This is an excerpt from reporter Scott Johnson's blog, which focuses on the effects of violence and trauma on the community. Go to www.oaklandeffect.com for updates on his reporting.
"You gotta give," says Minister Mustafa. "These people have been preached to forever. You gotta give if you wanna save them, if you wanna save this city."
Mustafa walks out from behind a table where loafs of organic bread, hot dog rolls, hamburger patties and two stacks of Bibles -- English and Spanish -- are piled high. The table is set up on the corner of 98th and Edes, in deep East Oakland. There's one liquor store on the corner, another across the street, and two more a block away in each direction -- four total in a three-block stretch of bleak flatlands. Mustafa is wearing a huge purple T-shirt that says, "Ask Me About Jesus."
On the corner a woman -- Mustafa calls her his preacher -- is screaming at anyone who will listen. "Jesus, praise him!" she yells, and a few heads turn. "He laid down and died for a wicked, rebellious generation."
"We're out here now," Mustafa says, smiling. "We've got a preacher, a witness, this is our corner now, yep, this is our corner now."
Mustafa is a large man. He smiles easily and approaches anyone willing to listen to his message of peace. He was a gangster once himself, in Richmond, before he got scared straight and took to the ministry over a decade ago. He knows the allure of the streets, and the dangers, too.
His church, Basic Ministries, is in the heart of East Oakland, where the going is roughest these days. He says it's not enough for churches to be just part of the community. They have to be the community itself, he says.
A woman and her small daughter approach the table. He gives her two loaves of bread and a Bible, in Spanish. She nods her head, thanks him and strolls away, daughter in tow.
"It's like a war here," Mustafa says. "Right now we're just dropping bombs, we're lovin' on these people, and once we have a relationship with them, we can go in and start taking over homes." Mustafa says you have to be smart, like a war tactician, to save Oakland. He believes the only people who can fix the city are the ones who let parts of it go south in the first place -- the people who live there, the crack addicts, the alcoholics, the preachers, the mothers and fathers and daughters and sons, the people driving by his bread stand every day.
"Police aren't gonna fix it, politicians aren't gonna fix it, grants aren't gonna fix it," Mustafa says. "There are enough of us to stop this. And I do have a command to take care of my backyard, I do have that command from God."
Mustafa says this corner is an epicenter for the violence in East Oakland. "This is where it all happens," he says. "We're trying to be strategic in our attack, there's a reason we're here and not five blocks from here."
Another woman approaches. She looks tired and haggard, worn out. One of Mustafa's helpers, a man named Elder King, walks to her and puts his hand on her shoulder. She murmurs something about her mother and bows her head.
"Take a break," says Elder King. "Take a break from the pain, take a break from the stress, take a break for Jesus." The woman tears up, then she begins to sob. Elder King grabs her and holds her close. "You're tired," he says. "Take a break from fussin'. Take a break, child."
Nearby, Mustafa is ministering to a boy who has come by looking for bread. "Call me anytime," the minister says and the boy nods. "This is my cell number, you call me anytime, day or night. We need you, please." The boy walks away, then turns and holds up the card.
"Thank you," he says.
Mustafa looks around. His preacher is screaming at the top of her lungs on the corner. A car honks its support and drives away.
Another woman approaches.
"I'll take one of them loaves of bread," she laughs, scooping one up and putting it in a trolley cart. Then she adds, "How much are them Bibles?"
"Free!" Mustafa says, and hands her one.
"This brings me hope, you know, we wanna give people a tomorrow," he says. "Today is Wednesday, we wanna give people a Thursday."
Contact Scott Johnson at 510-208-6429 or email@example.com.