March 4th Community Forum Report Back
by Marcelo Garzo
On March 4, 2012, over 130 Oakland residents came together at the Bethany Baptist Church to imagine and organize a better North Oakland community. This event was held and facilitated by Phat Beets Produce with the support of dozens of community partners and volunteers, in order to build relationships and bring our collective minds together to create solutions to the most pressing problems in our communities. We wanted to hold a space to listen, exchange directly, face-to-face with our communities, asking for people to bring only 6 things: 3 big concerns and 3 big ideas or visions for the beloved community. These were recorded as folks entered the space, written on butcher paper that lined the walls as the community arrived.
While we shared nourishing food prepared by dedicated Phat Beets volunteers and local businesses including Dorsey’s Locker, we had the honor of opening the space with long-time North Oakland resident and feminist of color elder, healer, and storyteller Luisa Teisch. She brought the teachings and songs of the Yoruba ancestors in order to call us to the sacred task of building community and sharing food and ideas. We were then introduced to the site of Bethany Baptist Church by Pastor John Leggett, who reminded us we were in a home of the black revolutionary tradition, a place where both Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton attended services with their families as children. Coming from the South, Pastor Leggett knows and embodies the long history of the Baptist church as a place of healing, community and political action. We were overwhelmed by the support from the Bethany Baptist Church and are grateful they offered their sacred space for us to have these conversations and build relationships that will be bring about real change on the streets in North Oakland.
Soon after honoring the space, we began our day of dialogue and exchange with 6 thematic breakout groups. The themes for the groups were decided after tallying the results of the 3 big ideas and 3 big concerns the community brought with them. The groups discussed: Community Safety (Gang Injunctions, Policing, Violence), Affordable Housing (Foreclosures, Accessible Homes), Transportation, Food and Health, Education (School Closures, Alternative Ed) and Community Beautification. We then began our community visioning exercise, imagining what our ideal neighborhood would look, feel, and taste like before drawing these images in a collective art practice. We closed the space with the palabra/word of Chicano elder, activist and poet Rafael Jesus Gonzalez. He reminded us that in coming together as a community we had mobilized the most sacred force of all: the power to love.
We express our deepest gratitude to everyone who came out to make this event possible and are looking forward to continuing the dialogue at future community forums. March 4th was only our first effort to facilitate North Oakland residents in building new relationships and deepening existing ones in order to cultivate justice, health, safety and power in the community. Stay tuned for follow-up meetings and ways to stay involved!