This is an excerpt from reporter Scott Johnson's blog, which focuses on the impact of violence and trauma on the community. Go to www.oaklandeffect.com for updates on his reporting.
I wanted to follow up on the piece I wrote Sunday, in which I summed up some of my thoughts and observations about living in an East Oakland neighborhood plagued by crime. Many people have written in over the last several weeks sharing their own observations and experiences. I wanted to pass some of those along today.
"I have been saying to public officials for years to invest in Oakland's assets," wrote Shawn Ginwright, an East Oakland resident, author and university professor. "The strength of communities -- block parties, neighborhood dinners, church picnics; these are the types of investments that over time build bridges, and ultimately makes Oakland a more humane dwelling place."
I was glad to see that many people who had never been to East Oakland were moved to rethink their own views, in whatever small ways.
"I have not spent much time in the East Oakland area, largely because there is no real draw for me to do so," wrote Michael Abell, an Oaklander who has ties to Belfast, Northern Ireland, which, of course, has its own set of troubles. "Unlike the streets of East & West Belfast in Northern Ireland that have colorful murals and sidewalks and lovely bakeries (we visit the area several times a year to see family in adjacent neighborhoods), there is just not much in the way of a draw for most Oaklanders to go there. Couple that with the press perspective that we routinely get, it just seems smarter to stay clear of it than wander in and see what it is like. The press typically makes the East Oakland area sound quite dangerous."
Another woman wrote in and told of her constant efforts to "defend" Oakland to people three thousand miles away whose view of the city is as jaded as it so often is here in the Bay Area. "We are a good people, loving people, caring people, God fearing people and a forgiving people," said Patricia Ford, a former executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union. "You gave a glimpse to the outside world of what I always knew and I thank you for it."
Others wrote in to tell more¿ about J's Ice Cream, which I wrote about, or to alert me to some new community initiative. In fact, I received more mail from this one project than I have on any other story or series of stories I've done at the paper these last 2¿1/2 -- a sign, I think, of how deeply and passionately people feel about their communities.
Meantime, I learned about a project that I think could be useful to people who are interested in shaping the story about Oakland. It comes via Steve Spiker, at Urban Strategies. Here is an excerpt from a release:
"ReWrite Oakland is an all-day writeathon that will culminate with the launch of a new website called 'Oakland Answers.' Oakland Answers will be a citizen-focused website, written in plain language, making it quick and simple for people to find city information and services they are looking for online. This event is open to anyone in the community, regardless of technical expertise. City staff and the community will collaborate on answers to common civic questions, such as 'When can I park at a yellow curb?' or 'How do I get a business license?'"
Join them Saturday by going to the ReWrite Oakland section of EngageOakland.com.
And finally, there's an art project that could be worth checking out. It's in East Oakland, in a blighted housing complex slated for destruction. Before it comes down, artist Ise Lyfe used the building as a canvas. Here is what Lyfe had to say in a statement released through City Councilwoman Desley Brooks' office:
"When I was growing up, I didn't have words in my mouth like 'poverty,' 'injustice,' 'racism,' 'under privileged' or 'prison industrial complex.' "Calling my neighborhood my hood was a source of pride, not an indictment or negative slant toward the homes and people that made up my community. My friends and I never called ourselves 'at risk' or 'youth of color.' We called ourselves by our names. We have names."
Contact Scott Johnson at 510-208-6429 or firstname.lastname@example.org.