Voice to Voice: Sacramento meets Oakland

St.-AugustinesSacramento Voices visited their fellow community journalists from Oakland for a day of tours and discussion on a sunny weekend in March. Oakland Voices shared personal stories of their city, from Saint Augustine’s Church to the streets of East Oakland near the Coliseum and along International Boulevard. The Voices wrote their impressions of the East Bay city, a place with a diverse, rich, often misunderstood and sometimes tragic history.  


Roze Castaneda: From Oak Park to Oakland

I got so many chills and goosebumps from all the stories and historical information the Oakland Voices shared with us about different businesses and streets or parks in their city.

The first thing I noticed about Oakland was the great graffiti that decorates the walls and streets so beautifully. People of color grace the sidewalks and shops with ambition and drive to get somewhere, somewhere beyond the comfort of their homes. This reminded me of home in Oak Park.

Saint Augustine’s Church is significant because it’s where the Black Panther Party launched the first free breakfast program for school children.

The Black Panthers were heavily involved in Sacramento’s Oak Park. The had their own chapter and met on 34th and Broadway. Today the site is a coffee shop where I study for my classes. Oak Park is like a little East Oakland. While we were “Deep in the E,” as some Oakland Voices referred to East Oakland, parks and neighborhoods and shops looked just like shops and neighborhoods in Oak Park. Streets were littered and the buildings looked old and some were abandoned.

International Boulevard reminded me of Stockton Boulevard with ethnic shops and people of color, even prostitution. Human trafficking is heavy in Sacramento and Stockton Blvd is a main street for those activities.

Gentrification was a hot topic throughout the tour. Oak Park is currently undergoing gentrification from North Oak Park to the South, and honestly, it pisses me off. What’s the point of gentrification, really?

Many would argue that gentrification cleans up areas of poverty and makes them safer and nicer to live in. But because the property values rise, many people are forced out if they can’t afford to keep up. In effect, many people are forced to out of their homes. They move in with other families or face homelessness.

Tamara Knox: Kind deed, warm heart

I was excited to visit Saint Augustine’s Church.   This was the church where the Black Panther Party launched the first Free Breakfast Program for School Children. I already new that party did positive things for the community, but to actually be standing in front and visualizing their kind deeds towards the community children, that warmed my heart. Not only did I want to see Saint Augustine’s because of its history, but the building itself is absolutely gorgeous!


I was also very interested in the Mount Sinai Missionary Baptist Church in East Oakland. This particular church was one of four that host the weekly Ceasefire Friday night walks for peace. People stand on corners within proximity of the church and promote peace, not war. Our final destination was International Boulevard. It was great to see several different communities, which included Latino, Polynesian, Southeast Asian, Native and African American residents.

Burt Clemons: Rich history, familiar problems 

The energy, passion and excitement of the Oakland Voices crew came across strong and lively as we traveled along International Boulevard. It reminded me of a large Stockton Boulevard in Sacramento, with its mixture of cultures and diverse populations. Each OV member knew so much about the history of each ethnic spot, such as night clubs, eateries, organizations, and so much of the rich history of their city. I could see, in my mind’s eye, the stories of how life use to be and how Oakland has changed to present day.

Martin-ReynoldsThe gentrification that has settled into the Oakland area is a mirror image of Sacramento. Listening to the Oakland crew explain the frustrations of their neighborhoods and the officials who were (or weren’t) serving their respective communities was like listening to the same record. Schools under performing, land being set aside for sports stadiums, special projects being shut down, all because of different interest groups, and a few do-good people in the community, trying to make life better for those they represent or care about.

Oakland has a rich history and the Oakland Voices have plenty of stories to drawn from and share. There’s the infamous Fruitvale BART station shooting of Oscar Grant, the killing of the newspaper reporter Chauncey Bailey, or the controversy of the Oakland NBA team wanting to move to San Francisco and still be referred to as an Oakland team.

Oakland feels like a bigger version of Sacramento, though Sacramento has about 50,000 more residents. The major difference seems to be the passion that Oakland residents have when it comes to their involvement in the community. Sacramento, although it’s the state capital, is a town of passionless state-worker type people who don’t want to shake things up.Brenda-Jones

Let’s hope Mayor Kevin Johnson changes the way Sacramento has been over the past century: A cow-town living in the shadows of cities such as Oakland.

Sara Langer Rowley (Oakland Voices): Glue of a city

Taking a tour of my own city isn’t something I’ve done before, but something everyone should do once in their life. I’m slowly piecing together the places, the people, the history of this fascinating city as time goes on, but it became clear as we drove down International Boulevard that my cohorts at Oakland Voices, and their friends, families and organizations are the glue of this city.

My neighborhood in East Oakland had the reputation of being “dangerous;” some friends wouldn’t even visit us at night from wealthier cities in the Bay Area. But these people saw Oakland as one monolithic culture, described by the 10 o’clock news as riddled with murders and car chases and saddled with an economic anemia.

What remained invisible to those who don’t know Oakland were the vast numbers of people in Oakland communities who dedicate themselves to making this not only place to survive, but a place to thrive. I think about my neighbor, Ericka Huggins, who revolutionized what a school could be through her work with the Black Panthers. I think about the East Oakland Sports Center, an affordable, gorgeous community health center that sits deep in the recesses of East Oakland near the airport. And the diverse group of people practicing Capoeira at the Lake Merritt Farmer’s Market. There’s so much more.East Oakland fences

And as I heard my cohorts at Oakland Voices pass the bus microphone back and forth as we drove down International, telling stories of the stores they went to as children, the trouble their siblings got into, and the secret restaurants, my view of Oakland got larger and smaller at the same time. Larger because I saw a bigger picture of how much this place means to people, and smaller in that I realized there is so much more I need to learn.

 Photos from top: Saint Augustine’s Church and Oakland Voice Sergio guides the tour by Tamara Knox; Voices director Martin Reynolds overlooks Voices at Oakland Tribune office, Oakland Voices coordinator Brenda Payton and East Oakland by R.E. Graswich.

About R.E. Graswich
R.E. Graswich, the Sacramento Voices coordinator, has four decades of experience in Sacramento media, communications, policy and politics. Career highlights: Sacramento Bee Metro columnist, video columnist for CBS 13, drive-time co-anchor for KFBK, Special Assistant to Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and author of the Amazon sports best-seller "Vagrant Kings: David Stern, Kevin Johnson and the NBA's Orphan Team," a history of the most traveled franchise in U.S. major league sports.

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