Category: Community

Councilmembers Back $3,000 a Month Apartment Tower Project, Opposed by Eastlake Neighbors

Rendering of Lake Merritt Boulevard Apartments, courtesy of UrbanCore.

Rendering of Lake Merritt Boulevard Apartments, courtesy of UrbanCore.

By Ken Epstein

The City Council’s Community and Economic Development (CED) committee voted unanimously this week to approve the sale of public land on East 12th Street across the roadway from Lake Merritt to a development company that wants to build a 24-story, 298-unit luxury apartment tower with rents that will go for about $3,000 a month.

Michael Johnson  of Urban Core Development. Photo by Ken Epstein

Michael Johnson of Urban Core Development. Photo by Ken Epstein

Emphasizing the need for market rate as well as affordable housing and throwing in a number of community benefits, Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan, Larry Reid, Lynette Gibson McElhaney and Annie Campbell Washington approved the project and forwarded the full council for a decision.

Also speaking at the meeting was Councilmember Abel Guillen, who backed the project, explaining that he was working with the developer to add more community benefits.

Guillen also urged councilmembers to seek a new appraisal, saying that the city’s $5.1 million asking price seemed to be too low. Committee members rejected the proposal for a new appraisal, citing the need to move ahead quickly and said they felt the city had more or less made a commitment on price to developer Michael Johnson and his company Urban Core Developers.

Abel Guillen

Abel Guillen

Those opposed to the project include a neighborhood group called East Lake United for Justice, local residents who are urging the city to reject the sale of the parcel. They do not oppose market-rate housing, but, they say, it should be built on private land and not by selling a piece of land that was created by a public project at public expense.

“If the city is going to build on public land (created) with taxpayer dollars, we need it to go for affordable housing. This is “not the kind of project we need here in Oakland,” said Michael Flynn of East Lake United for Justice.

 “We don’t believe that building market rate housing is going to stabilize the housing situation,” he said. Instead, “it’s going to drive people out (of the city).”

Adding urgency to the issues raised by residents is the example of San Francisco where the torrent of market rate construction has not led to more affordable housing but instead to the almost complete elimination of the African American population and now seems to be leading to pushing out Latino residents of the Mission District.

Guillen told his follow council members that the city has to consider all the housing needs “not just those of the very poor or the very rich.”

“We have to look at the big picture – new comers end up competing with long time residents for existing housing,” he said. “Building market rate housing will end up easing not exacerbating” rents for existing lower cost rental units.

“I do have concerns about the $5.1 million appraisal,” Guillen continued. “It appears the land value should be about 25 percent higher at a minimum, an additional one million dollars or so to the city.”

He said he has worked with Urban Core to provide $300,000 in community benefits, including maintenance and other improvements to the Lake Merritt area and Children’s Fairyland.

“We have moved forward to create an iconically designed project for this city. We have found a capital partner. We have worked with (Councilmember) Guillen to expand the community benefits for the project,” said Johnson of Urban Core.

Councilmembers said they wanted to use 25 percent of the selling price to build affordable housing and another 25 percent to maintain the newly upgraded Lake Merritt area, which has lost most of its gardening and maintenance staff and is danger of deteriorating.

A number of speakers in favor of the project emphasized that there is a great unmet need for market-rate housing in Oakland. Several speakers also stressed that developers and investors around the country are closely monitoring this project to see whether city officials are serious about promoting development.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 16, 2015 (





Hundreds Defend ‘Afrika Town’ Community Garden

The Afrika Town community garden and mural are located at 23rd Street and San Pablo Avenue in West Oakland. Photo by Rasheed Shabazz.

The Afrika Town community garden and mural are located at 23rd Street and San Pablo Avenue in West Oakland. Photo by Rasheed Shabazz.

By Rasheed Shabazz

rasheed-headshotOver 300 community members in support of a community garden in West Oakland recently participated in a performance event to protect the garden from destruction.

The “Afrika Town” Garden sits on a lot on San Pablo Ave., at 23rd and Brush streets in West Oakland, just blocks from the “Uptown” district in downtown Oakland.

A year ago, the vacant lot reeked of urine and was littered with trash and syringes. Today, more than a dozen garden beds filled with fruits and vegetables provide fresh food to anyone who asks within an impoverished food desert.

On April 3, a day billed as ‘Liberation Day,’ the Afrika Town garden lot featured live poetry and musical performances, a “Know Your Rights” workshop by Oakland’s Copwatch, and a children’s jumper. Hundreds attended throughout the day in solidarity with the vision for an Afrika Town in Oakland.

Last fall, volunteers at Qilombo–a social center adjacent to the lot–cleaned up the lot and collaborated with Planting Justice and college students to plant vegetables to feed the community.

Back in February, organizers painted blocks on the sidewalk red, black and green, and hoisted banners on San Pablo Ave. that read, “Karibu, Afrika Town,” Swahili for welcome. Afrika, spelled with a k, is also a Swahili term.

On March 7, hundreds came to the garden and painted a large “Afrika Town” mural on the side of Qilombo’s building. It features Black Panthers, Kwame Nkrumah, and other artwork inspired by the liberation movement. The colorful mural not only attracted the approving eye of residents, activists say, but also the attention of developers.

On March 26, the current property owner, Noel Yi, along with his realtor Gary Robinson, came with Oakland Police and demolition equipment with an intent to destroy the garden. Afrika Town volunteers stood between bulldozers and the lot’s fence to prevent the uprooting of the garden.

After negotiations, the owner agreed to give volunteers one week to dig up the beds before the bulldozers would return.

Instead of removing the fruits and vegetables, lead volunteer Linda Grant and others organized to defend the garden.

“We want this to be a resource for the community,” said Danae Martinez, a community college professor of African American Studies at Laney and Merritt Colleges. Her students helped plant the garden and paint the mural. “We want it to be for Black people and about Black people.”

The garden is just a seed for Afrika Town, envisioned as an autonomous zone for Black people.

“A lot of other races and cultures have a designated space, like Chinatown, or Fruitvale, or Hills for the White folks,” said Emani Alyce, a volunteer at Qilombo. “Afrika Town is a space where Black folks can come and feel comfortable with.”

After lobbying from activists and supporters, and a call from Oakland City Councilwoman Lynette Gibson, Yi and Robinson agreed to work with Afrika Town’s gardeners.

Despite the small victory, volunteers are still concerned with gentrification, particularly the West Oakland Specific Plan. Abiola said, “We had a small victory today. It’s nowhere near over.”

Courtesy of the Post News Group, April 16, 2015 (

Opinion: Oakland Needs Office of Race and Equity

“Allow ourselves to become comfortable with being uncomfortable”

 By Desley Brooks

It is widely known now that I have called for an office of Race and Equity to be established in the City of Oakland. Voices have risen up across our entire city from residents, community

Desley Brooks

Desley Brooks

organizations, agencies, and other elected officials discussing the need for such an office in our city.

The most resounding voice on the issue is in absolute agreement of a need for an office of Race and Equity. However there are other opinions as well ranging from moderate consideration, outright disagreement, as well as those who are undecided.

Race is a subject that we handle very interestingly in America. It impacts so much of the atmosphere in the worlds of business, politics, education, and family life, whether we admit it or not.

Yet we are largely uncomfortable having meaningful discourse around this thing that is so prevalent in our day-to-day lives. Because we are uncomfortable talking about race, many of us tend to pick a side on an issue concerning race and just stand on that square, unwilling to really hear the perspective of others.

If we are going to address racial inequalities in our city, we are going to have to get comfortable being uncomfortable.

We are going to have to be willing to respectfully listen to the opinions and ideas of others that may not always sit well with us or even stir up emotions of fear, anger, and guilt.

Racial equity is not an issue of politics – it is an issue of humanity that can be addressed through a political process.

I obviously believe in the need for such an office in our city, but I’m not asking anyone to blindly join this cause or agree with me automatically.

I invite all of us to explore the facts and consider the climate in our city as it relates to race and equity in Oakland.

My hope is that we all will allow ourselves to be comfortable being uncomfortable and asking ourselves questions and reflecting personally on our experiences and beliefs relating to race and racism.

Desley Brooks is a member of the Oakland City Council, representing District 6.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 11, 2015 (

Unless Last-ditch Efforts Succeed, Doctors Hospital to Begin Closing in April


Doctors Medical Center

By Post Staff

Despite pleas from the public and staff at Doctor’s Medical Center in San Pablo, the doors to the hospital that houses West Contra Costa County’s only emergency room are scheduled to begin closing on April 21.

The West Contra Costa Healthcare District board voted March 26 to shutter the hospital but will wait until April 21 to give those interested in saving the hospital time to review a last-ditch proposal by a group that specializes in saving hospitals.

Residents and interested others packed the boardroom and expressed frustration and outrage that the board would close the hospital.

“It’s a shame,” said a man who didn’t want to be identified. “This hospital is very important to this community.”

The hospital averages 100 to 115 people in the emergency room a day. It stopped taking ambulance traffic in September 2014, and emergency room traffic dropped to about 50 a day – but those numbers have increased and people began coming back, according to records.

Doctor’s Medical Center has the region´s only cardiac unit, cancer center, diabetes-wound care, and sleep lab program. With the hospital closure those departments will be gone.

Some at the board meeting voiced frustration, saying that if the hospital could remain open until January, it might be saved by an influx of cash from Chevron’s Richmond refinery. T

The refinery has pledged about $15 million to the hospital – about $5 million for three years – as it revamps the refinery, but payments the payments do not begin until the work begins in January.

And, it is likely that when the hospital goes, the doctors’ offices that surround the hospital will go, too. And with the closure, about 700 employees, some of the highest paid jobs in area, will lose their jobs.

The hospital’s financial problems, which officials blame mostly on low reimbursement rates for Medi-Cal and Medicare patients, began in the 1990s. Those patients account for about 80 percent of the hospital’s total patients.

Another 20 percent are uninsured and commercial patients.

Doctor’s originally opened as Brookside Hospital in 1954.

When the hospital contracted with Tenet Health Systems in 1997, the agreement lasted just seven years before Tenet pulled out in 2004. Voters approved a $52-a-year parcel tax in 2004 and raised $5.6 million a year, but it wasn’t enough to stop the operating losses.

Then in 2006, the district filed for bankruptcy protection. When the hospital emerged from bankruptcy, its managers tried other ways to save the hospital to no avail.

The state and even other health care companies provided cash and received funds from the advance payments of the parcel tax. Even a second parcel tax in 2011, which raised about $5.1 million a year, didn’t help.

The hospital still fell into an $18 million a year deficit.

Courtesy of the Post News Group, April 5, 2015 (


Teachers, Parents and Students March for Better Schools

Speakers called for higher wages and better schools at a San Antonio Park rally on Tuesday. Photo by Ken Epstein

Speakers called for higher wages and better schools at a San Antonio Park rally on Tuesday. Photo by Ken Epstein


By Ken Epstein

Several hundred students, parents and teachers held a rally and marched through the streets of East Oakland this week to demonstrate their solidarity with the teachers’ union in its contract negotiations with the school district and to demand better public schools for students in the city.

The rally at San Antonio Park and march to the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) headquarters at 1000 Broadway was held on Tuesday, when the district was closed for Cesar Chavez Day.

“This is just the beginning,” said science teacher Natalia Cooper, speaking at the rally.

“The OEA (Oakland Education Association) should be in the forefront of the changes in Oakland schools,” said Cooper, a member of Classroom Struggle, a group of educators from different schools in the teachers’ union.

Federico Chazez spoke at the rally.

Federico Chazez spoke at the rally.

It’s time to be “honest about the disparities between hills schools and flatlands schools,” she continued.

Kim Davis of Oakland Parents United called for higher teacher pay.

“OUSD needs to make teacher retention their first priority by compensating teachers fairly and giving them the support and respect they deserve,” she said.

“I want the district and the school board members to know that parents are paying attention. We are getting educated, and we support our teachers.”

Event organizers released a statement that focused on a number of their key issues: poor working conditions for teachers and school staff, which lead to high teacher turnover every year: opposition to the growth of charters schools – the need to keep schools public; the lack of hard caps for special education caseloads, which allows for “ballooning” classes in special education classrooms and “unmanageable caseloads” for counselors.

Other major issues: a “top-heavy budget that prioritizes high-level administrators far above the needs of Oakland’s classrooms; and spends more money for school police rather than for counselors and restorative justice programs.”

“Public schools are supposed to be run by the people – through their elected school board. You have to stay on the school board so they do what you want them to do,” said local attorney Federico Chavez, who is Cesar Chavez’s nephew.

“We’re here because we love our children,” said attorney Dan Siegel, who is a former member of the Oakland Board of Education.

“We have to demand that our teachers are paid what they’re worth. A teacher starts at barely $35,000 a year,” said Siegel, who urged people to vote next year to replace board members that do not represent them.

In response to the march, the school district released a statement Tuesday on teacher negotiations.

“We fully appreciate the inspiration for (this) march, especially the outpouring of support for our teachers from parents and students,” the statement said.

“We are 100 percent committed to our on-going negotiations at the bargaining table with the Oakland Education Association (OEA), the union representing all teachers in OUSD-run schools,” according to the statement. “The negotiations began long before Supt. Wilson joined the district on July 1, 2014, though it was not until his arrival that a solid pay increase and proposal package were offered.”

For the complete OUSD statement, go to

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 3, 2015 (

City Council Votes to Protect Businesses in the Path of Coliseum City Project

By Ken Epstein

The City Council voted Tuesday to keep residential development out of the Oakland Airport Business Park, passing the Coliseum Area Specific Plan without the the zoning amendments that would allow market-rate condominiums and apartments to be built in the area.

Dexter Vizinau

Dexter Vizinau

Councilmembers overwhelmingly passed the community-backed motion to preserve the 150 businesses and 8,000 jobs that would have likely have been displaced over time.

Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan said she had heard community members’ concerns that the specific plan could eliminate the business park and that she was backing changes that would protect local businesses and jobs.

“I offered the amendment to remove housing from the (business park) zoning that is before us,” Kaplan said. “I have verified that the development team is fine with the change.”

Backing the amendments to the amendments to the plan developed by staff and consultants, Councilmember Desley Brooks said, “It’s important that we retain industrial land in this city. Loss of jobs happens when industrial lands go away.”

Businessman Dexter Vizinau spoke in favor of the change. “ It’s great to see this project moving forward. It’s about business retention, business expansion and business attraction,” he said.

“Not every kid wants to sell popcorn, clean a bathroom or punch a cash register. We want to make things. We want to build things.”

Rev. Damita Davis-Howard

Rev. Damita Davis-Howard

Also speaking at the meeting were representatives of a coalition of East Oakland residents who are determined that any “New City¨ Coliseum agreement that the council signs with a developer must contain iron-clad community benefits.

Among the groups in the coalition are Oakland Community Organizations (OCO), Just Cause/Causa Justa, East Bay Housing Organizations (EBHO) and Communities for a Better Environment (CBE)

Residents are deeply concerned about avoiding higher rents, providing decent jobs for workers in East Oakland and affordable housing for people who earn less than $50,000 a year.

“The threat of displacement of thousands of residents has not been addressed adequately,” said Rev. Damita Davis-Howard of OCO.

“We need to develop strategies now that will protect residents 10 years from now,” she said. “The project should protect and invest in the exiting culture of our city.”

The city currently has an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement (ENA) with a development team that is working on funding and talking to the Raiders and the A’s.

The ENA expires in August but could be extended.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 3, 2015 (

UC Berkeley Black Students Face “State of Emergency”

The Black Student Union led a blockade of a UC Berkeley campus cafe on Dec. 4 in solidarity with the nationwide Black Lives Matters movement. Photo by Rasheed Shabazz

The Black Student Union led a blockade of a UC Berkeley campus cafe on Dec. 4 in solidarity with the nationwide Black Lives Matters movement. Photo by Rasheed Shabazz

By Rasheed Shabazz

Rasheed-Haas-headshotBlack students at UC Berkeley, saying they are facing isolation, alienation and oppression, are demanding the university’s administrators implement major changes to address the hostile campus climate at the nation’s most prestigious public university.

Following years of dwindling Black enrollment numbers and multiple surveys suggesting Black students are subject to racism on campus, the Black Student Union released a list of demands to Chancellor Nick Dirks.

“Black students, staff, and faculty on UC Berkeley’s campus are in a state of emergency requiring immediate attention,” said Gabrielle Shuman, co-chair of political affairs for the Black Student Union (BSU).

Black student leaders first met with Chancellor Dirks and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Claude Steele to demand changes on Feb. 13.

The demands include the creation of a resource center, increased staffing for recruitment and retention of Black students, two Black psychologists, advisors for Black student athletes and recruitment of more Black graduate students and faculty.

Students have demanded the creation of a resource center named after Mississippi human rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer. The symbolic demand that received the most media attention is the renaming of Barrows Hall after former political prisoner Assata Shakur, currently living in exile in Cuba.

Admissions and enrollment of Black undergraduate and graduate students at UC Berkeley is abysmal. Currently, a little more than three percent of UC Berkeley students are Black.

The BSU has called for the hiring of staff in the admissions office to recruit Black students, as well as doubling the budget for the Getting into Graduate School (GIGS) program, a program to increase enrollment of underrepresented groups.

The few Black students attending the campus report the highest levels of disrespect, stereotypes and an anti-Black campus climate, according to multiple surveys. Black staff and faculty also report similar disrespect.

Nearly half of Black students have reported being disrespected due to their race, according to the surveys.

After a cardboard effigy was found hanged at Sather Gate before a December Black Lives Matter protest, Chancellor Dirks first pledged to work with Black students.

An anonymous queer, Black and people of color collective later took credit for the political artwork. For many Black students, the incident echoed a 2012 incident when a fraternity’s Halloween display included the mock lynching of a zombie.

In a response to student demands, Dirks said the treatment that Black students report is deplorable.

“Too many students have told us about being excluded from study groups, ignored during class discussions, verbally harassed at parties and social events, and feeling, in a general sense, vulnerable, isolated, and invisible,” Dirks said in a letter to the BSU following a trip to Asia. “This is something we deplore.”

Chancellor Dirks said he plans to develop “a major campus initiative” to increase Black staff, faculty and student numbers, but students are skeptical.

“Black people have been oppressed by this university since its creation,” student government candidate Alana Banks, an Oakland native and BSU member and current. “The fact that we have to come up with demands for long-overdue support, to us, is a testament of our condition,” she said.

Students later met with Steele and Gibor Basri, vice-chancellor of equity and inclusion, on March 6, according to the BSU, but he did not respond before their deadline. When Dirks did, BSU said he did not address each of their demands, including the call to rename Barrows Hall.

In December, the BSU blockaded a campus café for four-and-a-half hours after the non-indictment of the police officers who killed Eric Garner and Michael Brown.

Black students have also been active in the recent “Black Brunch” protests in Oakland and Berkeley and hint the possibility of direct action if their demands are not met.

“We will persevere until Black students get what we need and deserve,” said Shuman.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 3, 2015 (


State of Black Oakland (SOBO) Holds “People’s Assembly”

State of Black Oakland, March 28. Photo by Rasheed Shabazz.

State of Black Oakland, March 28. Photo by Rasheed Shabazz.

By Rasheed Shabazz

Hundreds of Black activists, educators, entrepreneurs, healers and artists convened last weekend for “a People’s Assembly” to discuss and strategize solutions to improve life for Black Oakland.

The enthusiastic daylong “State of Black Oakland (SOBO) gathering was held Saturday, March 28 at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle in downtown Oakland.

The assembly was a “listening space” where a coalition of Black-led organizations called on attendees to discuss what needs to be done to improve the lives of f Black people in the city.

Over a quarter of Oakland’s Black population left the city since 2000. Organizers wanted to bring Black people together to build on Oakland’s unique contributions to the Black Power Movement.

“It’s really important to remember that Oakland was the epicenter of the Black Power Movement on the West Coast,” said Liz Derias, co-convener of SOBO and an organizer of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement.

One of the discussion circles at the State of Black Oakland, which was held at Geoffrey's Inner Circle on March 28. Ovr 500 peeople attended the day, according to event organizers, to discussion solutins to the challenges facing Black residents of Oakland. Photo by Rasheed Shabazz.

One of the discussion circles at the State of Black Oakland, which was held at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle on March 28. Over 500 peeople attended the day, according to event organizers, to discuss solutions to the challenges facing Black residents of Oakland. Photo by Rasheed Shabazz.

The legacy of the Black Panther Party and other Black “do-for-self” organizations was evoked throughout the day.

“We say Black Lives Matter, but we have to have some Black Power to enforce it,” said Community Ready Corps (CRC) Founder Tur-Ha Ak. The assembly focused on CRC’s Nine Areas of Self-Determination: economics, politics, education, health, family, media, art, traditions and ways, and self-defense.

The common thread between all of the areas was Black self-determination.

During three facilitated sessions, attendees joined smaller discussion-circles to talk about solutions in the nine areas. Within the circles, participants discussed their experience within that area and explained what “self-determination” looked like within that context, and shared potential solutions.

In the area of economics, attendees talked about past and possible solutions, such as a Black business listing, food and housing cooperatives, changes in Black consumer spending and workforce training for the tech economy.

The media session, facilitated by Cat Brooks, co-chair of the ONYX Organizing Committee, discussed the need to challenge negative images of Black people in media and the need for Black ownership of media outlets and cultural spaces.

The self-defense session focused on broadening the notion of what self-defense means. “Self-defense is not only individual or physical, but it is collective and connects to all the other areas”, Ak said.

Participants discussed the need for Black people to protect themselves from what CRC defines as “primary predators”  – white supremacy – and “secondary perpetrators” – so-called ‘Black-on-Black crime’.

Organizers noted that this first “State of Black Oakland” builds on a history of collective convening of Black people in the Bay Area to assess the status of Black folk.

During the 1970s, annual “State of the Race” conferences regularly convened in the Bay Area following the 1974 Pan-African Congress in Tanzania.

Reflecting on SOBO, Oba T’Shaka, professor emeritus of Africana Studies at San Francisco State University, said, “It’s very positive. It builds on the Black Lives Matters Movement and is pulling in people from different walks of life.” He added, “The democratic way has been consistent with our culture.”

Organizers see this assembly as part of a process to develop a Black “People’s Agenda.” Event organizers did street outreach in the weeks ahead of the event to get input from Oakland residents. The plan is to host two more assemblies this summer, in West Oakland and East Oakland, analyze the information within the nine areas, and develop an agenda.

SOBO was organized by a coalition of organizations, including Eastside Arts Alliance, Black Organizing Project, All-African People’s Revolutionary Party, African American Studies at Merritt College, Onyx Organizing Committee, the Community Ready Corps, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and Race for the Times.

For more information about SOBO, visit or email

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 3, 2015 (

Latino Students Are “Overlooked and Poorly Represented” in Oakland Unified

By Jorge Lerma

Latinos are not getting fair representation.

Latinos make up 41 percent of Oakland’s student population and are still overlooked and poorly represented in the policy and decision-making apparatus of the Oakland Unified School District.(OUSD).

Jorge Lerma

Jorge Lerma

OUSD is a multicultural, multiracial and multilingual urban blend of students of whom most are poor, of color and immigrants. The largest single ethnic group, to the surprise of many, is the Latino and Mexican-American population.

Because the system often lacks the knowledge, sensitivity and awareness of the differences in the Latino community, it routinely categorizes all Spanish surnamed Latinos as either English Language Learners or as immigrants. T

This completely ignores the large, multigenerational and historic presence of not exclusively, but predominantly, Mexican Americans who, like Native Americans, share a common history of not being immigrants but being an indigenous people.

Mexicans have had a presence in the United States, particularly in the American Southwest, since before this area became part of the United States with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. Since this time, the citizenship and ability to exercise their rights as such has been an uphill battle.

Despite this long presence in society, Mexican-American students, families and the community continue to be disenfranchised. They are poorly represented in all areas within the OUSD, including teachers, administrators and classified workforce.

We in the Mexican-American community consider this widespread underrepresentation to be a contributing factor that directly correlates with the violence and physical mistreatment Latinos are receiving at the hands of the school site security officers of the Oakland Unified schools.

The gross underrepresentation, coupled with little to no cultural competence, is only compounded by the lack of sensitivity to the needs of special-needs students. This has been demonstrated in the events that have recently been at the forefront of the media.

The new Oakland Unified School District leadership must break from its biased past and begin to work with the Latino community to ensure a better, safer learning environment for Latinos and other students of color.

Brown lives matter, too. Let’s be a district that embraces and responds to the needs of our new urban blend and the realities of our district. It is time to discard the black-and-white paradigm used to define our discussions on inclusion and equality.

Our world is ever changing and evolving, it is multicolored, multilingual and multicultural. Our urban school districts must also evolve to better serve the needs of this population.

Jorge Lerma is a lifelong educator and member of the Educational Coalition for Hispanics in Oakland (ECHO) and Latino Education Network (LEN).

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, March 30, 2015 (

Support Grows for City of Oakland Department to Address Racial Inequality

By Ashley Chambers

A number of community leaders are speaking out in support of a new city department designed to decrease inequities and racial barriers in city policies and operations, such as housing, development contracts, employment, and education.

Desley Brooks

Desley Brooks

The proposal to create a Department of Race and Equity in the City of Oakland, developed and led by Councilwoman Desley Brooks and supported by several councilmembers, seeks t address some of the main issues are frequently being raised by Oakland residents: gentrification and the lack of affordable housing, jobs at city-funded projects and access to city contacts, environmental and air quality, as well as other health conditions in minority and disenfranchised communities.

“We think about gentrification and displacement, and we think about the role that the city plays in perpetuating the invasive class remake of our city,” said Robbie Clark, housing rights organizer with Causa Justa: Just Cause.

“We know that a department like this is at the core of the types of change that we need to see on a local level to stop that tide of displacement and to stop gentrification from continuing to happen,” Clark said.

The department would answer directly to the City Administrator and would be implemented as soon as December of this year – if approved by the City Council.

The department would provide education and technical support to city staff and elected officials to address systemic racism in city operations “with a focus on how the city does business, including human resources, contracting, access, funding and decision-making,” according to the proposal.

“The city spends enormous amounts of money on development in Oakland. Twenty-eight percent of the people who live in this city are African American, yet they get only five percent of the hours on those jobs,” said Kitty Kelly Epstein, an education professor and member of OaklandWorks.

“What happens when you don’t have anything specifically devoted to dealing with an issue as major and primary and hurtful as racism in this society is, people get afraid to bring it up,” Kelly Epstein said.

“If we do the work of actually allocating and designating a department to that work, then people won’t be shut down when they want to bring up the fact that there is great inequity,” she said.

There is the notion that there are two Oaklands, residents have said: one has access to minor investment from the city, declining jobs and parks and schools that are closing operating limited resources. The other Oakland has access to better schools, parks, greater investments that benefit the community and more responsive government.

Imagine East Oakland’s Havenscourt neighborhood compared to the Glenview. Some neighborhoods require a bus ride or long drive to complete such daily tasks as grocery shopping or going to the bank.

“There’s no way that a city should be able to develop, do any type of business and not represent the citizens that live right there,” said Esther with Communities for a Better Environment (CBE). “It’s time for all of us to step up, be responsible and understand that we need to start leading with our hearts before our pockets.”

“There is an urgency with respect to people of color being able to have equal participation in this city,” said Councilwoman Brooks.

In response to inquiries of how much it will cost to operate this new department, Brooks said, “Think of the costs that communities have suffered for far too long not being able to participate fully in the government that they pay into. When do they get that return in dividends?”

“We will have to look like we have looked for other things that have been unbudgeted and find a way to make this happen. I would hope that we don’t just look at the dollars and cents, but we will look at truly moving a full community forward,” said Brooks.

Some of the organizations supporting the Department of Race and Equity are Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), East Bay Asian Youth Center (EBAYC), East Oakland Building Healthy Communities, Oakland Community Organizations (OCO), ONYX Organizing Committee, and People United for a Better Life in Oakland (PUEBLO).

The proposal will go to the City Council on March 31.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, March 28, 2015 (