Category: Community

Fans, Neighbors Differ Over Proposed A’s Stadium

A packed Peralta board meeting opened discussion Tuesday evening on proposed A’s ballpark project next to Lake Merritt. Photo by Ken Epstein.

By Ken Epstein

Meetings of Peralta Community College District’s Board of Trustees are generally sparsely attended, but this week an overflow crowd filled seats and folding chairs and stood along the walls at the district headquarters near Laney College to speak out for and against the 35,000-seat stadium that the Oakland A’s want to build on the site.

At one point during the meeting on Tuesday evening, opponents of the stadium began chanting, “Ain’t no power like the power of the people because the power of the people don’t stop!” A’s supporters tried to drown them out with “Let’s go, Oakland!” – a chant that is popular at A’s games.

Supporters of building the A’s stadium in downtown Oakland on 8th Street and 5th Avenue next to Laney College and Chinatown included A’s fans from Oakland and around the Bay Area, business owners who argued that the increased foot traffic and development would be a shot in the arm for the downtown economy, building trades unions, the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce and the African American Chamber of Commerce.

Opponents included senior citizens, high school students, organized by groups in the Oakland Chinatown Coalition, students and instructors in the Save Laney Land for Students Coalition, members of Eastlake United for Justice, 5th Avenue Waterfront Community Alliance, Coalition of Advocates for Lake Merritt and Causa Justa; Just Cause.

They say they want the team to stay in Oakland but not at Lake Merritt, where the stadium and associated development projects would swamp low-income neighborhoods, jeopardize the future of Laney College and destroy natural habitats.

The administration and board of Peralta are planning for an inclusive process to discuss the proposal, which the A’s organization initially sent to Peralta on Sept. 12.

“The board has not had any time (so far) to consider this issue,” said Peralta Chancellor Dr. Jowel Laguerre.

Sharon Cornu, a consultant who is working with Peralta to lead the community discussion, emphasized that the process is just beginning. “Let’s begin with where we are today,” she said. “There is no commitment, there is no decision, and there is no deal. “

“We’re here to start the process of community benefits and engagement so the trustees can make a decision in the best interests of the Peralta Colleges’ community,” she said.

Speakers in favor of the proposal included Carl Chan of the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce.

“This is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said, arguing that the stadium would be good for public safety, jobs, business opportunities and workforce housing.

Alice Lai-Bitker, business owner and former county supervisor, said, “I’m really optimistic about the A’s proposal. I am hoping it will benefit Laney students and businesses and residents nearby in Chinatown and Eastlake. ”

Among the speakers opposed to the stadium was Jing Jing He, who said Chinatown residents, including senior citizens, came to Tuesday’s meeting to “fight for the life of their community.”

“The A’s team has tried to leave Oakland in the past few years,” she said. “They only stayed because San Jose denied their move, and now they say they’re all for Oakland.”

Focusing on environmental impacts, Cindy Margulis, executive director of the Golden Gate Audubon Society, said, “We understand the A’s want to be downtown, but this particular site is a catastrophe for the (wildlife) refuge at Lake Merritt.”

James Vann, a member of the Stay the Right Way Coalition, said the project would not be good for Oakland.  “The impacts are monumental. There will never be a way to mitigate the impacts on the channel, on traffic, on the neighborhoods, on freeways, on the college.”

Alvina Wong of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) handed the board a petition opposing the project signed by 1,700 Chinatown residents.

“We’re here, and we’re living here every single day. We don’t get a choice to go somewhere else,” she said. Local residents would be crowded by tens of thousands of A’s fans “who are coming here for one single purpose,”

While her organization has brought people to the meeting and hired translators, the A’s corporation has not done anything yet to reach out to the community.

“I don’t know how we can keep trusting this process,” said Wong.

Published October 13, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

 

 

Congress of Neighborhoods Seeks Community Power in East Oakland Flatlands

Esther Goolsby of Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) spoke last Saturday at the first community assembly of the Congress of East Oakland Neighborhoods. Photo by Ken Epstein

 

By Ken Epstein

Hundreds of local residents packed into an elementary school gymnasium last Saturday to attend the kickoff gathering of the East Oakland Congress of Neighborhoods taking the first steps to bring together the kind of flatland coalition that can force public officials to take the needs of their communities seriously.

The meeting, held at International Community Schools at 2825 International Blvd., was organized by some of the strongest community-based organizations in East Oakland: Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Just Cause: Causa Justa, Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), East Oakland Building Healthy Communities, EBAYC and Oakland Community Organizations (OCO).

The main purpose of Saturday’s meeting was to create a common vision for going forward.  To develop this vision, participants attended one of nine workshops: fair share of city services, including ending illegal dumping; homelessness, displacement and affordable housing; community peace and safety; holding elected officials accountable; creating a clean healthy environment; jobs, including jobs for youth and the formerly incarcerated; quality education; big development projects, such as the A´s stadium; and immigration.

Leading the meeting were representatives of East Oakland neighborhoods San Antonio, Fruitvale, Elmhurst and Sobrante Park.

In an interview with the Oakland Post, Vernetta Woods, a leader of Oakland Community Organizations (OCO) who lives in District 7, says she believes the event will build more unity and a more powerful voice for East Oakland residents.

For her, the main issue is education, the failure of the Oakland public schools.

“We’re coming. People power is here,” she said.  “We need thousands to come together on this thing, not just one race or one organization. If that happens, we can make changes.”

Teresa Salazar, a leader of Just Cause: Causa Justa who has lived in the San Antonio area for 23 years, explained the different organizations that are working together are creating a “stronger power.”

“Rent is increasing. Is that the New Oakland – a lot of people living under the bridge?”  She asked.

“At International (Boulevard) and 15th (Avenue), there is a lot of prostitution – Is that the New Oakland?

“No, Oakland needs a big change,” said Salazar. “Everybody needs to participate, to organize for change, for there to be a New Oakland.”

The Congress of Neighborhoods plans to release its “East Oakland Community Agenda” Tuesday, Nov. 7 at 5:30 p.m. outside City Hall.

For more information, email Nehanda Imara at nehanda@eastoaklandbhc.org or Alba Hernandez at alba@oaklandcommunity.org

Published October 8, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Community Groups Oppose Proposed A’s Stadium Near Laney College


“Stay the Right Way” coalition held a press conference and rally Tuesday at Peralta Community College District headquarters to oppose a proposed A’s stadium on Peralta land. Photo by Ken Epstein.

 

By Ken Epstein

A coalition of community groups has come together quickly to oppose a proposal to build a new A’ stadium adjacent to Laney College and Oakland Chinatown on land owned by the Peralta Community College District.

“The A’s announcement of their preferred new stadium location threatens the survival of the vibrant, diverse and working class communities of the Chinatown and Eastlake-San Antonio neighborhoods. There is no way to build the stadium without negative impacts on the most vulnerable residents and small businesses,” according to a statement released by the Oakland Chinatown Coalition.

The organizations working to stop the stadium development, which call themselves the “Stay the Right Way Coalition,” held a press conference and rally Tuesday morning in front of the Peralta district headquarters at 8th Street and 5th Avenue in Oakland.

Among the groups in the coalition are the Oakland Chinatown Coalition, Causa Justa: Just Cause, Save Laney Land for Students Coalition, Eastlake United for Justice, AYPAL: Building API Community Power, 5th Avenue Waterfront Community Alliance, Vietnamese American Community Center of the East Bay, Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) and Oakland Tenants Union.

Students from MetWest High School near Laney also spoke at the press conference.

A’s President Jack Kaval announced on Sept. 12 that Peralta College public land is the team’s choice to build a new stadium to replace the Coliseum.

“It’s really the strongest location when it comes to private financing, and that’s really an important component to be successful,” Kaval told the San Francisco Chronicle

The 35,000-seat, 13-acre ballpark development would be privately financed and include restaurants, bars and hotels.

In a published statement to the community, Peralta Chancellor Dr. Jowel Laguerre said, “I want to make clear the following: No decision, no commitments and no deals have been made.”

He said before making any decision, Peralta’s governing board will “work with the community and the colleges to assess the impact on students, faculty, staff, and classroom environment, the community surrounding us, the residents of the area and the city overall.”

Signs at Tuesday’s rally said, “No A’s on 8th (Street),” “If you come, we strike,” No line drive thru Chinatown” and “Don’t steal our base.”

Many people love the A’s, said Alvina Wong of Asian Pacific Environmental Network. “But we also know that the A’s is a business, and this business decision to move the stadium is very concerning to our community. “

A delegation of students from MetWest High School spoke out against the proposed stadium. Photo by Ken Epstein

Roger Porter, a member of Laney College’s English Department faculty and himself a Laney graduate, said, “There’s no way you can build a stadium right here and not totally disrupt our institution (Laney) right there. People have to pass from a BART station there, to get here. We’re talking about bars…about nightlife and fireworks. Let’s be real about the situation.

“We believe that ultimately this is gentrification. They are trying to to move our institution,” he said. “You can’t claim something for your own, and its already occupied and already being used in a beautiful way.”

“There’s a reason why we don’t celebrate Christopher Columbus.”

The Chinatown Coalition’s statement drew a connection to the stadium proposal and the displacement that is already impacting local residents and small businesses.

“Our neighborhoods are already in a housing and real estate speculation crisis, with many long term small businesses getting displaced and closing due to rising retail rent,” the statement said. “Even the potential of a stadium coming is like dumping gasoline on a wildfire.”

Published September 23, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Public Banking in Oakland Scores a Victory

A public banking forum is scheduled for Monday at City Hall

Susan Harman of Friends of the Public Bank of Oakland spoke at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.

 

The Oakland City Council this week passed a resolution authorizing a public bank feasibility study, the next step on the road to making the bank a reality.

The resolution, co-sponsored by Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan, Dan Kalb, and Abel Guillén, authorized a feasibility study of a regional public bank with the ability to provide community benefit lending and handle cannabis business deposits.

The study was funded by the City Council at $75,000, the City of Berkeley at $25,000, and private donors, many from the cannabis industry.

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín and Berkeley Councilmember Kriss Worthington contributed to the study, making it a collaborative, regional effort, according to Councilmember Kaplan.

Councilmembers Kaplan and Kalb will host a community forum on public banking and renewable energy Monday, Sept. 25, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Oakland City Hall, 3rd Floor.

The forum, co-sponsored by Friends of the Public Bank of Oakland and Local Clean Energy Alliance, will discuss how a public bank in Oakland could help fund local renewable energy resources for our new Community Choice program, and bring jobs and economic benefits to communities throughout Alameda County.

The featured speaker will be Wolfram Morales, chief economist of the Sparkassen public banks of Germany, discussing how Germany’s public banks have financed that country’s astonishing conversion to 85 percent renewable energy.

Speakers will include Nicholas Chaset, new CEO of Alameda County’s East Bay Community Energy, a new community choice aggregation organization that will provide electricity to the county primarily from renewable sources of energy.

Also on the panel will be Greg Rosen, founder and principal of High Noon Advisors, and an energy expert; and Jessica Tovar, an organizer for the East Bay Clean Power Alliance.

For more information, contact Barbara@localcleanenergy.org

Published September 22, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

City Seeks to Curb Growing Illegal Dumping Crisis

By Ken Epstein

Oakland is facing a public health crisis caused by illegal dumping, which has increased by 100 percent in the past five years. City employees are working seven days a week to respond to growing community complaints.

“This is not just an illegal dumping problem. This is a cleanliness problem,” said Councilmember Desley Brooks at last week’s Public Works Committee meeting.
“We need to look comprehensively at this,” she said. “We’ve been doing the same thing. I think it’s absolutely necessary that we try something different.”

“We’re starting to have increasing problems with rats,” said Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan.

Councilmember Abel Guillén said efforts to stop illegal dumping must be expanded to involve all city departments.

“I think it’s an emergency,” he said. “There are no consequences right now (for illegal dumping). I can’t remember anyone ever being fined.”

City work orders for removing illegally dumped trash, based on complaints filed by local residents, grew from 14,083 in 2011-2012 to 29,370 in 2015-2016 – a 100 percent increase in the last five years, including an 18 percent growth in the past year, according to a staff report submitted at last week’s Public Works Committee.

“Illegal dumping … is a pox on our community. It is prevalent, and it is ubiquitous across the city,” said Susan Kattchee, assistant director of the Department of Facilities & Environment.

A map included in the staff report shows dumping sites in the city stretch from the Berkeley to San Leandro borders, between Highways 880 and 580.

The city’s cleanup department, Keep Oakland Clean and Beautiful (KOCB), picks up trash seven days a week, with a commitment of clearing work orders within three business days.

In the last three months, KOCB was able to respond to the work orders within three days at a 93 percent rate, but staff is uncertain that workers can maintain that rate, according to Kattchee.

About 75 new complaints on average are reported to the department each day. Of these, about 30 are handled by Waste Management.
The city pays $5.5 million a year to remove illegal dumping.

In April, the city commissioned a study of illegal dumping piles “to get a greater insight into the roots of the problem,” said Kattchee.
The survey examined 75 piles to gain a greater understanding of the sources of the trash, whether residential or commercial, and cities from which they came.

The study found that 55 percent of the piles included residential goods, and 8 percent was construction-related debris.
Only 3 percent of the trash was homeless-related.

“Demonizing the homeless is not going to solve this problem. The data shows that,” said Kaplan.

The survey was not very successful in connecting the piles to cities of origin – 63 percent of the piles were of unknown origin. Twenty-nine percent was identified as coming from Oakland.

Ken Houston, a local activist, pointed to the public health threat that illegal dumping poses.

“The street has no rules, so they’re dumping things that are hazardous that are being carried into our households – on our children’s feet (and) on the wheels of strollers.”

Many people have cats, he said. “You can’t see what’s on that cat’s fur.”

In addition to responding to complaints, the city has expanded its bulk pickup program for items too large to fit in a trash cart and is planning an educational campaign for residents, utilizing direct mail and social media: Nextdoor, Facebook and YouTube ads.

Published September 23, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Community Groups Build East Oakland Neighborhood Power

Local residents attend recent meeting to oppose illegal dumping.

By Ken Epstein

Some of the major community organizations in Oakland have joined together  as the East Oakland Congress of Neighborhoods to hold a community assembly  to build the collective strength of local residents to impact neighborhood issues such as trash and blight, potholes, the sex trade, homelessness, rising rents and the frustration of dealing with city officials and public agencies that do not pay attention.

The first meeting of the community assembly will be held Saturday, Sept. 30, 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at International Community School, 2825 International Blvd. in Oakland. Food, childcare and translation will be provided.

The East Oakland Congress of Neighborhoods includes the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Just Cause; Causa Justa, Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), East Oakland Building Healthy Communities, East Bay Asian Youth Center (EBAYC) and Oakland Community Organizations (OCO).

“We expect 1,000 people at the assembly to discuss our values, make plans and discuss strategies and to hold Oakland officials accountable,” said Evangelina Lara, a leader of EBAYC and resident of the San Antonio neighborhood for 18 years.

“These are the issues that the residents themselves have decided are the most important,” she said. “This assembly is bringing together six  (Oakland) organizations to build real power, from the lake to the San Leandro border.”

Andre Spearman, an OCO leader, said the community-based organizations have been working together on some issues for a long time, but they have begun to feel that in order to have more clout, residents from throughout East Oakland need to work together on common issues.
In the past, he said, “We’ve had some victories,” working in individual neighborhoods, “but it doesn’t seem like enough power to really change things, to hold officials as accountable as they should be.”

“If you don’t have power you don’t get consulted,” he said.

For more information, email Nehanda Imara at nehanda@eastoaklandbhc.org or Alba Hernandez at alba@oaklandcommunity.org

Published September 13, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Oakland’s Superintendent Guarantees Clean Drinking Water at McClymonds High School

Left to right: Star, a student; parent volunteer Tolani King; and John, an Alhambra Water employee, stand next to a new water dispenser that was installed last Friday in the hallway at McClymonds High School. Photo by Ken Epstein.

By Ken Epstein

Though tests found lead in the drinking water at several spots at McClymonds High School in West Oakland, the Oakland Unified School District did little to respond during the last year of the administration of Supt. Antwan Wilson, who left the district early in 2017.

The tests, conducted in August 2016 at the 100-year-old school, found unsafe levels of lead in three places on the campus, including in the showers in the boys’ and girls’ gym. As a result, the district closed the showers, which means the students have not been able to dress for gym for the past year.

But when Ben “Coach” Tapscott, a former Mack teacher and long an advocate for the school, raised an outcry last month, the district responded. He went to the Oakland Post, which published an article about lead in the water in drinking fountains on McClymonds football field. He also went to new district Supt. Kyla Johnson-Trammell, only on the job since July, who took action as soon as she became aware of the situation.

“I immediately called the superintendent’s office and told her that this has been going on for a whole a year,” he said. “She told me, ‘Coach, it will be fixed.´”

In the past few weeks, the district has made a number of immediate but mostly temporary fixes to make sure that students have a plentiful supply of clean water, free of toxic lead and sediments, which –though safe – discolor and cloud the water.

Water faucets by the bleacher area of the football field, which had tested positive for lead, have been fixed. The district replaced the faucets, installed a water filter and ran a new pipe out to the street.

Lead was also found in water faucets in the cafeteria, which have been replaced, and water filters have been installed to reduce the sediment, according to the district. The showers in the gym – the third place lead was found – are still closed, but new showerheads have been ordered to replace the old ones, which were discovered to be the source of the lead, according to the district.

Water in the main school building was found to be lead free but discolored by sediment. All the water faucets have been shut off and covered with plastic. The district contracted with Alhambra Water to place and supply water dispensers on all three floors of the school.
Coach Tapscott said he discovered the water problem when he went to watch Mack´s football team practice before school started.

“(Coach Mike Peters) told me water out there was not safe, and it contained lead. He said he had been going to his mother’s house for a year to fill up water containers, running up her water bill, to make sure the players had safe water.”

Coach Tapscott is outraged that district staff who were responsible for health and safety at the schools allowed students to drink contaminated water for at least a year, and he is determined that the district repair McClymonds to the standards of other schools, not to settle for stop-gap measures.

“Kids have been drinking that water for (at least a year) while people in this district sat on their butts and did nothing for the children,” he said. “Whoever is responsible for this should be fired.”

“They wouldn’t do this in a white school,” Tapscott added.

Tapscott said the district should replace its old galvanized pipes immediately. That would mean hiring a contractor and working weekends to put in new pipes inside and outside of the building.

“You can begin having water in three weeks, digging trenches and crews replacing all the pipes,” he said.  “The main building is a challenge because kids are there, and the crews would have to work on weekends.”

According to the district, replacing the piping throughout the campus is now in the planning stages.  The district estimates that the project will cost about $2.3 million and take a year or more to complete.

In a press statement, Supt. Johnson-Trammell pledged to the community that the district would do what is necessary to fix McClymonds.

“We will keep you, our students, staff, families and other stakeholders, apprised of the process. We will also be engaging the community to ensure that your voices help us determine the best, fastest and most cost effective way to complete these changes for the school.”

Published September 8, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Carroll Fife Named Director of Oakland/San Francisco ACCE

 

Carroll Fife

By Ken Epstein

Carroll Fife, community activist and co-founder of the Oakland Justice Coalition, has been named interim director of Oakland Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment  (ACCE).

Fife is replacing Anthony Panarese, who recently left after serving in the position for 15 years.

ACCE Action has earned a strong reputation in Oakland for its work to fight home foreclosures and evictions and to pass Measure JJ to protect Oakland renters and raise the minimum wage in the city.

“I am honored to work for a member-driven organization that has dedicated its efforts to unite the community for dignified living wage jobs, affordable housing and the fight to stop displacement and hold Wall Street corporate interests in our community accountable,” said Fife.

“I look forward to helping build the Oakland/San Francisco ACCE into a stronger organization to represent the needs of the those who are being left out and left behind,” she said.

“It is through the hard work of day-to-day, base-building organizing that we will fight and win.”

Published September 6, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Bay Area Protests Against White Supremacy, in Solidarity with Charlottesville

Rep. Barbara Lee calls on president to remove bigoted White House aides

 

A protester in San Francisco on Sunday carries a photo Heather Heyer, the young woman who was killed by a white supremacist who drove his car into counter-protesters at the “Unite the Right” march last Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia. Heyer, a 32-year-old legal assistant, has been honored as a martyr who “wanted to put down hate.” Photo courtesy of ABC7.

A protester in San Francisco on Sunday carries a photo Heather Heyer, the young woman who was killed by a white supremacist who drove his car into counter-protesters at the “Unite the Right” march last Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia. Heyer, a 32-year-old legal assistant, has been honored as a martyr who “wanted to put down hate.” Photo courtesy of ABC7.

 

By Post Staff

Protests last took place across the Bay Area over the weekend in response to the killing of an anti-racist protester in Charlottesville, Virginia, part of a nationwide upsurge of anger against the resurgence of white supremacists and Nazis and President Trump´s support for bigotry.

Protests were held Saturday and Sunday in Oakland. The Saturday march was called, “Charlottesville We Got Your Back, Bay Area United Against White Supremacy.” Among the signs marchers carried were ones that read, “White Silence Equals Violence” and “Call it what it is. White supremacy.”

Oakland’s Sunday evening protest was held in front of City Hall, “for unity and (to make) a firm stance against white supremacy, anti-Semitism, racism and hate,” according to a Facebook calendar page.

A march was also held in Berkeley, and candlelight vigils were scheduled at City Hall in San Francisco, the Contra Costa County Courthouse in Martinez, Adobe Park in Castro Valley and Poinsett Park in El Cerrito.

In the South Bay, protests were scheduled Sunday at San Jose City Hall, Mountain View’s Gateway Park, at Lake Elizabeth in Fremont, at the Morgan Hill Community & Cultural Center and at the Santa Cruz Clock Tower.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee, along with the “Quad Caucus,” sent a letter this week to President Trump demanding he immediately remove white supremacists Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka and Stephen Miller from the White House.

Issuing the statement were Congresswoman Lee and leadership of the Congressional Quad-Caucus, composed of chairs of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) and the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC).

“The white supremacists who descended upon Charlottesville have brought vile racism, hatred and bigotry to the forefront of our political discourse once again,” said Congresswoman Lee. “We cannot address the dangerous spread of white supremacy in America without honestly examining its influence on the Oval Office.

“President Trump has elevated hate and discrimination to the highest levels of our government. From the Muslim Ban, to raids on immigrant communities, a ban on transgender Americans serving in our military, attempts to revive the failed war on drugs and an all-out assault on civil and human rights, the influence of the alt-right is clear in the Trump Administration’s policy agenda.

“Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka and Stephen Miller have long embraced the views of white supremacists, white nationalists and Neo-Nazis. These prejudiced ideologies have no place in the highest office in our land. I urge President Trump to remove (them) from the White House without delay.”

Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Michelle Lujan Grisham said:

“It is shameful that Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, and Sebastian Gorka, who each have ties to extremist and white nationalist ideological groups and leaders, are serving as President Trump’s top advisors.

“Extremists groups have used their presence in the White House to legitimize their divisive and violent rhetoric, ideology, and actions. They should have no role in creating national policy or pushing their twisted political agenda.”

Published August 17, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

 

 

Youth at MLK Freedom Center Join Struggle to Empower Voters

Sophia Quintana of Berkeley and active member of the MLK Freedom Center registers voters at July 4 naturalization ceremony in Seattle, WA.

Sophia Quintana of Berkeley and active member of the MLK Freedom Center registers voters at July 4 naturalization ceremony in Seattle, WA.

By Ken Epstein

Young people who participated in an intensive six-week voter registration and community engagement project this summer recently attended a labor breakfast celebration in their honor, where they talked about their efforts to register new voters and reflected on what they learned and how it transformed them.

The “Civic Engagement Pilgrimage,” organized by the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center, which is based at Merritt College in Oakland took a diverse group of 65 young people, mostly high school students from Oakland and Washington state, on a journey from Washington to Portland to Bakersfield and Fresno in California, where they registered voters and had in-depth discussions with elected officials, community and tribal leaders in urban and rural areas and Indian nations.

The breakfast was held Aug. 4 at the offices of the Alameda Labor Council in Oakland, attended by Congresswoman Barbara Lee, former Oakland Mayor Elihu Harris and Peralta Community Colleges Chancellor Dr. Jowel C. Laguerre, who are strong supporters of the work of the freedom center.

The young people said they heard the same words over and over from people in different communities: “Our voices don´t matter; nothing you do will change the system,” according to Laelah Jackson, a junior at Berkeley High.

“It is important to educate and be educated,” she said.  “What we´re doing is bigger than each of us. “It’s the ‘we’” that makes the difference.

“We learned that we live in very trying times night now,” said Angela Drake, a student at Castlemont High School. “We have to give hope to each other. No one is going to do it for us, but us.”

The young people said that in the course of their discussions with people and the classes and trainings among themselves they learned critical thinking, experienced growing self confidence and a sense of “love and solidarity” with each other and the people.

The Martin Luther King Freedom Center, which was created by Oakland’s MLK Day March and Rally Committee, began its work in 2001.  Executive Director Dr. Roy Wilson has led the organization for the past 10 years.

Based on the lessons of summer´s listening sessions and discussions in communities, the center plans to launch intensive voter education and registration efforts this year, including work in congressional districts in California´s Central Valley.
For more information on the Freedom Center, go to www.mlkfreedomcenter.org

Published August 17, 2017, courtesy of the Post News Group