An Unsual Tour Of Art in East Oakland

Entrance to the 23rd Yards
23rd Ave. East Oakland

 

 

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.

 

Yoda.  (A new piece in the Solano Way. Alley) Left to right: Rich, Bill, CG, G and Offie.
Yoda.
(A new piece in the Solano Way. Alley)

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 Wall of Fame
The Oakland Wall of Fame

 

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.

 

The 23rd Yard.
The 23rd Yard.

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.

Those Damn Kids
Those Damn Kids

 

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.

Akil & lil John, Dream's son & brother.
Akil & lil John, Dream’s son & brother.

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.

Hip- Hop’s Art.

"Hip-Hop's Art".

rap lyrics got my head nodding away….

My Kodak snaps, graffiti shows on the digital display…

I wasn’t listening to Outkast, or Dre…

nope, today I’m on that fresh wave, new rappers play…

some Lupe, some Wale, Some Jean Grae.

hot singles from J. Cole,

and Jay Electronica spits cold

…Curren$y and Whiz influenced the music biz…

Pac Div, Nipsey, and Dom Kennedy…

Kid Cudi, Cool kids, Kidz in the Hall…

way down South there is Little Brother ,up North there is Big Sean.

……….and all you hear is Drake when the radio is on.

this is what the kids are listening to…

the internet gives it to you…

I thought it was ridiculous too: skinny jeans and retro shoes…

emo raps and auto-tunes..

But I’m glad the industry grew.

Something new.

innovation.

I’ve been listening to Snoop, Jay-Z, and Lil Wayne for the past decade…

this wave came out of the blue…

this wave came bringing something new…

most importantly, this wave is made for the internet surfer in you.

downloads do what bootlegs used to do.

youtube is the music channel “The Box”.

twitter is word on the block,

The web site for all hip-hop is 1980’s, South Bronx.

blogs lay the laws.

links have their flaws…

and when the internets down…  everything comes to a pause.

It is a big game, it is Saw.

a lot of egos.. a lot of salt…

record sales are at a loss

it takes time to change people’s views and thoughts…

I just ask that Hip-Hop changes with society, but don’t change the art.