—offered a place where participants could write about their experiences as immigrants.

“As a Black person, I have a lot of solidarity with the migrant struggle and the whole prison system in general and how it tears families apart,” said Francis Mead, a local artist who illustrated one of the panels.

Many people do not know that these detention centers exist and that people profit from them, said Salgado. “People don’t think about what is forcing migrants to come over and how they are held in centers for profit without any due process.”

According to Amanda Irwin of Centro Legal de la Raza, Alameda County and Oakland in particular are among the main destinations of undocumented minors who enter the country without a guardian.

If these young people are picked up at the border, they are immediately placed in detention centers under the oversight of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and held there indefinitely until a relative or acquaintance is located somewhere in the U.S. who is willing to sponsor the child.

If the resettlement office is unable to find a sponsor, the minor could face possible deportation back to the country they had fled.

“These are young people who have experienced extreme violence and for them to come and then be put in a sterile institutional environment is really damaging for young children,” said Irwin.

Currently, there are 618 reported unaccompanied minors living in Alameda County and over 400 are enrolled in the Oakland Unified School District.

The exhibit is on display at the Betti Ono gallery until Sunday, Nov. 1 at 1427 Broadway in Oakland.

For more information on “Visions from the Inside” or to purchase an illustration, visit culturestrike.org.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 30, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Gentrification Threatens Oakland Churches and Artists

Coalition of faith-based, housing and cultural groups join to protect sacred spaces, say speakers at Post Salon

Speakers at the Oct. 25 Post Salon at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle were (L to R): Pastor Thomas Harris, Pleasant Grove Baptist Church; Pastor Phyllis Scott of Tree of Life Empowerment Ministries; Anyka Barber, owner of Betti Ono gallery; Theo Williams, SambaFunk!. and co-moderator Pastor Debra Avery. Photo by Tulio Ospina, First Presbyterian Church. Photo by Tulio Ospina

Speakers at the Oct. 25 Post Salon at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle were (L to R): Pastor Thomas Harris, Pleasant Grove Baptist Church; Pastor Phyllis Scott, Tree of Life Empowerment Ministries; Anyka Barber, owner of Betti Ono gallery; Theo Williams, SambaFunk!; and co-moderator Pastor Debra Avery, First Presbyterian Church. Photo by Tulio Ospina

  By Ken Epstein

Oakland and other Bay Area cities are in the throes of a market-driven surge in evictions and rent increases, as long-term residents, small businesses and nonprofit agencies are being pushed out of their communities at an increasingly feverish pace.

Tensions are reaching a flashpoint in Oakland, where veteran residents are finding that a handful of gentrifiers  – perceived as acting out of a sense of entitlement – are trying to suppress the culture and religious worship that many see as the expression of life and breath.

At the heart of the conflict are two incidents that have become emblematic of the deepening tensions.
One of the incidents occurred in August when a resident called 911 to complain about an evening church choir practice at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in West Oakland, which received a city letter threatening penalties.

The second occurred in September when a resident approached drummers at Lake Merritt, tried to take away their drumsticks and called police to press assault charges against the musicians.

Exacerbating tensions, the city has seemed to side with the complainers – by threatening the church with penalties and filing charges against two of the drummers – though all charges were ultimately dropped this week.

Many residents see a double standard on the part of city agencies, which rarely respond when neighbors complain about a crack house next door or when garbage and other trash are piling up on their block.

These were concerns raised last Sunday, when residents, members of church congregations and cultural workers packed into a space at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle in downtown Oakland for a community discussion led by a panel of religious and arts’ leaders about how to come to grips with the current threat.

“(Our) church has been there over 65 years, and Wednesday night is choir rehearsal,” said Pastor Thomas Harris of Pleasant Grove.

“We were shocked, stunned when we heard that we were a nuisance in the community,” he said.  “We want to embrace change, (but) we also want the community to realize there is a tradition.”

Pastor Harris said he was also surprised by the widespread support his church has been receiving.
“I didn’t know this was going to take off like this,” he said, adding that he has heard from someone in Colorado, who told him, “We can’t hear you – you’re not loud enough.”

“I can’t believe all this is going on,” Pastor Harris said. “ If I’m the instrument to be used to make a change, I’m ready to be used.“

Co-moderator Pastor Debra Avery of the First Presbyterian Church of Oakland emphasized the connections between the churches and cultural expression, saying, “The church and the artists belong together.”

Another speaker, Theo Williams, is head of the drumming group SambaFunk! Funkquarians and co-founder of the Soul of Oakland coalition.

“We are all in this this together – this monster is coming to devour our community and devour our soul, ” he said.   “Just know we are standing with you. It is our job to come together now, not to look at our differences,” he said.

Drumming is rooted in African culture, Williams said, and, “We go to church almost every day of the week (somewhere in the city), and you are saying that it is going to be prohibited and restricted – that is our culture.”

Williams said the city should pass an ordinance to protect its cultural institutions. New residents who are moving next door to churches and cultural spaces should know they are protected by law.

The city should also eliminate policies that penalize or undermine cultural spaces.  “It’s time to look through all the municipal codes,” he said.

Pastor Phyllis Scott of Tree of Life Empowerment Ministries said churches receives complaints because, “We do a major work the city does not do. We feed the hungry, and we have HIV testing.”

Some people are complaining because they don’t want the “flood of homeless people coming into the neighborhood,” because the churches are feeding those who are in need, she said.

Anyka Barber, co-creator of the Oakland Creative Neighborhoods Coalition and owner of the Betti Ono art gallery, explained she was born in Oakland and is committed to fight for the city’s cultural identity.

“It is my responsibility as a native, as a business owner (and) as a mother to step up,” she said. “There is no disconnection between the churches and the cultural workers. Everything I know I learned in church.”

Barber called for the city to reestablish its Cultural Arts Commission, “made up of residents who really represent our interests.”

She criticized the city’s process for creating a downtown development plan. “This planning process is not indicative of the community,” she said. “A lot of people feel like it should be scrapped and start all over. That’s my sense of it.”

Post publisher Paul Cobb, co-moderator of the event, called on the City Council to pass a “Church Pride Day” to acknowledge the churches, “so Oakland can be a sanctuary city for our sanctuaries.”

City development plans should include a “faith-based zone,” where affordable housing can be built around the churches, he said.

“The city needs a master plan for downtown that protects all the nonprofits, community groups and small businesses that are being pushed out because of gentrification,” Cobb said.

He also suggested putting out a national call for people to come to Oakland to hold sit-ins and picket lines at some of some of the city’s hip new restaurants that do not hire Black workers, “to integrate the jobs in these new restaurants in the same manner that we integrated southern lunch counters and restaurants in the 60s.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 30, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

New Biography of Loren Miller, Civil Rights Attorney and Journalist

Loren Miller was one of the nation’s most prominent civil rights attorneys from the 1940s through the early 1960s, particularly in the fields of housing and education.Loren Miller biography

With co-counsel Thurgood Marshall, he argued two landmark civil rights cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, whose decisions effectively abolished racially restrictive housing covenants. One of these cases, Shelley v. Kraemer (1948), is taught in nearly every American law school today.

A new biography by Amina Hassan, “Loren Miller: Civil Rights Attorney and Journalist recovers this remarkable figure from the margins of history and for the first time fully reveals his life for what it was: an extraordinary American story and a critical chapter in the annals of racial justice.

Born the son of a former slave and a white mid-westerner in 1903, Loren Miller lived the quintessential American success story, both by rising from rural poverty to a position of power and influence and by blazing his own path.

In her book, Hassan reveals Miller as a fearless critic of the powerful and an ardent debater whose acid wit was known to burn “holes in the toughest skin and eat right through double-talk, hypocrisy, and posturing.”

As a freshly minted member of the bar who preferred political activism and writing to the law, Miller set out for Los Angeles from Kansas in 1929.

Amina Hassan

Amina Hassan

Hassan describes his early career as a fiery radical journalist, as well as his ownership of the California Eagle, one of the longest- running African American newspapers in the West.

In his work with the California branch of the ACLU, Miller sought to halt the internment of West Coast Japanese citizens, helped integrate the U.S. military and the L.A. Fire Department, and defended Black Muslims arrested in a deadly street battle with the LAPD.

Hassan charts Miller’s ceaseless commitment to improving the lives of Americans regardless of their race or ethnicity. In 1964, Governor Edmund G. Brown appointed Miller as a Municipal Court justice for Los Angeles County.

The story told here in full for the first time is of a true American original who defied societal limitations to reshape the racial and political landscape of twentieth-century America.

Dr. Amina Hassan is an independent historian and award-winning public radio documentarian whose productions include a 13-part series for National Public Radio on how race, class, and gender shape American sports.

Former a member of the staff of radio station KPFA in Berkeley, she currently works as a media content consultant and researcher for the Azara Group.

Courtesy of the Post News Group, Oct. 30, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Community Turns Up the Volume to Defend Residents and Businesses

Activists demand “Development Without Displacement” after mayor’s staff says there is no housing crisis in Oakland

Community members and anti-displacement activists surround city Planning and Building Director Rachel Flynn Oct. 19 at the Downtown Specific Plan design workshop. Photo by Tulio Ospina

Community members and anti-displacement activists surround city Planning and Building Director Rachel Flynn Oct. 19 at the Downtown Specific Plan design workshop. Photo by Tulio Ospina

 By Ashley Chambers and Tulio Ospina

Community members are raising the volume on their demands that the city protect Oaklanders’ rights following a number of noise complaints by a few residents targeting Lake Merritt drummers and Black churches.

A number of creative artists, singers, and community and faith leaders made their voices and musical instruments heard Monday evening at the Rally to Defend Oakland’s Culture, calling on city government to stand up for cultural equity in Oakland.

The rally in front of the Rotunda Building at Frank Ogawa Plaza, organized by the Oakland Creative Neighborhoods Coalition (OCNC), included performances by poets, the Oakland Creative Voices Choir and spoken word by the group Young, Gifted & Black.

Speakers included Robbie Clark of Causa Justa; Chaney Turner of Black Lives Matter, Bay Area chapter; artist and director of CultureStrike, Favianna Rodriguez; Pastor Phyllis Scott, Tree of Life Empowerment Ministries; and Post publisher Paul Cobb.

The speakers loudly defended the freedom of creative and cultural expression, and voiced their concerns that the local arts and culture community has been left out of the city’s planning process on the development of downtown Oakland.

“They can develop, but they are not going to displace us,” said Cobb, speaking at the rally.

“We wanna give the drummer some,” he said. “We want to make sure that our gospel singers don’t have to close their windows, and we want to make sure that our creative artists and our nonprofit organizations have a place to exist in this city to serve the population.”

The protest was held in front of the first of the city’s workshops to inform residents of the Downtown Specific Plan and designed to receive input on the area’s redevelopment, but arts and culture activists are saying they have not been invited to the table.

The workshops were created following a report released by San Francisco Planning & Urban Research (SPUR), funded by the city, that community activists say is a roadmap to gentrification.

According to Eric Arnold, a member of the OCNC steering committee, the SPUR report, titled “Downtown for Everyone,” is “a blueprint for exclusion of people of color and low-income residents, as well as the creative arts community” from downtown Oakland.

The SPUR report also contends that speculative construction in the downtown area is being inhibited by commercial rents that are too low and a lack of big tenants. Critics of the report say nonprofits and small commercial tenants are already being pushed out of downtown area by recent uncontrolled rent increases.

As the rally ended, attendees flowed into the workshop to make sure their opinions were heard throughout the chambers.

“We want cultural equity, affordable housing and anti-displacement protections for the existing residents and commercial sector throughout the city that have made Oakland such a vibrant and desirable place to live,” community members demanded.

OCNC demanded that the city’s Cultural Arts Commission be restored and called for a fully staffed Cultural Arts Department to ensure prioritization for Oakland’s historically underrepresented communities.

They also want to pass ordinances to preserve Oakland’s cultural diversity. Earlier this year, Mayor Libby Schaaf showed support for creating a Black Arts Movement Cultural District down 14th Street in downtown Oakland but has not yet acted on the proposal.

During the workshop on Monday, Rachel Flynn, Director of Planning and Building, was surrounded by activists demanding clarity on a controversial statement she made earlier this month claiming that there was no housing crisis in Oakland.

Faith leaders are also reacting to the city’s support for complaints from a handful of residents who are saying church worship is too loud.

“Our music and the way that we worship God is an expression of our heritage and our creativity,” said Pastor Scott at the Monday night rally. “Nobody should tell us that we have to express our creativity in the way they say so. We need to keep the creative juices flowing through Oakland.”

Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in West Oakland is potentially facing $500-a-day fines from the city. In response, Pastor Thomas Harris of Pleasant Grove is bringing local clergy together for an outdoor worship service on Saturday, Nov. 7 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Adeline St. between 10th and 14th St.

He said it is a time for churches to worship in the streets and invite to neighbors and people of all backgrounds to join in community fellowship.

Defending community voices, Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan spoke at this week’s City Council meeting.

“Psalm 98:4 says make a joyful noise unto the Lord,” she said. “The laws require us to respect freedom of religious practice, and it is certainly my hope that we will do just that.”

According to Theo Williams of the SambaFunk! Funkquarians and journalist Zenophon Abraham, the problem isn’t the complaints but that the city and police are listening to them.

“If the complaint came from a 911 call, then that’s against California Penal Code Section 148.3 on ‘False Reporting of an Emergency,’” said Abraham in a letter to several city officials.

“You specifically allowed a single person to violate (the law) and without action,” he said. “You can’t get by with the idea that someone did not report that the complainer was in violation of the law.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 23, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Is Oakland a “Sanctuary City” for Its Sanctuaries?

Gentrifiers cause the city to use police and fines to punish drummers, churches and creative artists

Drummers of the SambaFunk! Funkquarians perform with members of the public at Lake Merritt in protest. Photo by Tulio Ospina.

Drummers of the SambaFunk! Funkquarians perform with members of the public at Lake Merritt in protest. Photo by Tulio Ospina.

By Ashley Chambers and Tulio Ospina

Black churches in Oakland are being asked to moderate their worship voices after neighbors have made noise complaints to the city about the volume of the gospel that is reaching beyond the church walls.

But these churches are not going to be silent. They are standing together to make a “joyful noise” in the community and demanding that sanctuaries in Oakland be protected.

Pastor Thomas Harris of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church discusses with clergy and Post staff the noise complaints that the church has received from gentrifying neighbors. Photo by Ashley Chambers.

Pastor Thomas Harris of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church discusses with clergy and Post staff the noise complaints
that the church has received from gentrifying
neighbors. Photo by Ashley Chambers.

An unprecedented coalition is coming together between faith-based organizations and arts community activists, such as the Oakland Creative Neighborhoods Coalition and Lake Merritt drummers who are being silenced by Oakland police.

“The institution of the church is one of the foundations of the community,” said Pastor Thomas Harris of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in West Oakland. The church received a formal complaint in August from neighbors about loud noise during their Wednesday night choir rehearsal.

Although the church attempted to talk with the neighbors and addressed their concerns in a formal letter, that conversation never happened, said Harris.

The City of Oakland sent a letter dated August 31, 2015, alerting the church of the noise complaint and citing Oakland’s Noise Ordinance, Municipal Code 8.18.

However, clergy are concerned that this letter came without any sort of city outreach – no warning, personal visit or discussion with the church relating to the matter.

Anyka Barber

Anyka Barber

“This activity may constitute a public nuisance due to its impact to the use and quiet enjoyment of the surrounding community’s property,” the letter read, signed by Greg Minor, Assistant to the City Administrator.

According to the city’s letter, the church would be fined a $3,529 nuisance case fee as well as civil penalties of $500 a day if the city moves forward with a public nuisance abatement case.

“This letter from the city without any notification is a direct assault on the African American community in Oakland, especially West Oakland,” said Rev. Lawrence VanHook, pastor of Community Church in West Oakland.

Rev. Gerald Agee, president of Pastors of Oakland and pastor of Friendship Christian Church, said, “It seems a little disheartening that people would come into a community without first researching to see if there are things within that community that they would not like, (rather) than to come in and try to change the community based on their likes and dislikes.”

Pastor Harris, along with other local clergy, Oakland NAACP President George Holland, and Post Publisher Paul Cobb met this week to discuss how faith leaders in Oakland can respond to the attack on Black churches.

“We need to organize in the streets to make a joyful noise,” said Cobb, who encourages the city to protect houses of worship and to make Oakland into a “sanctuary for sanctuaries.”

“You (gentrifiers) don’t tell us how to worship. We will not be ashamed of the gospel,” he said.

Churches are planning outdoor worship services in coming weeks, connected with a voter registration drive.

Like the city’s Black churches, the arts community is finding itself threatened by a handful of residents who consider their cultural expression to be a nuisance. Cultural centers that are rooted in Oakland’s diverse cultural history – the Malonga Casquelourd Center, the Humanist Hall and the SambaFunk! Funkquarians – have faced criminal charges and expensive fines, following complaints by a few residents.

About 100 people attended a meeting Wednesday evening at the Asian Cultural Center, organized by the Oakland Creative Neighborhoods Coalition, to discuss how to defend cultural expression.

“We are all neighbors in Oakland. We live, we work, we play together here,” said Anyka Barber, a member of the coalition’s steering committee and owner of Betti Ono, a local art gallery.

“The arts and culture community are what make Oakland known worldwide, and this is a critical moment to take action, to be proactive, well-organized and united in our agendas,” said Barber.

Speakers at the meeting emphasized the common interests of Oakland’s churches and the arts community.

“Let’s just say it. The things happening to Black churches in West Oakland are also happening to artists and residents who are predominantly people of color. These are underrepresented communities, and we are aligned, aligned, aligned in our goals,” said Barber.

At the meeting, Post Publisher Cobb called on “artists, the faith-based community and the media to come together and form a Holy Trinity connection.”

Stressing the need to have power at the ballot box, Cobb said, “We can vote artistically minded and faithful leaders into the city government.”

A multicultural drum circle protest last Sunday at Lake Merritt, hosted by the newly formed Soul of Oakland coalition, drew drummers and performers of different backgrounds from around the East Bay to share their cultural sounds.

Councilmember Desley Brooks spoke to the crowd about the importance of raising their voices to demand strong policies to protect residents’ livelihood and cultures.

“First, they came for the Black people in this city, and they pushed them out one by one. In 10 years, we lost about 10,000 Black residents,” said Brooks.

“Then they came and said that artists couldn’t drum at the park,” she said. “They told the churches that they were too loud.”

“Let them hear you,” Brooks said. “Do not let them silence your voices because we are a powerful people, and all of Oakland should hear us.”

In response to questions from the Post, city communications director and Assistant City Administrator Karen Boyd said the West Oakland church has not been listed as a public nuisance.

“We recognize that houses of worship are an intrinsic and vital dimension of Oakland,” said Boyd. “We are working to revise the language in our courtesy notices to reflect our intent to communicate openly with property owners about any complaints we receive so that issues may be resolved.”

Post Publisher Cobb says the City Administrator’s position does not protect the rights of churches.

“The position taken by the City Administrator doesn’t do anything to protect houses of worship that are in jeopardy,” said Cobb. “We must organize to protect houses of worship—we can’t equivocate on the First Amendment.”

The suppression of church and community cultural expression is closely connected to other aspects of gentrification, says community activist and educator Kitty Kelly Epstein.

“Treating the sounds of Oakland residents’ churches and drummers as a public nuisance is related to producing policies that ignore our demands for affordable homes and jobs that will support our ability to continue to live in this city,” she said.

For updates on the “Sancutary4Sanctuaries” Movement, follow Paul Cobb on Twitter @PaulCobbOakland.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 16, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Churches Respond to Noise Complaints Filed Against West Oakland Church

Neighborhoods gear up to protest gentrification with a “joyful noise”

Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in West Oakland

Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in West Oakland

By Post Staff

African American churches in West Oakland are responding to a neighbor’s complaints to police that worshipers at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church are being too loud.

Elder Ron Rosson, a minister at Pleasant Grove, said he has received complaints about the noise from the city and that he is not apologizing.

“We make a joyful noise is what the Bible says,” said Elder Rosson.

Post publisher Paul Cobb spoke about the complaints that Pleasant Grove has been receiving at last week’s City Council meeting, reminding council members that jubilant worshipping and celebration are a vital part of the Black church experience and must not be suppressed.

“Black churches matter. We will not allow gentrifiers to come into our community and tell us how to worship God,” said Cobb.

“People are in pain over the negative economic housing juggernaut. It is white arrogance to presume that we should be your hush harbor,” said Cobb. “The gentrifiers ought to be good neighbors and sing, shout and glorify God together.”

The Post will be organizing outdoor worship services to broadcast the sweet sounds and is inviting housing rights activists, concerned Oakland residents and those who are involved in the Black Lives Matter movement to join him and the Post in attending churches that receive complaints about their loud worshiping.

“We are calling for church in the streets. We need to bring God into the streets of Oakland,” said Cobb. “We will have gospel concerts in the streets and we will have jubilee. And we will invite all these gentrifiers to join us and if they want to be good neighbors.”

Pastor Anthony Jenkins of Taylor Memorial United Methodist Church in West Oakland says his church has not received any formal complaints but stresses that the community needs to hear the message of the church.

“We’re continuing to do what we have been doing, that is getting God’s message and His music beyond the walls of our church,” he said.

On Wednesday Oct. 14, the Oakland Creative Neighborhoods Coalition will be hosting a public community meeting to address the effects of displacement on Oakland’s diverse cultures and to discuss community solutions to deal with city and police response to newcomers’ complaints.

The meeting will be held at the Asian Cultural Center located at 388 9th St. #290 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Oakland residents are seeking to organize in the wake of an incident at Lake Merritt last week when a white man assaulted a group of Black and Latino drummers from the SambaFunk! Funkquarians and then called the police on them for playing too loudly.

As a result, the drummers were detained by police for several hours while the man was allowed to walk away from the scene. One of the drummers eventually pressed charges against the man for assault.

Earlier this week, Facebook was full of photos of signs at Lake Merritt with a list of rules, including one that prohibits “musical instrument without permit.” The signs angered embattled longtime residents, who have enjoyed expressing themselves by the lake for years.

According to Councilmember Abel Guillen, in whose district the incident with the drummers occurred, the signs are between five to 11 years old and were mistakenly not removed after city regulations were revised.

“Bottom line, there is no prohibition against music while the parks are open “dawn until dusk,” including the unamplified drumming that has been the subject of recent conversations. A permit is required for amplified sound,” said Guillen in a press release.

On Thursday, a number of community members reported seeing the park signs being removed from around the lake following the confusion.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 10, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Racially Profiled, Drummers Make Noise about Gentrification in Oakland

The SambaFunk! Funkquarians led the drum circle protest with over a hundred drummers in front of City Hall on Monday. Photo by Tulio Ospina.

The SambaFunk! Funkquarians led the drum circle protest with over a hundred drummers in front of City Hall on Monday. Photo by Tulio Ospina.

By Tulio Ospina

Over one hundred people, most of them drummers, gathered in front of City Hall Monday evening to bring attention to what longtime Oaklanders feel is an increase in tensions between longtime residents and the influx of newcomers to the city.

The drum circle protest was catalyzed by an incident at the new amphitheater around Lake Merritt on Sunday night when a white man assaulted a circle of Black and Latino drummers from the SambaFunk! Funkquarians for playing their drums and then called the police on the musicians.

The man pressed charges against several of the drummers for assault and the group was forced to stay put for hours as about 13 police officers wrote mandatory reports and cited the members who were charged, while the man was free to leave after pressing charges.

Eventually, one of the drummers pressed charges against the man for assault, as well, claiming the man had grabbed his drumsticks from his hand to force him to stop playing.

For a number of community members, the conflict between the drummers and the upset neighbor, with the police siding against the locals, exemplifies the type of interactions longtime residents are loathing as the city is quickly being gentrified by many who are unfamiliar with and unsympathetic to Oakland’s deep, cultural traditions.

According to Theo Williams, artistic director of the SambaFunk! Funkquarians who ultimately pressed charges against the disrupter, “All of this is really under the sweeping umbrella of gentrification. It’s new people—not from Oakland—moving into a cultural environment, not understanding it and trying to change the nature of it.”

Williams said the drummers on Sunday night were not practicing past curfew and not doing anything illegal.

“The main issue is how the police respond when they’re called out and see a group of people of color and a non-person of color making accusations and claims against them,” said Williams. “Are the police responding in a fair and unbiased way until they can figure out what’s really going on?”

On Monday in front of City Hall, Councilmember Abel Guillen, whose district the incident occurred in, approached the group of drummers and assured them he would try to find solutions and “resolve issues with all impacted and to have this conversation with OPD.”

Guillen also mentioned his commitment to reviving the Oakland Arts Commission—which was defunded under Mayor Ron Dellums in 2008—to “make sure that the arts community has a seat at the table” and to “deal with these issues.”

In a Facebook post he wrote after hearing about the altercation, Guillen said the incident felt like a red flag that brought attention to “the broader social backdrop of the stress, insecurity and outrage we see reflected in public reactions against police actions, the escalating housing crisis, and the conflicts over cultural displacement in our diverse neighborhoods…”

Eric Arnold, spokesperson for the Oakland Creative Neighborhoods Coalition (OCNC), said an arts commission is greatly needed “to advocate for community artists and help them navigate the maze of bureaucracy we’re dealing with in city government.”

According to Arnold, such a commission would need to ensure cultural equity in Oakland by prioritizing local artists and historically underrepresented communities in allocations and funding.

“Ideally, this would be a community-oriented process of cultural development that helps uplift and build healthy communities,” he said. “It should do things like generate and analyze data around equity and inequality so we can project it onto the arts segment and creative ecosystem of Oakland.”

Monday’s drum circle protesting the effects of gentrification on Oakland’s diverse culture went hand-in-hand with a special hearing that City Council held on Wednesday night to discuss a roadmap to promote housing equity in Oakland.

At the meeting, councilmembers heard the testimonies of several Oakland residents who have experienced similar interactions with new residents that they feel are aggressive and disrespectful of the city’s cultural history.

Community centers such as the Malonga Casquelourd Center and the Humanist Hall, which have provided performance and gathering space to Oakland’s diverse residents for decades, have been forced to respond to the few neighbors who repeatedly file noise complaints.

During the city council hearing, a representative of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in West Oakland, a predominantly Black church, testified that police have repeatedly been called to handle noise levels during their services.

Paul Cobb, publisher of the Post, also expressed his concern, reminding councilmembers that worshiping and celebration in the Black community often generates a “joyful noise” that cannot be suppressed.

Cobb is inviting housing rights activists and those participating in the Black Lives Matter movement to join the Post in attending the churches that have received complaints for their loud worship services.

“The intention is to show support and to make a joyful noise for the community,” said Cobb. “When we’re talking about Black lives, it’s good to remember that Black noise matters, too.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 4, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Richard Linyard, 23, Is Remembered for Message of Unity

 

Richard Linyard

Richard Linyard

By Jaron Epstein

Richard Linyard, known as a leader amongst his peers and conscious rapper under the name “Afrikan Richie,” died on July 19. He was 23 years old.

Growing up in Oakland, he was a devoted son and brother, making sure his mother and brother were always taken care of. Wherever you saw Richard, his younger brother was never too far behind him.

He is remembered as a young man that always took the high road to avoid altercations.

Richard was always into music. He started writing raps about 15 years ago reflecting his personal experiences.

One of his songs, “For the People,” reflected on the challenges faced by Black people, the assassination of Black leaders and other tactics that were used to dismantle the Black movement.

The musical message he shared with young people was, everybody hustles in his or her own way but don’t just hustle for material things.

Richard had a strong sense of self and pride in being a Black man. He was full of love and compassion for all people and touched many lives.

He will be remembered for standing up and speaking out for young people and spreading a message of unity amongst all oppressed people.

A GoFundMe page created by a cousin of Richard’s  at www.gofundme.com/zsv984, remembers him as “a bright young man who was always there to help someone in need.”

Donations will assist with burial funds.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, August 9, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Oakland Awards Nearly $1 Million in Public Arts Grants

Developers Sue City Over 1 Percent Arts Requirement

 

The Alice Street Mural located at 14th and Alice streets, painted by the Community Rejuvenation Project and a usual recipient of the Oakland Cultural Funding Program grant, features former Post News Group Editor Chauncey Bailey (second figure on the right). Photo courtesy of Oakland Wiki.

The Alice Street Mural located at 14th and Alice streets, painted by the Community Rejuvenation Project and a usual recipient of the Oakland Cultural Funding Program grant, features former Post News Group Editor Chauncey Bailey (second figure from right). Photo courtesy of Oakland Wiki.

By Tulio Ospina

Last week, members of the Funding Advisory Committee (FAC) voted on their recommendations for the allocation of $955,000 in city funding to provide grants for individual artists and arts organizations in Oakland.

Nearly 50 Oakland artists and organizations attended the Grant Recommendation Meeting of the FAC, a volunteer advisory board that makes funding recommendations for the Oakland Cultural Funding Program.

The nearly $1 million allocated to providing arts grants are part of the fiscal year budget that was approved by City Council in June.

In response to a growing applicant pool and in an effort to fund more artists this year, the city’s award amounts were reduced by up to 31% per applicant.

FAC recommended awards to 81 artists and organizations, including Eastside Arts Alliance, the Oakland East Bay Symphony and the Community Rejuvenation Project. The recommendations will be forwarded to the Life Enrichment Committee and then to the City Council in October for final approval.

These grants support a wide range of Oakland-based artists and nonprofit organizations that provide arts and cultural services in Oakland such as painting the city’s neighborhoods with public murals, funding music and arts festivals and supporting arts education in public schools through residency programs.

According to Denise Pate-Pearson, Cultural Funding Program coordinator, the Oakland Cultural Funding Program received the most funding this year since the recession in 2012.

Conway Jones, who served as Chairman of the Oakland Arts Council, is proud to see Oakland continuing its devotion to being a city of the arts.

“What makes Oakland special is that everywhere you look there’s some form of artistic expression,” said Jones. “Art is the indication of an active mind, but local art is a sign of an interactive community.”

Meanwhile, a group of regional developers have sued the City of Oakland over a city requirement that they must allocate 1 percent of their development project costs to public arts projects.

When Oakland passed this requirement back in December it was joining the ranks of hundreds of cities across the nation that have similar public arts requirements—including San Francisco, Napa and Emeryville.

The group of developers claims the requirement violates their First Amendment right by requiring them to fund somebody else’s expression.

Under the city’s ordinance, however, developers have full control over their selection of artist or organization that they wish to donate to.

According to Bruce Beasley, Oakland’s renowned sculpture artist and supporter of the city’s public arts grant program, the lawsuit is highly offensive to Oakland and unlikely to have much clout.

“If this (ordinance) is found unconstitutional, then there’s a whole bunch of other programs that are going to come crashing down with it,” said Beasley. “The same would happen to requiring street lighting additions and with allotments for affordable housing.”

Those already critical of gentrifying developers altering Oakland’s landscape have become angered over the developers’ unwillingness to contribute positive elements to the communities they are entering.

Yet as the Oakland Cultural Funding Program’s existence shows, the city is showing interest in supporting artists and arts organizations that will benefit residents and visitors alike.

“I’m happy to see Oakland continue having an active and viable arts community,” said Beasley. “All my life I’ve heard Oakland has the highest number of artists per capita of any city in the world and I believe that more today.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, August 5, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)