RYAN NICOLE AUSTIN

“People have very short memories, especially as progress happens, they forget where things start and they’re just looking towards the horizon. I think sometimes we have to turn around and look back, even though that’s discouraged, you have to turn around and look back, especially when you’re building a community, especially when it’s urban development because a city is nothing without it’s legacy and without its lineage. I encourage the newcomers and the people who are seeing the precipice of this change and supporting the precipice of this change to turn around and look back at the people who started it, look back at what made them come here. Look back at what makes investments so exciting in Oakland right now.”

 

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Ryan & her husband Michael are both Oakland Natives who just bought a home in West Oakland. Normally the photos would be of TownFolk in front of the homes they grew up in but there is something to spotlight about people from The Town buying their own piece of home in the Town, so these images were taken in front of their current home with their son Onyx.

Your name and your age.

Ryan, Nicole Austin, 38.

What neighborhood of Oakland are you from or would you say felt like home? Growing up?

I’m from the east. Um, all of the east felt like home but my house was below skyline, on Surrey Lane. I remember being isolated, you know, there were quite a few kids in the neighborhood but we lived at the top of the hill and nobody wanted to come. They wanted to come up the hill to play. Actually, I lie, they did not want to come up the hill to play. They liked to ride down the hill. So, you know, coming up to kick it with me was difficult, so I always had to come down and then I had to book it up the street before the lights came on. But you know, it was cool with me, the solitude  helped me appreciate being alone. Sometimes I would just go up the block and run the trails or you know, ride my bike or walk the trails with my dog or whatever. It helped me become really introspective. So I had a fair balance of socialization and solitude. Yeah, in my neighborhood. And then honestly we didn’t spend a lot of time in the neighborhood. I would go to school and we had so many different extra curricular activities. So we either be at church or we’d be at baseball practice down at Greenman Field or at piano practice over at Holy Names or karate practice on MacArthur and 35th. So we spend a lot of time in the east, which is why I felt like the East is my home.

When did your family come to Oakland and what was the reason?

My mom is from Oakland, Berkeley. My grandmother had been here for her entire life. I  couldn’t tell you what the reason was for her being here, but I know my grandfather, my mom’s dad came here, Gosh I want to say Arkansas for the military and met my grandmother and they had a love affair, have my mom and then he moved up to Sacramento. They separated, he moved to Sacramento and my grandmother stayed here. My mom stayed with her until she was a middle school age and then she moved to Sacramento with her father and that’s where she met my dad. My Dad’s from Sacramento. My dad and my mom dated from middle school through high school and then after high school got married and then came back to the bay area and settled in Oakland. My mom just could not stay in Sacramento. She always thought it was a podunk town and she’s right. You know, I mean any of us from the bay, know what it is to have that bay flavor and miss it when you’re not when you’re away. My mom came back here and convinced my father to come back here and they got a house in the east, then they got an apartment in the east and then bought a house off of 72nd and Holly. That was my first house, down by Arroyo park is where I was born and we spent my toddler years there and then slowly but surely moved up out of the crack epidemic and away from all of that.

What does it mean to you to be born and raised in Oakland?

Being born and raised in Oakland means a lot. It’s ever changing, right. I’m always connected to the legacy and the history of Oakland knowing that many African-American’s migrated here from the deep south for a new opportunity. That’s extremely important to me, knowing that as they migrated here they laid foundation and roots for what is the cultural and political epicenter as far as I’m concerned of the West Coast. What with Seventh Street, Esther’s orbit room, the Pullman Porters, and then in the East later on, you know, Eastmont Mall and all of that. And then obviously the Black Panther Party and that legacy.  My family touches every aspect of that. My Grandmother who spent a lot of time just being like a Town/Bay kind of chick did a little bit of everything like we all do. She was part of the Panther Party. She was on the steps during Huey’s arrest. She was down at the orbit room. She was like a cocktail waitress, she spent time doing a little bit of everything. I really feel like what my mom sojourned back for was that and I feel I’m an incantation of my grandmother. I feel like I’m her and were it not for my mom coming back here, I probably  wouldn’t have that or I’d be dying to find that somewhere else. So yeah, I feel like my blood runs through the city in real time. My grandmother truly ran through this city East, North, West and then into Berkeley.

What do you think makes Oakland special in comparison to other cities of similar size, stature and history?

I think it’s dissimilar from so many cities. Like there are cities like Baltimore and there’s Philly and there’s all these kinds of second cities that live in the shadows of all the major cities like New York or whatever, DC or what have you. Oakland has that second city vibe which is like the little brother with a chip on his shoulder to the higher more achieving big brother, but this little brothers achievements aren’t to be over shadowed. So Oakland has that kind of grit and that edge, it’s like an underdog in a lot of ways. I think that grit  gives us a kind of naivete and kind of gall to do things that everybody else doesn’t think about doing or it’s too afraid or too conservative to do. So if you continue with the sibling analogy, the big brother lives conservatively and kind of follows a straight and narrow path while the little brother might try to push the margins. I feel like Oakland is like that little brother and little sister who pushes the margins and finds new ways out of the box and new ways to exist with limited resources. That to me is like Oakland’s je ne says quoi that’s what makes us really special and really resilient. I love that about the town.

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Why are people do you think so many people are moving to Oakland?

Because all of that flavor, you can’t manufacture this kind of something. There’s no amount of like pulling people together and trying to make this happen or cool new apps and I phones, apple stores, nothing that humans do intentionally makes the kind of zhoosh that lives and exists in Oakland. We’re just a really dope Gumbo of survival and and desire to thrive. I think people world’s over have wanted to be a part of that and they’ve been a part of it. Whether it’s been taking policy from us, taking our leadership example, taking culture from us, whether it’s like the lingo and the slang or the way we move or taking our artistry basically every dope band that ever existed, had either some front member or backline from the town. I think people are finally being a hip and connecting the dots. Like, oh, wait, Jubal is from Oakland Oh wait, the A’s are an Oakland thing, wait a minute, the Warriors also come from this place that is really dope. How do I become a part of it? We had  a lot of folks that were scared to come here but I think some of the more courageous  prospectors made their way over here and found that maybe there was a little bit more bark than bite in Oakland and maybe a little bit more folk lore to what we were. So they found some amicable places to exist, I think they also came in like prospectors do and assumed territory where we might have been kind of latent and I wouldn’t say lazy, but just not taking advantage of the open spaces and the broken spaces. So new folks are coming in and trying to take advantage of that culture, unfortunately I feel like they’re diluting it though. I’m certainly part of the group of people now that are saying ” no, it’s not that cool don’t come”.  So that we can maintain  that specialist in je ne says quoi that makes us what we are and makes us important to the rest of the world.

So for those who have, and those are who are coming to Oakland what do you wish people knew about Oakland before they came here? Or what would you tell people are the guidelines to be a good neighbor?

I think part of being a good neighbor. Like we’re new to West Oakland, right? As residents, we’re new to West Oakland and there’ve been a lot of situations where, I’m going to give you an example. A lot of situations where somebody new to the entire environment might call the police and certainly we’ve never called the police. We get out, we show our face, we let folks know like, Yo people live here. You gotta be cool. and not even in an imposing way, but just remind folks how to also be good neighbors and that we intend to be good neighbors to them. That we’re not looking to push anybody out and that is what I would advise any newcomer to Oakland to do. I appreciate their enthusiasm. I appreciate the fact that they want to wear the cute oaklandish shirt and  rock the tote and stuff. That’s nice but that’s primary, that’s surface level, I’d like to see them engage with their neighborhood, I’d like to see them get around and clean up, I’d like to see them take part in community activities. Go and get to know what their neighborhood school it’s about. Talk to the young people that are up and down, just become more engaged, become more familiar at a subcutaneous level with this city. That’s really it, however you become friends with somebody,  you have to hearken back on how it was that you became the friend to the person that you are still friends with. You know, the person that you met in third grade who you’re still besties with. That’s probably somebody you broke bread with at lunch or you shared your fruit roll up with and you guys played four square together. It’s not rocket science. It’s the same stuff, get outside, ride a scooter with somebody, share a meal with the folks, see how you can be a real friend and that’ll teach you to be a better neighbor, which will inherently will teach you how to be a good Oaklander.

What do you not like about the current new changes happening in Oakland?

I do not like the fact that we’re on the margin of Oakland. I’m from here and when I came back from college with the intentions of being here, I came back and I moved like into the heart of Oakland, in the East but in the heart of Oakland and I found myself getting pushed out economically. Now I’m literally on the margin of Oakland, I can step a hundred yards down that way and I’m literally in Emeryville. I hate that the newness that we’ve all wanted and that I’ve worked truly blood, sweat and tears in this town to help manifest for the current residents  it’s also the same change that is beginning to push me out and make it impossible for me to be here. I hate that the changes that are happening forget about the genesis, forget about the people who  dedicated time, who volunteered their efforts, who shared their art, who shared their intellectual capital to spark change. I hate that this thing took off like wildfire and nobody came back and said, hey you shared your information with us. How do we make sure that more of you can stay in this city? There’s been a lot of co-opting.  and that’s heartbreaking because it’s not just about credit. It’s about acknowledging the foundation of the thing in order for the foundation to stay in place. People have very short memories, especially as progress happens, they forget where things start and they’re just looking towards the horizon. I think sometimes we have to turn around and look back, even though that’s discouraged, you have to turn around and look back, especially when you’re building a community, especially when it’s urban development because a city is nothing without it’s legacy and without its lineage. I encourage the newcomers and the people who are seeing the precipice of this change and supporting the precipice of this change to turn around and look back at the people who started it, look back at what made them come here. Look back at what makes investments so exciting in Oakland right now.

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What do you like about the new changes in Oakland and resources and everything coming into the city now?

I remember when downtown was a ghost town. It’s fresh to know on Fridays I can’t find a parking space. Now downtown is teeming with people. It’s fresh to know on Sunday I can ride down through the middle of Broadway and see other humans eating food and buying things in the local stores. I like that Oakland’s powers that be have attempted to keep Oakland local. So you’re not going to see a big box store in our downtown or some major chain restaurant, at least you haven’t in this development and I appreciate that. I like that they’re trying to make this an artisan city and that’s something that’s a nod to the originality in the past of The Town that I’m familiar with. I like that stuff. I like it so long as I can afford to be a part of it. I am excited about some of the new ideas and excited about the new energy and just seeing people excited about Oakland. It’s a double edged sword, but on the good side of that sword is a shared enthusiasm for what this place is.

What are your hopes and aspirations for Oakland moving forward?

I’m in a dream. My dream is that some of the people that were pushed out to Antioch or voluntarily moved to Stockton or the further parts away from the bay area, I pray that they can return repatriate, Sankofa style. That would be great and you know, with that, I would hope that they could have jobs and reinvest in community  because that’s our brain trust out there and they just don’t live here and I would like to have them back. If that’ weren’t to happen if that weren’t to happen my hope is that the people that are here are able to stay, the people who’ve been able to kind of claw their way and dig their heels into the dirt and stay here. I hope they can stay, and by state, I don’t only mean paying rent or paying mortgage in this place, but I also mean supporting the businesses that are here, staying in the school system, being a part of the full tapestry of Oakland, the churches, everything, every community event, all of that. I hope that our electeds have a change of heart we’ve got a person at the helm of office who as far as I can see, we’ve never had a one on one conversation, which is a problem to me but, as far as I can see she’s not really concerned with the people and as much as she’s concerned with development. And I really would like her to balance that out in these last four years that she’s been granted, to be in leadership in this city. I hope that the city council and the people in the city hold her feet to the fire for that. I don’t think that any resident, I know some residents look at new buildings and stuff and get excited about what that might mean mean for them. But no resident can afford to live here if the primary focus of the electeds is development. The populous needs to vote in their own self interests. I hope that happens, and I hope in these next four years since voting won’t be happening at that level of office, I hope that they hold her accountable to maintaining the Oakland that  used to be.

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