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.

OG Told Me: a Write-up in my old High School’s Magazine

Athenian, my old high school, published an article on me and my OG Told Me project!!

New Guard Meets Old Guard, Pendarvis Harshaw ’05

An elderly man leans on a rail at a track meet, left hand on his hip, gazing at the sky. His expression says he has experience and he knows what’s up. He is Tommie Smith who gave a black-leathered glove fisted salute from the winner’s circle at the 1968 Olympics. “If you keep living, you have to keep changing with times, ” he says.

page-21-b-screen-shot-2013-08-13-at-3-40-17-pm

Another Man, in graying dreadlocks, smiles as he looks down at a photograph from the 60s. He points to a young, lanky kid in the photo and says, that’s me.” He is Ronald Freeman and was once a member of the Black Panther Party. “Just look around,” he says. “Figure out how to impact the situation and make it better.”

Two men sit on a sidewalk and crack jokes over a game of chess. Their bare, muscled arms are poised over the game pieces as they concentrate on their next move. They are “David Ruffin” and “Philly Fred”, fixtures on the street in Washington, DC’s Uptown. David says, “Follow your heart. Stay close to your mother.”

all of these remarkable photos and words of wisdom are featured on a photo-journalistic website called OG Told Me ( ogtoldme.com ), created by Pendarvis Harshaw ’05. “It’s an ode to the elder men in the community who gave me tidbits of wisdom as I moved through society as a child,” he says. “They taught me what to do and what not to do. Sometimes It’d be a neighborhood big shot standing in front of his car. Sometimes it’d be a homeless person at a bus stop.”

The OG project is a replica of what Pendarvis did growing up, now told with a camera and a blog site instead of a pen and notebook. ( OG is a term for elders and means original gangster, but now has multiple meanings: old guy, old guard, original griot (storyteller). He travels around Oakland, asking elders the question: given your life experience, if you had the chance to talk to (young*) people, what would you say? “In a world where so many die young, you have to be doing something right in order to live that long,” he explains.

Pendarvis is currently a gradate student at UC Berkeley studying documentary filmmaking, and is also a free-lance journalist. “I’m drawn to journalism and the art of storytelling because poetry is the basis for all good writing,” he remarks. ” I

choose to focus on the overlap of education and violence/ justice because that’s where I think I can make an immediate impact.”

When asked what Athenian experience has influenced his life the most, he says,” Mannnnnn … that trip to Death Valley! I think about that so often! Greatest lesson ever learned has to be the lesson of the Hero’s Journey. Experience it through hiking across the hottest place in the Western Hemisphere, only to return home– a complete Hero’s journey.”

And his words of wisdom to others? “Pack light,” he says. “That’s all I tell myself.”

 

 

UC Berkeley Essay: Reporting on Oscar Grant.

UCB ID.
UCB ID.

Damn! It’s already the second month of the second semester… The 1st semester flew by. I mean, I made friends. I wrote. A lot. And of course: I partied… a little bit.

Ok, 1st semester highlights:

1. I learned.

2. I produced.

( My favorite pieces:

A story on Bay Area journalist and mentor of mines, Kevin Weston, and his bout with Lukemia : http://oaklandnorth.net/2012/11/30/bay-area-journalist-kevin-westons-fight-against-rare-cancer/

A story about a teacher named martel Price and his battle with disciplining his students … and himself.: http://oaklandnorth.net/2013/01/10/one-oakland-teachers-lesson-on-discipline/

And the rest of my pieces:

http://oaklandnorth.net/author/pendarvis-harshaw/

3. I got the best grades ever ( do grades matter in grad school?)

I wanted to write about the racial interactions on campus in comparison to Howard. I wanted to talk about the way the administration handles their business in comparison to Howard. But all I spent too much time reflecting on it…

A moment (or hour) of reflection before I start producing stories for my 2nd semester caused me to dig up the big idea that got me here in the first place… Here is that idea in words.

… The essay that got me in to school …

8 Days on Oscar in Oakland

by Pendarvis Harshaw

When the news of Oscar Grant’s death broke I was rushing to leave Oakland, literally. I was sitting passenger seat in my aunt’s car en route to an early morning cross-country flight. From the moment I landed in the Nation’s Capitol, I watched the Oscar Grant related events closely through news sites, social media, and phone calls.

18 months after the morning that left Oscar Grant dead, I was back in the Bay, home from school for summer vacation and just in time for Grant’s case to be heard in a Los Angeles County courtroom. It just so happened that the trial for Oscar Grant’s case was scheduled in the middle of my coming of age experience; June 30th to July 8th, 2010 is an eight-day stretch that I mark as an early apex in my career.

I worked as one of Youth Radio’s lead reporters on their body of coverage on this issue. On June 30th National Public Radio aired a piece I produced titled, “Oakland Awaits Verdict In Subway Shooting Trial”, an audio montage of Oakland residents speaking about the impending verdict in the trial of Johannes Mehserle. Two days later, on the morning of July 2nd 2010, I was granted a rare candid interview with the Mayor of Oakland, Ron Dellums. We discussed Oscar Grant’s killing, resident’s feelings towards law enforcement agents, and the future for Oakland. I asked the Mayor about the possibility of renaming the Fruitvale Bart Station after Oscar Grant; this would lead to an audio project I co-produced by the name of  “The Grant Station Project”. On the evening of July 2nd I documented downtown businesses boarding up in preparation for Oakland’s reaction to the verdict. The entire next week I worked with Youth Radio as a correspondent on the trial deliberations.

On July 8th at 4pm the verdict of involuntary manslaughter was released. As I stood in the center of the city, 14th and Broadway, through my headphones I could hear whispers of the words “involuntary manslaughter”, and then the phrase was repeated in question form, “involuntary manslaughter?”. And the question was answered in an emphatic statement, “Involuntary Manslaughter!”

I spotted a girl I attended elementary school with standing about 15 feet adjacent to major gathering where I was standing. She was in tears as she expressed her disgust with the situation; her image would be on the cover of a major Bay Area newspaper the following day.

As the afternoon turned to evening, the helicopters swarmed and the news cameras rolled. In the large sea of people, I recognized faces from all walks of life: teachers, teammates, and Oakland’s top talent, like musician Dwayne Wiggins and actor/comedian Mark Curry. The community was out in force.

That night, I left before the vandalism and uprisings. I grew up in Oakland; I had been in similar situations and knew what was to be expected at nightfall.

On the morning of Friday of July 9th I recall walking through downtown Oakland; the town was wounded but still breathing. Storefronts had been vandalized. Trash was in the street and graffiti was on the walls. But at 9am there were people going to work. I was one of those people; as I headed to Youth Radio’s headquarters at 17th and Broadway, I remember being extremely excited about going to work: We were scheduled to have cake! We were celebrating making it through the prior eight days… as well as my 23rd birthday, which was July 6th. I hadn’t had time to properly celebrate. I was too busy growing.

In the aftermath of July 8th, I was overcome with a feeling of fulfillment I had never experienced. The feeling of doing something meaningful, in a place that is meaningful to me, is nothing short of amazing.

I’m sure the actual videos, photographs, and my twitter records document this time period far more dramatically than I can, especially now that I am so far removed from that time

I am passionate about reporting, documenting, and telling stories. I love traveling; I’ve spent a week or more reporting on issues in Senegal, Ireland, and Denver during the Democratic National Convention of 2008, which was a world unto itself.

These experiences were all remarkable and formative, but it turns out my richest experience was at home in Oakland. There is nowhere I would rather pursue my passion for and master the many facets of telling meaningful stories than at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. Through this tremendous opportunity to be exposed to journalism at a higher level, I hope to grow just as I did the week of my 23rd birthday, both professionally and personally.

Happy belated birthday Oscar Grant, here is my latest article: http://oaklandnorth.net/2013/02/12/oscar-grant-family-reaches-out-to-mother-of-kenneth-harding/

Game Time. Class Time. Time Invested.

I had a shitty academic week, so I took it out on the hoop court on Friday night.

And then I wrote about it.

(I showered first.)

….

It’s the tempo of basketball:

the freestyle-the jazz-the avante garde method of thinking-acting-and-reacting.

That’s what I love about the game.

Wanna be a baller, shot caller... (Photo by Spencer Whitney).
Wanna be a baller, shot caller… (Photo by Spencer Whitney).

I’m 5’5 and to be honest- that doesn’t really work to my advantage on the hoop court. But I’m quick, I have good vision, and above all: I think really well on my toes. I adapt.

In the classroom- during discussions- I’m usually in the middle of the discussion- throwing out my insight. Another example of thinking on my toes. But when it comes to reading a 20-page affidavit in one sitting, writing an 800 word article in ninety minutes, or sifting through the shit-loads of emails we get sent daily… it takes a totally different method of thinking:

Thinking on your heels- (if you will).

It takes time. And seeing growth from time invested is a wonderful thing.

Through my experience thus far in the classrooms of Cal Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, I’ve grown.

Multitudes.

Clarification: I’ve grown = I’ve made mistakes… but those mistakes have been my lessons. My ability to spell, write, and take notes have hit a j-curve. My comprehension of English has grown to the point that I’m now understanding Spanish better, un poco. My eye for details in the world has increased my ability to dress…

(I got a compliment on my fashion from a cute girl the other day- go figure?)

…  And this is only the first month.

Yeah, there’s nothing like growth through time invested.

I bought a basketball a little less than 3 months ago- I play quite regularly.

I mean, I suck. But I’m getting better.

I like to hoop by myself with my headphones on- early in the morning, it gets the blood flowing. I also hoop with my homies- I hoop with random homies…

Last weekend, I hooped with my ten year-old niece… she made more consecutive shots than I did.

(She was in the key, I was shooting from 3) … (That’s an attempt to cover my own ass).

She shoots. She scores.
She shoots. She scores. (Photo by Spencer Whitney).

When my niece made a couple of shots- I saw her face light-up. And that’s why I like to hoop… There are few greater joys in life than seeing that damn ball drop into the net: swishhhhhhhhh….

He shoots. He ...hits backboard. (Photo by Spencer Whitney).
He shoots. He …hits backboard. (Photo by Spencer Whitney).

It’s an instant confidence builder. It’s a manifestation of one’s desperate attempt to calculate the trajectory of a leather-wrapped inflated object, through air, and into a metal cylinder… A cylinder that is only twice its size in circumference.

It’s all that intelligent shit… and it’s also Jim Jones’, slightly less intellectually-stimulating-statement of: “Baaaaaaaaallllllllllin,” which is a reference to financial success- and is shown through a hand gesture which originates from the follow through of a made jump shot.

Yeah: made shots- writing- my niece- the hoop court- the classroom…financial success.

Gotta make my shots.

"On the playground is where I spent most of my days. Chillin' out, maxin', relaxin' all cool. And shootin' some B-ball outside of the school ..." (Photo by Spencer Whitney).
“On the playground is where I spent most of my days. Chillin’ out, maxin’, relaxin’ all cool. And shootin’ some B-ball outside of the school …” (Photo by Spencer Whitney).

Alright… that was a good post game press conference, I’ll leave ya’ll on this note.

Check out this video of this 5’4 homie getting stooooopid on the hoop court:

And on the topic of evolution/ hoops/ and making media: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-OZI0-LhuQ&feature=related

President Barack Obama Comes To Oakland.

Hello Mr. President
Hello Mr. President. Welcome to Oakland.

One glimpse of the police motorcade, and I flashed back to my DC days …

As a student at Howard University, I spent five years in the Nation’s capital. A Presidential parade was nothing new to me. Although the eyes of the Nation were focused on my hometown, I was more concerned with simply going home.

I closed my books and came out of Oakland’s main library: Hungry. Frustrated. Feeling pissed. Plus I had to piss…

“If all these badge rockin’ overseers (officers) weren’t around- I’d water this shrub.” I remember thinking to myself as I copped a squat next to a bush.  The police wouldn’t let me cross the street; they told me that the President would be passing in ten minutes… My thoughts began to race, so I held my bladder, and blasted off a couple of tweets:

  “If i pass this class, I can save myself. If I save myself, I can save my people”

 “… No matter what the President does… “

“(I’m sitting next to a bush, tweeting… surrounded by policemen.)”

….

If I pass this test I can graduate undergrad. If I graduate undergrad, I can start grad school. When I finish grad school, as a professional journalist with a teacher’s degree, I will be able to access and allocate resources that we all can use to better our community.

In the grand scheme of things the, Presidential election does matter. I know it does.

Do I have any voice in that matter- honestly, I don’t know. I know- 1 vote, 1 person. I know the electoral college. I know that large “Political Action Committees” are BIG sponsors of campaigns. I also understand that there is a lot that I don’t know.

I understand that there is a Black man in the most powerful office of all of the land… I understand that very clearly…

But I’ve only seen that via media. And I don’t always believe the media… especially media about the government.

In person, I’ve seen some things:

In September of 2008, I was in Denver for the Democratic National Convention.

In November of 2008 when the news was announced that Senator Obama had been elected as President of the United States of America, I was on Howard University’s campus in Washington DC.

I was even in Nation’s Capital on the frosty morning of January 20, 2009 during the inaugural celebration of America’s first African-American President.

I saw it. I didn’t understand it. But I saw it.

I didn’t vote in the 2008 election… I know, I know…

I support the image of a Black man in the Oval Office, it speaks volumes as to how far this country has come. But the politics behind it- I still question. I figure I fall into the fray, full of Black folks who feel the same way; untrusting of our government. Untrusting is an understatement…

Look man, I’m coming from Oakland, Ca. A place where people have seen the underhandedness of local governing bodies time and time again. In the past four years- we’ve seen blatant dirt on the hands of the State (CA budget) , the City (Police), and even the Transit cops (Oscar Grant). To think that the Federal Government- will do something to better the situation in our Oakland neighborhood is behooving, farfetched, and unrealistic to many of us out here.

Well, recently… the Federal Government has done SOMETHING to aid the city The NY Times ranked as “the World’s 5th best tourist attraction of 2012”…

On the same morning that the Federal forces made a move to close Oakland’s famed medical marijuana college… a mass shooting occurred at Oikos University, a small Christian school located in East Oakland. Unfortunately fittingly.

There are people in this city struggling to make ends meet, losing lives to gun violence  (with both policemen and black/brown men behind the trigger), and people who have been scarred by the woes of the world. These are the people who don’t trust in the government. On any level.

The 99%er movement, which swept the Nation in October/ November of 2011, took to a different feel here in Oakland. Protesters of all backgrounds combined forces and claimed residency right under Oakland’s main tree- in the center of the city. The local governing officials didn’t take too kind it’s new neighbors, and eventually gave them an eviction notice… in the form of a sunrise police raid. The raid set off a domino effect of rebellious actions on the part of the people- and eventually ended with many reports condemning the City of Oakland’s approach to the Occupy situation.

The remnants of this movement are still felt locally, as spray paint still adorns the side local businesses and the grass on the City of Oakland lawn is still patchy and brown. Nationally, the Occupy Movement in Oakland is still ringing bells, hence this NY Times Article published on Aug 1st, 2012.

President Obama’s late July appearance in Oakland was greeted by protesters… per usual. Many of the protesters were fighting global injustices, federal wrong-doings, and for the legalization of medical marijuana… And  some protesters were just out there to protest, as many do in this city.

While protesters, fans, and police motorcades focused on President Obama being in town, three notable events occurred in Oakland:

1. An investigation was ongoing after a weekend shooting in East Oakland left a 5-year old girl in the hospital.

2. A two-day incident, which initially began as a high speed chase and eventually concluded in a house in East Oakland where a standoff between armed men and police lasted 12 hours.

3. The family of Alan Blueford, a teenager who was shot by OPD, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of Oakland. Blueford was killed on May 6th. The officer who shot, also shot himself in the foot. The officer’s name has not been released, neither has Blueford’s autopsy records. Therefore, the family cannot move forward with this case.

These are the problems that haunt this town. Local issues. These are the issues I find myself concerned with. Local issues … not National issues.

The people of my city are children who have been hurt by miscellaneous happenings, sisters who have been scarred by society, and people… hurt people.

Just imagine: If cured, what wonders could these people do to change society?

One week after President Obama’s visit to Oakland, an article about the nature and nurture of Black men in Oakland was published in a local newspaper. The very next day, the NY Times again chose to shine light on America’s new tourist attraction: Oakland, Ca.

How can we open our doors to the world, if our house isn’t clean?

What is the significance of President Obama leaving the white house, to come to a town where Black and Brown people die in the street- before and after he leaves?

I’ve done a little research; now, I’m sure I could stand to do some more, but this is what I’ve concluded:

 I- a young man who watched the 2008 Presidential election process with a lazy eye, a young man who has watched the little (if any) “change” in my local neighborhood with a hawk’s eye, and a young man who is going to the University of California’s graduate school of journalism this fall… I have a responsibility.

Outside of individual donors, the University of California Berkeley was noted as the biggest contributor to Barack Obama’s 2008 Presidential campaign, and the Golden Bears are among the leading contributors to President Obama’s 2012 campaign thus far.

I need to pay more attention to the connection between the local issues and the federal/ National implications of these issues…For my voice does matter.

And, if I can take it upon myself to broaden my focus, I’m sure the people in power locally can take their mind off of federal/ national issues to deal with hometown matters.

I’d be willing to make a deal.

My curbside treehouse was prime real estate for these ruminations. I emerged from my thoughts just in time to take a photo of the Presidential parade as they made their way through the East Bay.

Ten minutes passed, Presidential Lincolns passed. Remaining true to their word- the officers then said I could pass. I went home, urinated, and studied some more. I’ve got a class to pass.