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.

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Foolish Pride…but That’s How P-Ride.

In middle school, I hated free lunch. You know how embarrassing it was to stand in that line? I don’t… Cause, I never stood in it. I’d sit and be hungry before I ate free lunch.

In high school, I hated going to the store with the foodstamp card, you know how embarrassing it is to whip out that colorful EBT card in-front of a store full of people? I don’t -I’d wait for everyone to walk out of the store before I made my purchase.

And now that I’m in college. The stage in life where everybody is struggling. I find the hardest thing in the world is to ask for financial assistance.

This is the classic example of having so much pride that I’m not willing to compromise my morals for money.

And this boggles the mind…

Is it an extension of the same middle school and high school shame?

Is it a Black folks thing- where we only brag of wealth, and shamefully hide our short comings?

Is it a man thing- where societal gender roles say: Pendarvis, you’re a man now, and your role in society is to protect and provide; and since you can’t provide for yourself, you must protect yourself…and your self-esteem?

This is deeper than the grumbles of my stomach on the late night. This more emotional than the frustration I feel as I try to call my family back home…and my phone is cut off.

This is the battle between morals and pride when your money gets tight.

Thursday night, my hunger caused me to swallow my pride: I asked a co-worker and long time friend, Jeremy Odoffin, if I could have a micro-wave TV dinner tonight cause I couldn’t afford to buy anything to eat.

On the first floor of the college dormitory in which we work, we sat and talked over the freshly microwaved blessing brought to me by Marie Calender.

Jeremy said, “At a point, you have to sit and question- What is it about society that put you into a position where compromising your morals is the only means to survival?”

I sat. I questioned.

what is it?

Why did I not eat free lunch in middle school? Why was I ashamed to use food stamps in High School? Why am I still ashamed to ask for a TV dinner in college?

I AM A MAN

I am a man.

haven’t I seen that slogan somewhere before?

The civil rights movement! thats right!

They had so much Black Pride that they collectively decided not to compromise their morals.

Many African-American’s took to the streets baring signs that read: I AM A MAN. Simultaneously, King’s Dream and Malcolm’s speech were about holding America accountable to the freedom promised to all citizens as defined by the US Constitution.

I should be able to wake up in the morning and be able to pursue my true happiness uninhibited by the societal requirements for survival…the societal requirements that cause many men to sale dope and rob innocent citizens…the societal requirements that cause many women to strip and prostitute…the societal requirements that cause many people to throw their morals out of the door when their money gets low.

When it boils down to it, I’m not going to sale dope to my community in order to eat tonight. I’ve been there, and I’m never going back. I’m not going to drive around women so they can dance for money, and give me a small percentage in order to pay my phone bill. I’ve been there, and I’m not going back. And I’m not going to plot on the pockets of intoxicated individuals who have more money than I. I’ve been there, and I’m not going back. I’m not going to compromise my morals and I take pride in that.

Ironic, some might this piece as a man calling out for help, and truthfully there is a touch of that present in my prose. But more evident than my need for financial assistance, is my need to see my self as a self-sufficient man.

In closing: I find it funny how, when I don’t NEED something, but want to see if I can get it for free, it starts off as a game: “can I use my words to get this or that” is the concept… and if I don’t get it, it’s kind of humiliating and humbling all in one. But when I sincerely NEED something and want to see if I can get it for free, it starts from a place of slight humiliation and complete humility…but when I don’t get it …its not a game.

Yea, It’s not a game.