Oakland Tree by airbandito, http://www.flickr.com/photos/artbandito/2803228485/
Kemba Shakur founded Urban Releaf, a 501c(3) in 1998. She plants trees. Her organization has planted over 12,000 trees. She employs youth. She provides training in a field in which minorities are underrepresented. Her urban forest education and stewardship training program (UFEST), is becoming a national model for engaging urban youth, who as Shakur acknowledges, “face significant challenges with respect to higher education and sustainable employment”.
Urban Releaf provides jobs in urban forestry to urban youth and has contributed substantially to important environmental research conducted in West Oakland. Shakur’s green work is an inspired David to the Goliath of decades of dominant land use patterns, which have allowed development in West Oakland that has compromised the quality of life for residents. Shakur has planted trees at schools, homes, open space and any other space her urban foresters have been welcomed. Her work employs youth, engages researchers, and greens urban spaces however it has not been easy.
While it has been nationally recognized and serves as an inner-city forestry model Urban Releaf suffers from constant under funding and persistent political infighting that has constrained Shakur’s efforts.
W.O.G.I., founded in 2002 also plants trees. Fiscally sponsored by Friends of Oakland Parks and Recreation, they work with the city of Oakland and other business interest. What they do not enjoy is popular support of West Oakland residents, and their existence and current activity are an example of how gentrification plays out on the ground in urban neighborhoods and as a general example of how the needs of poor and disenfranchised people are left out of dialogues that are of critical concern to their lived realities.
W.O.G.I. --encouraged by its strong relationship with the city and the business community-- has tendered a multi-million dollar proposal to reforest West Oakland. In a recent public meeting, a representative of W.O.G.I. stated they had no plans to guarantee employment to residents of West Oakland. Further, their tendered plan would legally hobble Urban Releaf, forcing them to be a W.O.G.I. approved contractor in order to continue to execute the mission that Urban Releaf organized under before W.O.G.I. existed.
Why is W.O.G.I. better qualified to do what Urban Releaf has been doing longer?
What do grass roots organizations like Urban Releaf with track records and scholarship behind their work have to do to be taken seriously in dialogues about marginalized spaces?
Can we entertain a conversation about enabling and allowing communities to be the driving force behind efforts to revitalize and redevelop the spaces they call home?
Can we critically engage the historical results of paternalism and past prescriptions in West Oakland and acknowledge how such actions have contributed to the current state of longtime residents?
Finally can we consider the term environmental in its broadest interpretation as we consider the best means to green West Oakland?
We would have to consider all articulations of green—jobs, physical space, mental states, and a vigorous conversation about the true meaning of equity.
Editor's Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. For guidelines, see: http://oaklandlocal.com/tos