On Friday, Hayward will have an installation ceremony for the Children's Memorial Statue, commemorating the children who have died due to violence. Unless something dramatic happens between now and then, Oakland's sister statue will be at the Bras and Mattos Monument Co., in limbo.
This is a story of missed opportunities (so far), miscommunication, looking a gift horse in the mouth and what can only be described as downright rudeness.
Let me back up. Former Alameda County Supervisor Gail Steele was one of the first public officials to recognize and publicize the tragedy of children killed by violence. Every year she read the names of children who had been killed. In 1996, she and parents who had lost children to violence started planting a tree in a grove in Anthony Chabot Regional Park for every slain child.
They had no idea the violence would become an epidemic, and each year they would plant numerous trees for children whose lives were stolen before their 18th birthday.
With more than 200 trees in the grove, the East Bay Regional Park District told the group it couldn't plant anymore trees.
"So we came up with the idea of a statue," Steele said. Working with the parents, they chose three children to be featured on the statue, representing the hundreds whose lives have been cut short.
Warren Hoffman was just 3 when his father killed him, his mother and then himself in Oakland in 1992. Jennifer Lin, 14, was at home after school in what was considered a safe neighborhood in Castro Valley when she was killed in 1994. Christopher Jones, 17, was shot to death in the driveway of his Oakland house in 2010 while he was putting his 5-month-old niece in her car seat.
When the parents talk about the crimes, the pain is as fresh and raw as if it happened last week. Yet they are determined to raise public awareness about violence against children. They refuse to let their children's lives be lost in vain.
"We certainly don't want all of these children to be forgotten after such an unfortunate, violent death," said John Lin, Jennifer's father. It was 20 years ago when he came home from work and found his daughter's body. The case remains unsolved. "This project serves as a reminder to the public. My wife and I are both passionate about this project."
Steele and her group raised the $110,000-plus for the two identical statues. They decided to approach Oakland and Hayward to receive the statues because those cities have lost the most children under 18; Oakland has lost 187, Hayward, about 50.
Hayward embraced the idea and moved forward. According to the parent's wishes, the statue will be placed in the back of City Hall.
Oakland was another story. Steele said she got an enthusiastic response from several top city officials. The parents liked the idea of placing the statue in a park around Lake Merritt, so they were advised to go to the parks and recreation department. Steele said members of the parks and recreation advisory council said they supported the idea and instructed staff to work with her.
"I had one conversation with someone in the fall and then I never got an additional phone call," Steele said. She said she called every three to four weeks and no one ever called back. Last week, a secretary responded to an email and said she would have someone get back to her. No one did.
A city spokesperson said Steele had been advised to go through the gift review process managed by the public arts program, but hadn't submitted a proposal. Steele said if she had gotten such advice, she would have pursued it.
"But they're missing the point. It is not a piece of art, it's a memorial. It's about the children who have died," she said.
And then there are all of those unreturned phone calls. "I've been in public office and I know they're very busy. But everyone else returned my call."
Maybe there's a good reason why Oakland can't accept a gift to commemorate the children who have died violently here. Maybe no one could help Steele and the parents navigate the bureaucratic maze so the monument could be displayed. Maybe it makes sense that Hayward can display the statue and Oakland can't.
The names of 400 children are etched on the statues.
"The three children (featured in the statue) are different ages and nationalities," said Brenda Grisham, the mother of Jones. "They represent the innocent lives lost to different forms of violence we need to work on."
"For Oakland to put the statue in a place for the families to see shows compassion. It would show caring and understanding," Steele said. "The families would know someone cared about their kid."