I was talking with my friend Charles after attending First Fridays near Telegraph. We were talking about the energy of First Fridays mixed with the recent shooting that happened a few blocks away. Charles said:
“You know, Oakland like…before it gets too cool, before people get too comfortable, someone just has to get shot.”
When I was growing up in The South Bay, Oakland was the city that everyone asked “Why?” about. “Why would you go there?” “Why is it so fucking ghetto?” “Why Oakland? Why not San Francisco?”
Well, for starters, Oakland isn’t just the bullet-ridden streets of East or West Oakland. But, I suppose for the sake of argument, let’s assume that it is.
People know of Oakland for the murder stories that pop up on the local news every few days. They know Oakland for the Oscar Grant tragedy, the Lovelle Mixon massacre, the countless OPD scandals…Oakland is a city that’s easy to stigmatize, its blighted and molded exterior prevents most lazy eyes from looking deeper.
I’ve come to know Oakland as a city of great adversity, and adversity is the fire that forges great influencers, be they heroes or be they beasts.
Look at Damian Lillard. Look at Gary Payton. Look at Tom Hanks. Look at Bruce Lee. Look at Felix Mitchell. Look at Your Black Muslim Bakery. Look at Too $hort. Look at Tupac.
One only needs to drive East 14th/International from one length to the other to truly find the cross-section of Oakland’s soul. You’ll find the beauty and the bestiality of inner-city life in a town that’s a drip over 400,000 residents. A thriving Latino community that boasts the best taco trucks in Northern California. A consolidated drug block that changes owners with gunshots and arrests. A small business owner who serves the community without judgment to race, age, gender, or previous convictions.
Oakland isn’t a victim or a mere survivor, its importance isn’t based on its continued existence in spite of its problems. Oakland matters because it has it’s own talented, creative, vibrant core that is free of the pretention and glitz that can be found in its more shiny neighbor to the west.
San Francisco represents the blooming success and wealth found within the rich hills of the Bay it lent its name to. Oakland is something else. Oakland is what you’d see if you had an endless amount of drive and energy married with a subpar amount of luck. It’s easy to overlook and dismiss because of its deep crime stats and urban blight. But it’s there, waiting to be discovered by the world.
There’s true diversity, indomitable hustle, white hot will, and ironclad intelligence to be found in this city. This is the home of the fiercest fans known to football. It has the best tacos in the Bay Area, undisputed. It’s the mecca of Bay Area hip-hop. It gave birth to Black Panthers. It’s the concrete yang to the airy yin of San Francisco.
There is a there, there.