Archive for October, 2015

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)

Dominguita Velasco, Latino Community Activist, 114

Dominguita Velasco, shown celebrating her 111th birthday with family and friends, died Oct. 11 at the age of 114.

Dominguita Velasco, shown celebrating her 111th birthday with family and friends, died Oct. 11 at the age of 114.

Dominguita Velasco, an activist in Oakland’s Latino community, died Oct. 11 at the age of 114.

“She may have been small in stature, but she was a strong woman who was respected. People recognized her leadership and loved her. Most of all, she was very caring,” Oakland City Councilmember Noel Gallo told the Oakland Tribune.

Velasco and her family were Mexican immigrants who settled in West Oakland in the 1920s.Dominguita Velasco

According to Robert Young, director of Gerontology Research Group’s research division, she was California’s oldest verified resident, the second-oldest person in the United States and the seventh-oldest person in the world,

“A lot of sad things happened to me, but I don’t dwell on the past,” she said in 2004. “I just like to help people, and I always like fiestas.”

She was still active into her 100s, according to former City Councilman Ignacio de la Fuente.

“She was a real dynamo. She would organize people at Posada de Colores, where she lived, and would stuff envelopes during elections,” he told the Tribune.

Well into her 90s, she walked precincts in support of de la Fuente.

“She was one of the first women who not only promoted Latino culture and Latino businesses, but she was herself one of the first Latino businesswomen in Oakland,” he said. “She was a dear, dear person.”

Velasco ran two Mexican restaurants on Seventh Street that became gathering places for informal neighborhood groups.

Those groups eventually grew into the Unity Council and the Spanish Speaking Citizens’ Foundation, which are major forces in the Fruitvale district, where many Latinos, including Velasco, began moving to in the 1950s.

Born in 1901 in Mexico, she immigrated to El Paso with her mother before she settled in Oakland.

Noticing the lack of Latino culture in the area, Velasco organized a group that performed a traditional song and dance at a pageant. That was the beginning of her promoting Latino culture in Oakland. And she continued to dance at numerous events over the years.

The Unity Council’s Casa Velasco Senior Housing in the Fruitvale district is named after her.

In addition to her daughter, Velasco is survived by two grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; and three great-great-grandchildren.

A memorial Mass is scheduled for 2 p.m. Nov. 14 at St. Anthony Church, 1535 16th Ave., Oakland.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 29, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

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Churches, Community Unite Against Coal in Oakland

Speakers at a community coal meeting included (L to R): Pastor Ken Chambers of West Side Baptist Church, Margaret Gordon of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, and Will Scott, program director of California Faith Power & Light. Photo by Ashley Chambers.

Speakers at a community coal meeting included (L to R): Pastor Ken Chambers of West Side Baptist Church, Margaret Gordon of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, and Will Scott, program director of California Faith Power & Light. Photo by Ashley Chambers.

By Ashley Chambers

Community members and faith leaders held a public meeting this week to oppose the export of coal from a terminal at the City of Oakland’s Oakland Army Base development project.

“The community of West Oakland has high health risks for asthma, cancer and other health challenges that continue to plague our community,” said Pastor Ken Chambers of West Side Baptist Church, who is a cancer survivor, speaking at the meeting Monday held at his church.

One speaker, Margaret Gordon, of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP), said the coal trains from Utah would reverse the improvements in air quality the city has made over a number of years.

Pastor Chambers is part of a group of at least a dozen other churches and organizations represented at the Monday meeting, including Pastor Curtis Robinson of Faith Baptist Church and Will Scott of California Interfaith Power & Light – that are pushing back on this proposal to bring coal to Oakland.

The community meeting came in the wake of a lengthy and heated public hearing held last month by the City Council, which brought out opponents and supporters of the coal terminal.

At that meeting, a number of church leaders said the supported the terminal because it would mean jobs, and those who spoke in opposition said bringing coal to Oakland would expose the community – especially West Oakland, which is already challenged with high asthma rates – to greater health risks.

The proposal by Terminal Logistic Solutions (TLS), with the backing of Oakland Army Base developer Phil Tagami, suggests transporting coal in covered cars to reduce the amount of coal dust from spilling out during transit.

However, these measures would not be effective in eliminating this health risks to Oakland and nearby communities, according to those at the

“Because of the wind at the bay, it could carry this coal (dust) to Emeryville, Berkeley and the Oakland hills.”

“This is bigger than West Oakland. We are organizing citywide support from every council district to stand up against this environmental injustice,” he said.

While Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney has not taken a position on the proposal, she spoke at the meeting, saying the city’s limited authority in written into development contract with Tagami.

In June 2013, “When we adopted that development agreement, we pretty much set in stone the current existing regulatory environment. It gives a developer certainty,” said McElhaney, whose district includes West Oakland.

Basically, the agreement limits the city from making changes to certain rules and regulations to the developer.

“But we do preserve, at all times, (the right) to amend or change any regulations as it relates to public health and safety,” McElhaney added.

“We’re hoping that Council President McElhaney and the full council will step in and champion this issue for environmental justice in the City of Oakland,” said Chambers.

The City Council is scheduled to make a decision on the project in December.

Another community meeting is planned for Monday, Nov. 16 at 6:30 p.m. at West Side Church, 732 Willow St., Oakland.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 29, 2015 (postnewgroup.com)

 

 

Environmental Groups’ Legal Action Could Halt Coal Terminal

Sierra Club poster in West Coal. Courtesy of SF Business Times.

Sierra Club poster in West Oakland. Photo courtesy of SF Business Times.

By Tulio Ospina

Environmental and community groups – Earthjustice, the Sierra Club, Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) and San Francisco Baykeepers – have filed a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) action in Alameda County Superior Court challenging the export of coal being through Oakland.

According to Earthjustice, which filed the claim on behalf of the other groups, the original CEQA review of city’s Army Base development, performed over a decade ago, “failed to include any discussion or analysis of the impacts of transporting, handling, or exporting coal from Oakland on surrounding neighborhoods or the environment.”

Phil Tagami

Phil Tagami

It was not until April 2015 that the public learned that the bulk terminal’s developer, Terminal Logistics Solutions (TLS), had plans to use the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT), to export coal coming from Utah.

Prior to this revelation, Phil Tagami, owner of California Capital & Investment Group (CCIG), with whom the city had signed an agreement to build the terminal, had publically promised that coal was not an option as an export commodity.

After public outcry this year, the City Council has agree to study whether the export of coal through Oakland poses “health and safety” hazards to adjacent communities and those working at the terminal.

A clause in original development agreement between Tagami and the city allows the Oakland to halt shipments of a commodity on the property if those shipments would place workers and adjacent communities “in a condition substantially dangerous to their health and safety.”

Worker at Army Base project

Worker at Army Base project

The environmental groups’ CEQA challenge give anti-coal activists significant bargaining power, since the entire Army Base develop could be halted for up to two years if the groups decide to call for an injunction.

The environmentalists say they do not want to halt a project that is overall good for Oakland but may be forced to do it the city fails to regulate or mitigate the impact of transporting coal through Oakland.

“Our goal in this process is to make sure the public really truly knows what will happen if a coal terminal goes up in their backyards and that the city complies with their desires,” said Irene Gutierrez, an attorney at Earthjustice’s California regional office.

“There was not an environmental review for a project like this (involving coal), and new information has come up, and CEQA allows you to sue if that is the case,” she said.

Army Base project

Army Base project

Meanwhile, the environmental and community organizations have written a letter to the California Transportation Commission (CTC) opposing what they see as a misuse of the public grant that was used to fund half of the project.

They have requested that the CTC provide an extension to the grant’s deadline, which will allow the project to find required matching funding to replace the money the project is hoping to receive from Utah.

The bulk terminal project was funded by $242 million from a voter-approved Proposition 1B Trade Corridor Improvement Funds, which allocated $20 billion in bonds to “advance infrastructure projects and air quality improvements throughout the state,” according to the letter.

CTC funding supports “projects that improve trade corridor mobility while reducing emissions of diesel particulate and other pollutant emissions,” according to Prop. 1B.

“The $242 million from Prop 1B is meant to protect communities from further being polluted and impacted from these industries,” said Jess Dervin-Ackerman of the Sierra Club’s San Francisco Bay Chapter.

“The fact that the money is being used to build a coal export terminal flies in the face of (the proposition’s) intentions and is not the right use of that public fund that would make the Port of Oakland host dirtier operations,” she said.

jess Dervin Ackerman, Sierra Club

jess Dervin-Ackerman, Sierra Club

Because $53 million in matching funds for the OBOT would be coming from parts of Utah where the coal is mined, developers claim that regulating or prohibiting coal—or filing an injunction through CEQA—would leave the development stranded without necessary matching funds, thus shutting down the entire project.

To avoid a shutoff the environmental groups have asked for the extension on the deadline for securing matching funds.

“It’s important to affirm that the groups that are participants in the (CEQA) lawsuit are supportive of job creation and economic revitalization in Oakland,” said Gutierrez of Earthjustice. “But they want to make sure the city is informed and takes the measures it can to protect the public and keep the public informed.”

While the City Council has until Dec. 8 to make a final vote on its regulatory options surrounding coal, a number of people are challenging whether the city has the authority to regulate commodities that are being transported on federal railways.

“If this city were to take a position that coal could not be transported in interstate commerce, that would be a problem and would be (federally) preempted,” said Kathryn Floyd, a lawyer for Tagami’s company, CCIG, speaking at a Sept. 21public hearing.

Irene Gutierrez, Earthjustice

Irene Gutierrez, Earthjustice

Disagreeing, Gutierrez says the council does have the power to regulate commodities on city-owned property.

Seeking clarification of the city’s rights, the Post has asked City Attorney Barbara Parker, an elected public official, whether “a simple majority (is) needed in the City Council to determine whether or not the export of coal would constitute a health and safety danger to Oakland residents?”

Parker’s office responded that she “can’t disclose legal advice. Any advice or opinions we provide to clients is privileged and confidential, and in fact we can’t disclose whether or not we have provided advice on any given issue. We can disclose only if the Council waives its privilege.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 28, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

The National Lawyers Guild Honors Local Attorney Walter Riley

The National Lawyers Guild honored Oakland civil rights attorney Walter Riley at its annual Law for the People Convention, which was held recently in Oakland at the Marriott Oakland City Center.

Walter Riley

Walter Riley

Riley, who received the Law for the People Award at the convention held Oct. 21-25, was one of eight members and friends of the guild who were recognized for exemplary work and activism that speak to the guild’s mission of human rights over property interests.

Riley grew up in Durham, North Carolina where he experienced first-hand the injustice of the Jim Crow South. His response was to become a young civil rights activist and has continued his activism ever since.

Following years as an organizer, Riley moved back to the Bay Area to become a lawyer.

He is a member of multiple organizations including the National Lawyers Guild and serves on the boards of Global Exchange, Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute, Haiti Emergency Relief Fund, Berkeley Jazz School, and is co-chair of the John George Democratic Club.

He serves on the legal defense teams representing fellow Law for the People Award recipients, the Black Friday 14 and Trayvon 2.

The Black Friday 14 consists of Black, Bay Area social justice organizers and community leaders who responded to Ferguson’s Call for National Action against police brutality and state violence after the non-indictment of Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

On Nov. 28, 2014, the Black Friday 14 chained themselves to two BART trains at West Oakland Station, stopping operations for under two hours.

This action drew public attention to the existing systemic and institutionalized racism. The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office filed trespass charges against the Black Friday 14. BART initially demanded a restitution of $70,000 but after receiving intense pressure, the BART Board of Directors dropped this demand.

The Black Friday 14 continue to fight their charges with representation from fellow Walter Riley among others,

The Black Friday 14 are: Cat Brooks, Rheema Calloway, Robbie Clark, Mollie Costello, Nigel Le’Jon Evans-Brim, Celeste Faison, Alicia Garza, Devonte Jackson, Ronnisha Ann Johnson, Karissa Lewis, Vanessa Moses, Nell Myhand, Neva Walker, and Laila Sapphira Williams. Their legal team consists of Walter Riley, Aliya Karmali, Hasmik Geghamyan, Zoe Polk and Leigh Johnson.

The Trayvon 2, Hannibal Shakur (Lamar Caldwell) and Tanzeen R. Doha, are non-white, Muslim men who were charged by the Alameda County District Attorney’s office in connection with a July 15, 2013 protest of George Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict in the murder of Trayvon Martin.

The District Attorney’s office charged both defendants with felony vandalism despite no evidence they engaged in such conduct. The DA finally dropped the charges for lack of evidence.

Doha has worked actively on questions of race, religion, and colonialism both as a graduate student in the US and as a political organizer in Bangladesh. Shakur was very active in the protests around Oscar Grant’s 2009 murder by police, and continues to work for Black autonomy and self-determination in various collectives in the Bay Area.

The Trayvon 2 legal team consisted of Riley, Gabriela Lopez, and Nadia Kayyali.

Courtesy of the Post News Group, October 28, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

End Jim Crow Segregation at Oakland Restaurants, Say Activists

The study "Ending Jim Crow for Workers in the Restaurant Industry" was released on Oct. 20 at a presss conference in Oakland where a number of speakers discussed how to address race and gender segregation in local restaurants. (L to R) Glenn Harris, president of the Center for Social Inclusion; Shonda Roberts, ROC-The Bay member; and Adrian Henderson, co-owner of Kingston 11 in Oakland and ROC-The Bay High Road Employer. Photo by Ashley Chambers.

The study “Ending Jim Crow for Workers in the Restaurant Industry” was released on Oct. 20 at a presss conference in Oakland where a number of speakers discussed how to address race and gender segregation in local restaurants. (L to R) Glenn Harris, president of the Center for Social Inclusion; Shonda Roberts, ROC-The Bay member; and Adrian Henderson, co-owner of Kingston 11 in Oakland and ROC-The Bay High Road Employer. Photo by Ashley Chambers.

By Ken Epstein and Ashley Chambers

Restaurants and hospitality businesses employ nearly 11 million workers nationally, one of the largest industries in the country, and are growing at a feverish pace in Oakland.

However, the inequality is stark.

White men at the pinnacle of the pyramid, who work as bartenders and servers at luxury restaurants, can make as much as $100,000 to $150,000 a year. But Black and Latino workers are either not hired or paid closer to the minimum wage, according to a study released this week by Restaurant

Nicole Deane

Nicole Deane

Opportunities Centers United (ROC United), a nationwide nonprofit that is moving to Oakland.

The study, called “Ending Jim Crow in America’s Restaurants: Racial and Gender Occupational Segregation in the Restaurant Industry,” was conducted in collaboration with Dr. Chris Benner of UC Santa Cruz and the Food Labor Research Center at UC Berkeley.

The statistics confirm what Oaklanders can see at many of the 300 fancy new bars and restaurants that have opened in the city in the past year.

People of color are in the lowest paying jobs. Black people, regardless of experience and qualifications, are not hired.

Latinos make up 52 percent of all restaurant employees in California, but are 65 percent of back-of-the-house workers, the report said. African Americans, on the other hand, only make up 3 percent of the total workforce in the state’s restaurant industry, and those who are hired, work disproportionately in the lowest paying jobs.

Saru Jayaraman, co-founder of ROC United, cited investigative research done by her organization, which sent out white job seekers with worse resumes to the same restaurants as people of color with resumes that showed more and better work experience.

In general, white applicants were hired. People of color were told there were no openings.

One of the speakers at Tuesday’s release of the study was Adrian Henderson, an owner of Kingston 11, a Black-owned restaurant on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland.

He said that Black job applicants who come into his business have told him they “don’t even get an opportunity to talk to a manager when they walk into an establishment that is owned by white folks.”

In addition, he said, Black applicants show up to apply for jobs dressed professionally, while white jobseekers, tend “to show up in flip flops, shorts, t-shirts, not looking presentable for an interview.”

Shonda Roberts, a member of ROC-The Bay, has been working in restaurants for the past 20 years.

“Id love to move up in the industry, but I was never able to move up to the front of the house. The front of the house is white, and the back of the house is people of color. It is segregated,” said Roberts, speaking at the Tuesday press conference.

Nicole Deane, a co-founder of the Oakland Alliance, is part of Oakland Opportunity Challenge, which is a coalition that is developing a campaign to encourage restaurants to hire Black workers and follow up with picketing and other kinds of public pressure on those businesses that are not interested in becoming responsible residents of the city.

“My perspective is that there’s nothing wrong with Black workers,” she said. “There is something wrong with not hiring Black workers.”

Deane said she was told by the owner of one restaurant in response to the question as why there were no Black workers in the establishment, “I don’t think about race when it comes to hiring, but I have to be sure I’m hiring people who can work hard and provide good service.”

In addition to hearing that kind of racism, she said she knows of a number of incidents of disrespectful treatment of Black customers at upscale restaurants in Oakland.

“Businesses that come here should be welcoming to all races,” said Deane.

“Black people should be able to work in these restaurants and walk into a restaurant and get good service.”

 Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 23, 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)

Oakland Anti-Displacement Coalition Says “Speak Out to Stay Put!”

Carroll Fife (top left), a co-founder of the Oakland Alliance, spoke at a workshop on developing an anti-displacement electoral strategy Oct. 17 "Speak Out to Stay Put!"forum in Oakland. Photo b Ken Epstien

Carroll Fife (top left), a co-founder of the Oakland Alliance, spoke at a workshop on developing an anti-displacement electoral strategy Oct. 17 “Speak Out to Stay Put!”forum in Oakland. Photo b Ken Epstien

By Ken A. Epstein

Local organizations took a big step forward last weekend in their efforts to coalesce the growing movement to impact the market-driven wave of displacement that is pushing out local residents and small businesses, fueling criminalization of young people and adults and suppressing Oaklanders’ cultural expression in the parks and churches.

About 500 people squeezed into the West Oakland Youth Center last Saturday for an event called “Speak Out to Stay Put! An Oakland-wide Anti-Displacement Forum,” hosted by over a dozen organizations and endorsed by over 20 groups.

Groups that helped put on the event included: Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), Causa Justa: Just Cause (CJJC), California Nurses Association (CNA), Community Planning Leaders (CPL), East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), East Bay Housing Organizations (EBHO), East Bay Organizing Committee (EBOC), Oakland Alliance, Oakland Tenants Union (OTU), SEIU 1021 and Women’s Economic Agenda Project (WEAP).

Robbie Clark

Robbie Clark

 The purpose of the forum was enhance connections between the groups that are working against displacement and to deepen the understanding of the complex connections between various aspects of displacement and the variety solutions that organizations that groups are supporting.

“We wanted to come together to unite a lot of the forces who are in motion against gentrification, people who are involved in their neighborhoods or working on a variety of development plans and policies,” said Robbie Clark, regional housing rights campaign lead organizer at Causa Justa, in an interview with the Post.

“We want to broaden how people look at displacement, look at the factors that play into gentrification, plug people into additional ways to fight displacement and expand the strategies they can use,” said Clark

 The day’s workshop topics indicate the breath of the concerns: climate change and displacement, community land trusts for public control of city-owned land, the poor people’s movement to fight homelessness, police brutality and gentrification, the fight for jobs and decent wages for Oaklanders, promoting tenant rights and how to elect public officials who are accountable to residents.

 Clark pointed out an aspect of gentrification that so far have not received much attention are the explosive commercial rental increases that are pushing out small businesses and nonprofits that provide services to residents.

“These small businesses and nonprofits are all part of the neighborhood fabric that holds communities together – businesses and services that people utilize are being threatened,” said Clark.

One of the speakers at the workshop on elections and voting was Carroll Fife, a co-founder the Oakland Alliance, a citywide organization that formed about a year ago.

 Fife said her experience working in Dan Siegel’s mayoral campaign last year showed her, “There is a lot of energy that is untapped in this city – (but) we have to put egos aside. There are lots of organizations that are doing work in silos,” unconnected to each other.

She said the Oakland Alliance is trying to find ways groups can work together, not in interests of one organization, but “for what is good for everyone in the city.”

Dan Siegel, an Oakland civil rights attorney, said that voting is a component of building peoples’ power.

“An electoral strategy by itself will not make change,” but the movement needs to select and elect leaders who will be accountable to the community and the promises they make when they running for office, said Siegel.

“(At present), we see people who say they are going to do this or they are going to do that, but (once elected) they don’t do it,” said Siegel. “Oakland has a city council that has completely checked out on housing.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, Oct. 22, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)