Saturday morning, Oakland residents rose to the occasion and came out to celebrate spring and Earth Day which arrives officially Thursday. The city showed off its green from the north side to the south side and all points in between. Young and old gathered on block after block with psychedelic green trash bags in hand and shiny new trash pickers at the ready. Neighbor greeted neighbor, trees were planted and trash hauled away. Oakland was waking up and answering the call, “Green It!”
The greening of the Hoover/Foster enclave of West Oakland, particularly the neighborhood of San Pablo at Mead and Athens, was no exception. This area of deteriorating Victorians was hit by a string of homicides earlier in the year and became a known haven for heroin addicts.
In the bright morning light, an eclectic mixture of church folk, community workers and a few who actually live in area, along with some property investors, were greeted by the city’s finest in full uniform asking everyone to be mindful of discarded syringes and broken crack pipes. The mood was light and the air festive as each crew set off to their chosen locations.
No loud music, screeching tires or confrontations of any kind. All that could be heard on April 17 were the cheerful voices of the Earth Day participants discussing how deep a hole needed to be to for the trees, or greetings to early morning risers in the ‘hood, or prayers for divine intervention being lifted by the faithful from two of the many churches in the area.
Quietly serene, in harmony with the morning birds songs, were the occasional squeaks of the wheels on overloaded shopping carts being pulled or pushed over potholes and uneven concrete down Market Street. Walking in this area gives a different perspective on what needs to happen, and can happen, to improve an area that reflects the deteriorating American inner city.
Prayers answered are evident, however, with bright spots such as The Bay Area Recovery Project on the corner of Mead and San Pablo and the Measure Y Team across the street. Opening its doors to anyone in need of breakfast bars and water, the Recovery Project sees after those with long histories of alcoholism and drug addiction. With stimulus funding and the generosity of the public and private sector, this inspiring group has set its sights on the boarded up building across from its offices for transitional housing for women.
The Measure Y Team, in white windbreakers and ball caps, is doing its part to curtail the violence and repair some of the negative images this area has seen over the span of many years. Its community presence provides gang prevention and intervention programs for young men between the ages of 14 and 35.
Some might say these are small steps. Unemployment is still high and the schools are still struggling, but there is hope being born from years of heartbreak. Homes in foreclosure that become drug dens are common. Vacant lots that beg for somebody to till the soil and plant vegetables and fruit are still sprinkled about. There are still a number of liquor stores and no major grocery store within walking distance, which makes healthy food choices difficult.
Hope is still alive, however. As long as community activists remain the never-silent conscience of the city, and the long-time hardworking residents say loudly without hesitation that high crime and gang violence are unacceptable, change is going to come. Apathy is still deadly.
Thank you, Mr. Mayor, for the many dollars that were spent to make Earth Day 2010 a huge success. Please understand, however: Earth Day has to be every day in some parts.