From the Wall Street Journal to the New York Times to Conde Nast Traveler, the city we’ve called home for years is getting plenty of ink these days.
Coverage about Oaktown tends to follow one of two main narratives. In the first, the city is undergoing a major renaissance, one marked by a development boom, an emerging tech sector, and a thriving nightlife and restaurant scene. National news outlets are breathlessly chronicling this phenomenon, with Oakland appearing on Forbes’ list of “America’s Coolest Cities,” Newsweek’s list of “America’s Can Do Capital,” and the New York Times’ list of “45 Places to Go in 2012,” just to name a few accolades.
Meanwhile, a second narrative about Oakland also is unfolding. In this story, this once chocolate city is now not so brown. According to the Census, as of 2010, African Americans comprised 28 percent of the city’s population, a steep drop from its heyday. “At its peak in the 1980s, African Americans made up 47 percent of the population,” writes hometown journalist Brenda Payton in The Root. “The city elected a series of black mayors. At one time, most of the city's departments were headed by African Americans, and the City Council had a black majority. Times have changed, starting with the demographics.”
Taken in tandem, these two stories suggest that Oakland’s black folks are only playing one role in the city’s emergence as a national destination, that of the displaced. That’s just not true. In fact, black folks also are at the forefront of our city’s so-called renaissance, and have been since before the New York Times and other national outlets started taking notice of Oakland as a cultural mecca.
Oakland’s diverse group of black culture makers don’t fit into any one mold. They are artists and entrepreneurs, community organizers and media makers, techies and thinkers, visionaries and doers. They are both Oakland natives and transplants from all over the world. They are turning pop up enterprises into sustainable ventures, making and showcasing all kinds of art forms, and innovating spaces where everyone can come together and take part in critical discussions.
We have to engage in necessary dialogue about the impact that Oakland’s growth is having on our black communities. But we also must not ignore black folks’ contributions to the city. This is the story about Oakland that often gets untold – and it’s the one we want to tell. That’s why, starting this month, we will be kicking off a multi-media project right here on the online pages of Oakland Local called “Real Oak Folks” (Twitter hashtag: #realoakfolks). Each month, we will present one or two profiles of the African Americans who are leaving an indelible mark on this city, and we’ll mix written profiles with videos and photos to make the stories come to life.
Although we have ideas about the people we want to profile, we also need you – the reader – to help. We welcome your suggestions and contributions. Leave a comment here or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Soon, we’ll also be inviting the city’s African American residents to share their perspectives and stories on video about Oakland’s ongoing transformation. Stay tuned for more details on this event.
Regardless of their diverse interests and characteristics, Oakland’s black culture makers have one thing in common. These are the folks who are working tirelessly to make this city an amazing place to live and to be. They cannot and must not be written out of any story that gets told about Oakland.
Follow RealOakFolks at #realoakfolks and at RealOakFolks: Meet Oakland's leaders http://bit.ly/TimOYM