RIP Willie Clay: Paying Homage 5 Years later.

Five years ago a close friend of mines, Willie Morris Clay, was shot to death in Oakland, Ca.

He passed on January 26th, 2006; while at least three others were shot, and one other passed; after an assailant opened fire in the intersection of 22nd ave. and East 28th st.

It was at that same intersection that friends and family gathered five years later to pay homage to the members of our community that had fallen on that fatal evening.

This is the park bench we used to sit around….

The Homies…

Beeda Weeda, an Oakland based rap artist, provides the soundtrack for the community as always…

The fuzz…

The Housing police soon closed on the festivities….

As Beeda Weeda talked to the original officer, back-up came on the scene, and the crowd dispersed.

The five-year anniversary of a tragedy in Oakland streets will go down as yet another community celebration ended by uniformed law enforcement. No one was injured and no one was arrested.

Although interrupted by intervening forces, the gathering was a time I’m sure all parties present can agree was time well spent in honor of a fallen friend. Personally, this was the first time I had been in Oakland since Will’s passing five years ago and this served as an opportunity for me to see a number of friends all at once, crack jokes, tell stories, and catch-up… as Will would have wanted.

(A full article about the deaths of Willie Clay and Marcell Campbell, as well as the deaths of a number of other teens appeared in SF GATE; And  I personally wrote an article immidietly after Willie Clay’s death called “Babies and Bullets“.)

Homies Empowerment Dinner

At 6pm on January 4th, 2011, inside the Eastlake YMCA in Oakland, Ca I spotted Pocho-One’s green A’s cap bobbing and weaving through the rows of teenagers in attendance for the evening’s event. Pocho-One was juggling his responsibility of distributing snacks on paper plates, while simultaneously snapping photos of the event he helped to create: Homie’s Empowerment Dinner.

This week’s Homie’s Empowerment Dinner featured special invited guest JR Valrey, an international journalist with roots here in Oakland, Ca. Valrey screened his documentary “Operation Small Axe”, which addressed issues of police brutality and documented much of the Oscar Grant saga here in Oakland.

The young men and women enjoyed food, a special screening of a documentary, and an engaging discussion- all for free. Cesar Cruz, founder of the Homie’s Empowerment program made it clear that, “we don’t do this for free… we do this for freedom”.

The intended goal of the weekly event is to get youth, especially Latino youth, from different neighborhoods to meet face to face, and break bread.  A large portion of the dialogue from the Homie’s Empowerment Dinner was guided toward understanding and making strides to get past the concept of “divide and conquer”.

Jack Bryson, family friend of Oscar Grant, was in attendance for the event as well. He opened his speech by informing the audience that this was his first public appearance at an Oscar Grant related event since the sentencing of Johannes Mehserle on November 5th, 2010. Bryson spoke of the verdict, and how it had gotten him down; but this event resurrected his spirit. He concluded his speech with three questions and a statement,

“Why is there Black vs. Black violence? and Brown vs. Brown violence?… or even Black vs. Brown violence?…here in Oakland, where the cops shoot us down, its evident that the violence is Blue vs. Black and Brown.”

The meeting concluded with a ceremonial circle of attendees exchanging handshakes and hugs. This ceremony was adopted from the United Farm Workers, and serves as a physical manifestation the concept of unity within the community.

For more info on the Homie’s Empowerment Dinners: homiesempowerment@gmail.com

MLK Way in Oakland on MLK Day.

MLK Way. MLK Day. Photo Essay in O.A.K

MLK mural. MLK Way and Grand Ave. Oakland, Ca

Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Oakland, Ca can speak … it speaks in sign language.

Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s name adorns street signs all throughout this nation; it’s a common sight to see streets named after the honorable Dr. King run through the heart of a community known for violence and criminal activity. The city of Oakland’s MLK Way follows suite, however Oakland’s street named in the civil rights leader’s honor also speaks to the injustice in the community.

The first street sign baring Dr. King’s name within the city’s limits is located on the corner of 61st and MLK. I focused my camera in the midst of the mist and the low fog, I captured the image of the sign, and then I noticed something more on the light pole…

The gang injunction post introduced me to a neighborhood where I would find burned houses and memorials for homicide victims…

I was three blocks into Oakland, and the three sights that I had seen thus far caused me to wonder what lay ahead of me on this track. The silence of my placid wondering was shattered as a three car Bart train whistled past.

Senior Center

I noticed a senior center …I wonder how many of the occupants of the senior center remember Dr. King alive, marching, and speaking his word?

I continued my march down MLK Way…

I took note of the words posted on the street poles, every image tagged on private property, and every piece of art mounted on the earthquake retrofitted concrete pillars which hold the Bart tracks suspended above the traffic.

The remnants of fliers for rallies spoke loudly on the topic of the city’s issues with the local police force.

The path of artistically articulated words and antiquated advertisements lead me out of North Oakland and to the front door step of West Oakland’s Marcus Garvey Bookstore.

As I marched on through West Oakland’s Ghost town neighborhood, the California sun began to break through the Bay’s foggy skies, and Oakland’s true color began to show…

I marched into Jack London Square and took this picture of the fog, the shipping crane looming in the distance, and the last Martin Luther King Jr. Way sign in Oakland.

The end of the line made for an anticlimactic ending, but the lack of climax was the calm before the sign of all signs…

I was running late for a Martin Luther King Jr. Day screening of the documentary, “Strange Fruit” put on by Oakland’s African-American library. Upon arrival I noticed a sign on a bus bench that made my entire trip come full circle;  it spoke to the state of Oakland, it spoke about Martin Luther King Jr, it spoke about the manifestation of “Strange Fruit” in our modern world … most importantly: the sign spoke…

"Police are modern slave catchers"

“Not everybody can be famous. But everybody can be great, because greatness is
determined by service. – Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.