On July 5th, 2014 a group of 14 African American men departed the East Oakland Youth Development Center (EOYDC) , en route to a 14 day stay in China. These young men went from Deep East Oakland to the Far East with one goal:
To change the world… and the world’s perspective of them.
The young men, five undergraduate students and nine high school students, were accompanied by three chaperones (I was one of them). This method of mentorship was designed by Ms. Regina Jackson, CEO of EOYDC (and a chaperone on the trip as well), as a part of her organization’s Brotherhood Across America- youth led college mentoring model.
The college students, all STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) majors, were selected in order to provide linked learning opportunities, which would give exposure to career possibilities to the younger men. In addition, the brotherhood mentoring circles were aimed at building strong individual character, as well as the collective group identity– which is EOYDC’s tagline: “building character to build communities”.
Fittingly, the community’s character was a driving force in getting the young men to China.
Sponsored by local businesses, churches and organizations, the group– known as the Think China 2014 delegation, arrived in China with a world of support under their wings.
The voyage was a part of the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, which was signed by President Barack Obama earlier this year, as a part of the White House’s focus on education. At its heart, the trip was a great opportunity for a cross-cultural exchange, as well as a chance for the young men to develop core values for the White House Education Initiative.
Because of the weight of their responsibilities, the gentlemen were lead through a rigorous schedule of classes and site visits; interspersed with character/ team building activities and fine dinning in China.
The young men saw Buddhist Temples in Hangzhou and department stores in Shanghai. They visited the Great Wall of China and the Xixi Wetland nature reserve. They went to automotive plants, made dumplings, learned Mandarin, studied the Chin Dynasty, talked modern politics, and even found time to eat KFC AND Peeking Duck (not at the same time) … And of course, they drank lots of tea and ate plenty of rice.
All of the young men journaled throughout the course of the trip, as was a requirement. Everyday, a different young man who be held responsible for submitting a journal for publication through EOYDC’s website.
While the young men enjoyed the trip and blogged about it, I stood back and took it all in– through my camera lens… Here are just a few of the many moments I captured while we were in China.
The 23rd Yard in East Oakland graciously opened its doors to Cynthia Gorney and her husband Bill Sokol on Sunday June 1st, 2014.
Bill is a big time labor lawyer in the Bay Area, and his wife is a top reporter for National Geographic, both of them also work as professors. She’s professionally inquisitive and he’s naturally adventurous. When they called me to ride out, they were on a random bike ride to Cam Huong; the Chinatown restaurant with the top notch $3.00 Vietnamese sandwiches– one of MANY personal favorite destinations in Oakland.
I was with my boys, not too far from there… So, we mounted up & mobbed out.
We met them on 9th and Webster, biked to 14th Ave. in a dash and ended up near the Burger King in the San Antonio District. That’s where the tour started.
Solano Way Alleyway.
That’s where I pointed out the first “TDK” tag. Spray painted on a wall was a yellow race car, and written in black paint were those three letters. Cynthia, or CG as I call her, was familiar with the story of “TDK”; she was in the audience during the screening of my thesis film, The Dream Kontinues. She urged me to tell Bill what “TDK” means…
“Those Damn Kids”.
The eyes behind Bill’s thin glasses frames lit up as he let out a wholesome laugh. He was evidently enjoying this.
And then we took photos.
We biked under the shoes on power-lines, hit 19th ave, busted that left, and headed down East 12th st.
CG, Bill, and a couple of my homies: Feelthy Rich, G and Offie. A bunch of random folks rolling on spokes.
Someone out of the crew said it looked like they (CG & Bill) had four security guards with ’em as they toured the hood. Maybe.
I had to admit, it was something out of the ordinary to be biking with older white people through the “Murda Dubbs” in East Oakland.
I met CG during my first year of grad school, she was my journalism professor. She taught me stuff about the English language that my K-8th grade experience in Oakland Public Schools didn’t teach me, nor my high school years at a college prep school in Danville.
Way before I met CG, I was introduced to her husband. Back when I was just learning how to turn a camera on, I met thee Bill Sokol. I was a student at Youth Radio, and he was the company’s lawyer. One day, I got an assignment to film him yap away about free legal advice. I showed off my mighty camera-turning-on-ability on that day!
I’d bet my degree that neither of them imagined: one day I’d be taking them on a mini-tour through East Oakland– I know I didn’t see it coming.
When we got to the Safe Storage facility on 29th Ave. CG kindly asked an employee if we could access the legendary “Oakland Wall Of Fame”, which was behind the storage facility’s security gates. The nice young lady behind the desk granted permission to our band of biking Baby Boomers & Brothas– and we walked into my thesis film.
The Dream Kontinues, is a 20-minute documentary film about a graffiti artist (a writer) named Mike “Dream” Francisco, his contribution to the art world and how his crew still paints to this day. Dream and his crew ,”TDK”, used to paint on the walls of East Oakland’s 23rd Yard. I mean, they’d hit everywhere: all around Oakland, SF, Berkeley, and even moving busses all around the Bay Area. They were Those Damn Kids. And they lived up to the name.
But, the place where they earned their name, that was the 23rd Yards of East Oakland.
It has always been an industrial side of town, with a whole bunch of train tracks and loading docks for the surrounding factories.
After a couple of decades of artistic vandals staking their claim, it’s grown into a museum. An outdoor art gallery. A half-mile stretch of self expression, brought to you by generations of Krylon-paint-can-toting juvenile delinquents… Some of whom grew to be artists. Really, really good artists.
The “Oakland Wall of Fame” is dedicated to one of those really-really good artists. His name was Mike Francisco; they called him “Dream”. He used to paint in the 23rd Yard back in the day. In the late 80’s he did a couple of pieces that put the Yard on the map– including this one piece called The Best of Both Worlds.
As we walked and talked, Bill pulled me aside and told me that his son used to write graffiti– and he used to depend on pops to hide the spray paint from the fuzz… aka CG.
I told the married couple, and my homies what I heard in interviews from Dream’s family and friends. About his run-ins with the law, his growth from hustla’ to artist and how he played an essential role in founding the TDK crew– a collective of artists who still write to this day.
The letters TDK are now on walls in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Cuba and of course- East Oakland. What once started as “Those Damn Kids”, morphed into “Tax Dollars Kill”, “The Dark Knights”, “The Damn Kings”, and slew of alternative acronyms.
Mike “Dream” Francisco was murdered in 2000, in what has been reported a robbery. He was 30 years of age. Aside from a long lasting art legacy and crew of writers, he also left behind a son, Akil.
The art on the walls near the tracks still stands. Persevered for people like CG, Bill and my crew to see. And even though some of the tags, pieces and murals get painted over, they never get erased. The paint is still on the wall, it’s just buried. Waiting for someone to discover the story behind it… And tell a friend or two.
Who killed Trayvon Martin? George Michael Zimmerman.
Why am I mad about George Zimmerman gaining celebrity status? I mean, don’t we celebrate murderers– all the time?
As my portion of the world turned to face the sun this morning, I read the news and felt as if I had been slapped in the face: DMX vs. George Zimmerman in a celebrity boxing match.
“Celebrity”: That’s what the twitter accounts of News Breaker, The Griot (NBC’s effort to appease African-Americans), and CNN (supposedly the standard setting news company… supposedly) called the forthcoming fight.
I got mad: Mad at the media, mad at social media, mad at America.
Like, this shit is cool? A guy shoots a kid, gets away with it– and now he’s a celebrity. I mean, come on… It’s Black History Month: we’re supposed to be celebrating our ancestors and forefathers. I don’t celebrate murderers!
Well… Actually, I do. And I’d argue that the majority of Americans do too.
From famed Wild-West gun slingers to renown rappers who claimed Westside– murderers are celebrated in America’s popular culture.
“Yeah, I’ve killed somebody,” said a friend, during a casual conversation not too long ago.
The living room got dead silent. There were only a handful of us in the room– but mannnn, you could hear our collective interest growing. We wanted to know that story. My friend, a former Marine, told a bit of his tale of traveling the world, and spreading Democracy with bullets; the American way.
We didn’t “celebrate” the fact that my friend killed someone (and neither did he). But for that brief moment, while we indulged in his story, he was the coolest dude in the room. Hands down.
“Murder was the case that they gave me,” once said a young Snoop Dogg. And when Calvin “Snoop Dogg” Broadus beat that murder case, his popularity grew. And continued to grow. Is Snoop Dogg a murderer? Well, he beat the case. I mean– I don’t know if he actually killed anyone. I wasn’t there.
The fact is: a “gang member” (as the LA Times Article initially identified him), a man by the name of Philip Woldemariam is dead… and Snoop Dogg/Lion/Zilla is still making music. And he’s still a celebrity.
Speaking of celebrity rappers getting out of jail after beating a murder charge: Lil Boosie is set to come home soon! He’s currently serving an 8-year bid on a drug case. But while in the pen, Lil Boosie was facing a 1st degree murder charge. Torrence “Lil Boosie” Hatchet was accused of ordering Michael “Marlo Mike” Louding to be his hired triggerman. Well, Marlo Mike is now sentenced to life in prison without parole. Lil Boosie’s name is gaining a greater celebrity status as I write this … and Terry Boyd, a young Black man, is dead. But, #FreeBoosie tho.
I’m not saying Boosie or Snoop shouldn’t be stars for their talents– I just think it’s ILL that killing someone can earn you respect.
On the other side of the “famous because I killed” coin, are people like this guy named Watani Stiner.
I think Stiner has an awesome story. It’s a tale of the struggle for freedom, a shooting on UCLA’s campus and a father’s sacrifice for his family. I’ve interviewed Stiner before; I was only allowed to bring in paper and pencil. I’d love to interview Stiner on film/ audio/ oh hell, if I had a nice photo of him it’d be worth a thousand words. I think the world would love to hear about how he is serving a life sentence for the murder of two former Black Panther leaders, how he escaped prison, and then turned himself back in– for his family. But, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation prohibits the media from conducting interviews with specific inmates, out of fear that the interview will cast that incarcerated individual into a world of stardom.
First name: Eye. Last name: Ronic. (Ironic).
The amount of money the prisons are making off of Black men is astounding– but that’s a totally different story.
The crux of this story: “Tell me what’s a Black life worth?”- Tupac.
Look man, even if World Star Hip Hop gets exclusive broadcast rights, TMZ photographers catch first-row photos of the carnage, and they attach a GoPro to DMX’s forehead– so we can see a 1st person perspective of what some people might call justice. I wouldn’t watch it. I just don’t want to see that shit.