CHARLES “BIG CHUCK” JOHNSON

“You literally could leave your door opened at that time because your neighbors was your neighbors. If you hear somebody opening the door, it’s your neighbor coming in to just come kick it with you like we normally do.”

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 What’s your name and age?

Charles Johnson. People call me Chuck, I’m 44 years old.

What neighborhood of Oakland are you from or would you say you associate growing up with?

Sobrante Park

What was it like growing up for you in your neighborhood? 

Sobrante Park was a hybrid between realizing that you had black ownership, but you definitely had your ghetto side. It was filled with a lot of families which stayed together. It was almost like a village, you know what I’m saying? You couldn’t get away with doing something around the corner. You got Mr. So N So who would break it down to your family,  when you wasn’t doing right and now you’re getting it double time in one day. So that was what was dope about growing up basically in the era that I grew up in, which was the 70s and 80s and Sobrante Park. But then obviously things like crack kicked in 84,  85 and it changed that whole family dynamic forever. And this is when you really  start seeing former mothers that used to keep it together, now she a dope fiend. You began to see territorial fights. You have Brookfield going against Sobrante Park right across a railroad track, and you know, dudes that be in class together with each other. Now they fighting all because they live right across some railroad tracks because they were rival drug turfs. So it was just a different, unique time, I would see how we could get together and do barbecues but then next thing you know, we could see two dope fiends having it out

So you’re old enough to remember some of the pre crack error?

Oh, off top.

What did the neighborhood feel like pre crack era?

You literally could leave your door opened at that time because your neighbors was your neighbors. If you could hear somebody opening the door, it’s your neighbor coming in to just come kick it with you like we normally do. You didn’t have a thing where shit was getting stolen yet. But when the crack era kicked in, I remember specifically it was one time I’ll never forget, I came home with moms and they told me to stay in the car. We had just came from watching a movie, if you from the Town, you remember this old school note, I think it was at the Lux or the Roxie. We was at one of those movie theaters downtown watching Kung Fu movies.  We just came back home and our TVs was gone, my Atari 5200 was gone. I was traumatized by that shit, it was a mark to me of the neighborhood changing.

What did the demographics of this neighborhood look like growing up for you?

I mean, keep it real. It was predominantly African American in this particular neighborhood. I had some homeboys from the Latino community, I had a couple of Samoan homeboys and homegirls.

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When did your family come to Oakland and do you know what the reason was that they chose to move here?

My grandparents, they both were from different areas of the country. My grandparents they started this thing in the 50s, over you know 60years ago around this area. Bottom line was in the West you had opportunity for people from down south who was coming from Texas, Arkansas or Atlanta area. You had an opportunity to get good jobs. The naval airbase for example, the Bay Area used to be a real hub that just in case of a war started. Right here in the bay you could get a good job working for naval companies. I think people from the south in general we’re just coming to the west looking for opportunity. And I think both my grandparents were in on that same route and they met each other. They didn’t come together, but they both came from their areas. So that was, you know that.

What does it mean for you to be born and raised in Oakland, and an Oakland Native?

Being an Oakland native is very dynamic at times, and sometimes it frustrate the hell out of you, but it’s all what you are. And it depends on who you are as an individual as well. But Oakland is a certain attitude. It’s a certain pride we carry, no matter, where we at. And to keep it real. It’s fascinating, when I’m in a whole nother’ state, 3000 miles away, they can just literally id me and be like you’re not from here, you look like one of them Oakland Dude’s, Just the way we talk, it’s just recognizable all over the country if not all over the world.

 As they say, “Internationally known and locally respected.”

Exactly.

What makes Oakland special in comparison to other cities who have a similar history and stature?

I know we’re unique in our own way, I know Chi town got something to say about where they from. You know what I’m saying? I know Detroit got something to say where they from, I know New York got something to say. Those are kind of culture stables,  places that really just impacted culture in a national way. I think Oakland natives did the same thing. We have really impacted people on a national level, on the international level. I think because we had had the player moments where macking came up out of here. A lot of dudes emulate that to this day. We also had the Black Panthers so we had just those two extremes alone. We’re on one part of it was “The Mack” the movie, next thing you know we had Huey P Newton and the Black Panthers also had they movement.  We just built that way, Chocolate City used to be our real attitude and the culture. As a Chocolate city we knew how to have mayors in the city. We ran a lot of businesses. We dominated in sports, it’s just this one big gumbo. It’s just different things that we were good at.

 What do you think is making people so eager to move here to Oakland?

I mean in 2019, it’s just a unique place to be. It’s the California weather, it’s incredible jobs out here. The point is it’s high competition for living out here, and so it is doing what it’s starting to do which is take out the locals and jobs are hard to get for the locals. So now it’s like this big survival of the fittest game. Whether you from Texas or wherever you coming from, you come in here to be here. I think it’s because of silicon valley, these people coming out here because we in the hub of technology, man. You know what I’m saying? So no matter where you are coming from, you know that the bay area is the hub for places that you need to be. And Oakland is like prime real estate. Like we got the 880 freeway, we got the 580 freeway, we got BART, we got the airport down the street. We’re 20 minutes away from San Francisco.It’s just a lot of ups to why you would move to the bay area and Oakland is right at the hub of it.

 

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What do you wish people knew about Oakland before they came here? What would you tell new neighbors are the guidelines to be a good Oaklander?

I think being a dope Oaklander for newcomers and the people that are just coming in,  we all respect each others culture and quote unquote boundaries. You know what I’m saying? We’re not trying to phase nobody out. We just try to learn and adapt to I guess you can say a common ground that we can coexist. For example I’m from the African American community, we like loud music sometimes. Then you maybe from the Latino community, you might like loud music sometimes. We gotta kinda coexist. So some nights you might have a get down and turn it up loud and some nights we get down and turn up loud. We should be able to be neighbors and look over the fence and say, hey buddy  tonight I’m about to be partying and we should be able to be accepted as to that versus trying to change culture and the way things were before you even got here.

What do you not like about the new changes going on in Oakland?

I’m not opposed to change, I’m only opposed to not having resources for people to sustain. Some people really want to stay in Oakland, but because of maybe a job or maybe because of lack of education of how to do something like generational wealth, they lose opportunities.  I just want there to be a mechanism or a program that brings awareness to people who are basically on the way to losing their stuff,  before they lose it.

So what do you like about the changes?

I liked the changes of evolution of the technology that you see around you. I liked the changes and the opportunities that you got going on, whether it’s the Oakland A’s. Rebuilding or new government.  I personally, I don’t mind being around diverse culture and I’m open to kicking in and learning new things. But I think because there was a traditional Oakland that we were so used to and now it’s changing.  I’ve always been willing to adapt or learn how to go with the tide, but it’s just what it is. It’s a change that’s happening that maybe some are not ready for or maybe some don’t want, but it’s happening and you better adapt.

What are your hopes and aspirations for Oakland?

My hopes and aspirations is of course keeping crime down you know, sustainability of housing and the ability to have business opportunities that’s open to all crowds and all age groups in all cultures. Because let’s face it, it’s a select few that know how to get to the bag in Oakland. And those select few that get to the bag, they not exactly trying to give the game to everybody.

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