Category: Community

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

Report: OUSD Spends Too Much on Top Administrators, Not Enough for Schools

Parent Zaineb Alomari of Community United Elementary School spoke at the Board of Education meeting Wedenesday night, calling on boardmembers to protect schools and students. Parent El Ham Omar translated for Alomari. Photo by Ken Epstein

Parent Zaineb Alomari of Community United Elementary School spoke at the Board of Education meeting Wednesday night, calling on boardmembers to protect schools and students. Parent El Ham Omar translated for Alomari. Photo by Ken Epstein

By Ken Epstein

 

As the Oakland Unified School District prepares to slash spending and make large budget cuts in the next 18 months to keep from going into the red, teachers and members of the school community are discussing the finding of a report commissioned by the district that finds OUSD has a top-heavy administration, spending more and its central office and less on instruction at schools than comparable districts.

The district last year paid nearly $455,000 to Educational Research Services (ERS)–a national nonprofit organization–to provide a “robust picture of resource use within the district.” A preliminary report was released in June.

Picolia Manigo

Picolia Manigo

ERS researchers found that “OUSD spends a smaller share of its resources on instruction than national benchmarks, which is partially driven by high central office spending.”

According to the report, OUSD in 2014-2015 spent $420 million on its pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, which seems like a lot of money.

But compared to other school districts examined by ERS, OUSD spending on students is 25 percent below average, $35 million less than what would be expected for a district of its size.

Looking at emerging findings, the report said, “At $11,400 per student, OUSD’s total investment in operating pre-K to (grade) 12 is $24 million lower than its total per pupil spending level would suggest.”

At the same time, spending on instruction at the school level is $35 million lower than total per pupil spending in comparison districts.

The cost of the central office is high in Oakland. The district spends about $325 per student or about $11.4 million more on central administration, compared with other school districts.

Factors contributing to the district’s failure to invest in schools and instruction, according to the report, include 370 central office administrators, 120 more than in comparison districts.

The ERS researchers found that the district has two times as many upper level positions as other districts, “though within each position level salaries are lower than comparisons.”

In addition, ERS said, benefits for top administrators in OUSD cost 50 percent more per employee than other districts.

ERS also minimized the impact to the district’s budget of small, under-enrolled schools.

"We need teachers, we need equity," said Castlemont High School junior  Karla Briseño, speaking at Wednesday night´s board meeting. Photo by Ken Epstein

“We need teachers, we need equity,” said Castlemont High School junior Karla Briseño, speaking at Wednesday night´s board meeting. Photo by Ken Epstein

Under-enrolled schools cost the district $7 million, which is only about 1.7 percent of the OUSD budget.

“The financial implications” are “not as significant” as the other district’s other program spending, report said.

At school sites, parents and school communities are feeling the lack of supplies and staff due to the limited budget for instructional resources.

And now as the district attempts to eliminate a $22 million budget shortfall, the schools are becoming more alarmed.

School communities came out in large numbers Wednesday night a board meeting to protest the administration’s decision to eliminate most of their schools’ budgeted funds for the remainder of the school year.

The board is also backing a plan to cut $14 million in next year’s budget or to close or merge small schools’ in the 2018-2019 school year.

A staff member at a small Oakland school told the board, “We are a school that serves kids, and we do it because we are small,” pointing out that at her school, every teacher knows every student by name and can give students personal attention.

Pecolia Manigo of the Bay Area Parent Leadership Action Network (PLAN) called on the board not to cut school site programs.

The decision to limit spending at “ultimately mean that school sites cannot spend their dollars, which means there are cuts to schools this year,” she said.

The budget shortfall is a “mistake on the part of the district and the superintendent, and as a result, the schools are paying for that mistake,” Manigo continued.

Zaineb Alomari, a parent at Community United Elementary School spoke in Arabic through a translator to the board. “We need to protect our schools and students. We need to make it better for our children,” she said.

Others argued that while some of the top central office employees who were hired in the last couple of years can easily be eliminated, there are others who are necessary, such as gardeners, buildings and grounds staff who do repairs, truck drivers who deliver supplies and payroll department staff.

“The worker bees are very important,” said a Fremont High School teacher.

The school district did not respond to questions about the ERS report.

 

 

Posted January 27, 2017

Faith Leaders Call on Legislators to Commit to Jobs, Justice and Human Rights

 

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.

Pastor Ken Chambers

 

By Ken Epstein

Three Oakland pastors are taking the lead to bring together interfaith religious leaders to participate in coordinated faith community actions next month at statehouses across the country to revive the country’s moral commitment to jobs, justice, immigrant rights and an end to mass incarceration.

Read more »

Neighborhood Coalition Awaits City Council Decision on East 12th Street Development

A rendering of the E. 12 Street Coalition's housing proposal.

A rendering of the E. 12 Street Coalition’s housing proposal.

By Tulio Ospina

The East 12th Wishlist Design Team, supported by the neighborhood coalition Eastlake United for Justice, has submitted a proposal to build a 100 percent affordable housing development on the contentious East 12th Street Remainder parcel by Lake Merritt.

Early in November, the neighborhood team decided to partner with Satellite Affordable Housing Associates (SAHA), an affordable housing developer that has built several projects throughout Oakland, including a senior center not too far from the parcel.

The team’s proposal, developed with extensive community input, includes 98 units of exclusively affordable housing, small commercial enterprising space, rooftop gardens and a safe pedestrian pathway connecting the property to Lake Merritt.

The proposal is for a low-rise building, unlike the high-rise tower proposed for the site that was defeated earlier this year by community opposition.

“We see this as becoming a home for low-income Black and Brown families here in Oakland,” said Katie Loncke, an organizer with the East 12th Wishlist coalition

Meanwhile, UrbanCore—the company behind the previous high-rise proposal—has partnered with the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation (EBALDC) and resubmitted a new proposal to the city that would still include a high-rise tower of market-rate housing in addition to a smaller adjacent building of affordable housing units, said members of the Wishlist Design team.

“It’s a tiny affordable housing box being overshadowed by a luxury tower,” said Loncke. “It reminds me of the “poor door” buildings in New York where low-income people are told to go through one door while the wealthy go through another.”

The Post contacted UrbanCore, which was unwilling to share details about its proposal.

The City Council is expected to make a decision on which housing proposal to accept in January.

According to Loncke, the council will look at the proposals’ number of units, the developers’ experience, cost efficiency and community benefits and then decide based on their own criteria which project is the best fit.

On Nov. 20, the community group hosted a “guerilla art” exhibit wherein they reached out to 11th graders at Coliseum College Prep Academy in East Oakland and asked them to contribute a series of murals depicting gentrification.

“It was amazing to see how the students made the connections between gentrification and other global issues without ever using words,” said Loncke.

“These young artists really understood the effects that gentrification and displacement have on Oakland’s low-income communities of color,” she said.

Oakland is now ranked the nation’s fifth most expensive rental market, with Black and Latino residents being some of the hardest hit by the city’s affordability crisis.

According to city statistics, the number of Black residents in Oakland decreased by nearly 40 percent between 1990 and 2011.

“We are saying that if you want to consume Oakland’s murals, music and film, Black and Brown people have to come along, too,” said Brytannee Brown, an organizer for the art installation.

“Black and Brown youth and families are being pushed out of Oakland every day by skyrocketing housing costs. We refuse to become cultural artifacts,” she said.

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

 

Oakland Steps Out for Faith with a Joyful Noise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Racism in Berkeley Schools “Has Been Tolerated for Too Long,” Say Community Leaders

Berkeley High School students walked out of school Nov. 5 after a racist, terrorist threat was discovered on campus. Photo courtesy of NBC Bay Area.

Berkeley High School students walked out of school Nov. 5 after a racist, terrorist threat was discovered on campus. Photo courtesy of NBC Bay Area.

By Ken Epstein

Tensions remain high at Berkeley High School in the wake of a student walkout sparked by the discovery in the school library of a written lynching threat against Black students.

Last Thursday’s walkout, which was supported by most of the school’s 3,000 students, drew national media attention. But Black students and community leaders are concerned that now that the immediate incident seems to be resolved, the district wants to go back to business as usual – ignoring the pattern of racist threats at the school and the ongoing discrimination and racial disparities that are plaguing the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD).

Mansour Id-Deen, Berkeley NAACP president.

Mansour Id-Deen, Berkeley NAACP president.

The district has announced that a 15-year old student has admitted responsibility for writing the terrorist threat on the school computer. However, school officials have not said what will be done to punish the student or what steps will be taken to reduce the level of hostility to Black students on campus.

BUSD is still undecided on what form the punishment should take, according to district spokesperson Mark Coplan, who said the punishment could range from restorative justice, which focuses on rehabilitating the perpetrator through community service, to expulsion.

The student’s punishment will be determined through a confidential process in order to protect the student’s identity.

Berkeley Schools Supt. Donald Evans

Berkeley Schools Supt. Donald Evans

Speaking at a press conference last Friday, members of the Berkeley NAACP and its youth council announced that they would not allow racial justice issues to be swept under the rug.

“I hope the school board understands how serious this is,” said Rayven Wilson, a NAACP Youth Council member. “The Black community sees this as a threat. This is not a joke. We need you to understand our pain is real.”

Moni Law, Youth Council advisor, pointed out that the latest threat follows two incidents at Berkeley High last year – a noose that was found hanging on a tree and racist comments that were printed in the school yearbook.

“This behavior has been tolerated (for) too long,” Law said.

In an interview with the Post, Berkeley NAACP President Mansour Id-Deen says he wants to work with the district to reduce the ongoing discrimination that impacts Black employees, students and parents in the school district.

Id-Deen said he has been meeting with teacher and classified employees who said they are facing discrimination and harassment at work.

“They have gone to the administration to get the issues resolved,” he said. “The administration, instead of assisting them, has retaliated against them in different ways.”

Id-Deen said he has been trying since June too meet with BUSD Supt. Donald Evans, but no meeting has ever been scheduled.

When the City of Berkeley faced similar issues, it agreed to hire an independent company to handle the employee complaints, he said. “We want them to provide an outside firm to investigate the allegations of employees and put forth solutions.”

Looking at student achievement, he said he was concerned that the data shows that Black students are not doing well in the district, but BUSD is “not doing anything to address that issue.”

Further, in the last six years, Black student enrollment has fallen from 40 percent to 19 percent districtwide, but 60 percent of the students who are suspended are Black, he said.

A number of community people are also concerned about the survival of the African American Studies Department at Berkeley High, which has not had a qualified teacher since the beginning of the school year.

“The Berkeley NAACP strongly encourages the board, in collaboration with the superintendent, to use your powers to fill the vacancy (in African American Studies),” Id-Deen wrote a letter to the superintendent and board, dated Oct. 30.

He said that a highly qualified African American studies teacher who retired from Berkeley High last year, Valarie Trahan, has volunteered to come back to teach the classes but has been ignored by the district.

Berkeley schools Supt. Evans, in a May 19 letter to Berkeley NAACP President Id-Deen, addressed the issues of alleged “unfair and discriminatory hiring and promotional practices within BUSD.”

“It is troubling to hear that some of BUSD staff have come to you with their concerns, as that indicates they may not have felt confident in our ability to resolve their concerns, “ wrote Evans.

“I look forward to hearing more from you on this matter,” he wrote. “This is a critical issue to address for the well-being of our staff and students.”

As of this week, President Id-Deen said Supt. Evans still has not contacted him to schedule a meeting.

Members of the Berkeley NAACP are urging people to come to the Berkeley school board meeting to call on the board to protect the the future of the Black Studies Department at Berkeley High.

The school board meeting will be held Wednesday, Nov. 18 at 6:30 p.m. at 1231 Addison St. in Berkeley.

Courtesy of the Post News Group, November 13, 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)