Tur-ha Ak and his niece at his martial arts studio, photo by MsSmittyB
There are many businesses where "locally grown" is an asset. Several Oakland restaurants, retail and service providers boast that their local products, employees and staff serve customers better than imports. Local entrepreneur Tur-ha Ak applies this principle to his security business, Urban Shield Security Services.
You may have spotted his crew dressed in black with red logos at cultural events such as the Grind for the Green or the Malcolm X Jazz Festival. Ak said he hopes people haven't had to notice them too much.
"The best security prevents the use of force; it actually eliminates the need for security," he said.
Urban Shield was born out of community work. Born in Louisiana, Ak said "I grew up as one of those discarded by the school system. The martial arts and my parents saved my life."
Ak came to Oakland more than 20 years ago as a "little brother" in a community organization. After decades of reading, continuing to study martial arts and volunteer work with several local African-American leaders and grassroots organizations, he said he came to his own consciousness. He describes his outlook as centralist and respectful of all perspectives.
"Most ideology comes out of a need," Ak said. "Separations are detrimental to the empowerment of the impoverished and the weak."
The company was started by an elder, Nika-Sig for "Community Protection" and then passed on to Ak when Sig moved overseas.
Security means different things to different people. On the one hand, everyone wants to be free to go about the day to day business of moving through Oakland without worrying about criminals. On the other hand, everyone wants to be free to go about the day to day business of moving through Oakland without worrying about police brutality or abuse of power. Aki describes the role of both private security and police as the same important job.
What should be happening is "an ongoing dialogue about what the community needs, not just what benefits politicians," he said. Urban Shield staff work to remain neutral and sit in the middle, to protect all individuals from predators. He goes on to add "I might not agree with you, but my job is to protect your right to express and give the space and freedom to do so."
Under the leadership of Ak, Urban Shield has grown and balanced the needs of both Bay Area businesses and citizens. According to him, the ideal security force has ongoing relationships with the community they are protecting and serving. The company hires staff from the areas they work and have had contracts throughout East Oakland, West Oakland and the Tenderloin district in San Francisco.
"If I am well versed in my environment, I know who I can talk to and calm him down," he said. "We've operated in the toughest areas without having to engage in violence. Instead we use love and discipline."
As a continuation of that community perspective, Urban Shield also has a program for local schools - Always Ready Mentally Equipped & Disciplined (A.R.M.E.D.) - that takes the discipline of Asian and African Martial Arts forms and uses it to equip children with anti-violence skills.