“I always felt like Oakland was a black city. I felt like it was a black city. I felt like it was about black people about black resistance, about like black creativity, you know? And so, so yeah. So for me, being an Oakland native, I feel like it’s about that. It’s about preserving that history and that culture. And that loyalty that we have, that respect that we have for each other. And just a love for the town. That’s just unlike anything else. It’s kind of hard to describe it because it’s just a feeling, you know what I’m saying? But yeah, for me being a native means, it means all of that.”
Your name and age?
Robbie. I’m 37.
What neighborhood of Oakland are you from or would you associate growing up with?
I primarily grew up in Fruitvale and Maxwell Park, between the two, so yeah, I usually say East Oakland, which is a very broad term, but usually like East Oakland or I’ll say Maxwell Park.
What was it like growing up on your street? Neighborhood? What was the vibe, what was the neighborhood like? What were your memories?
I remember when we first moved over here I used to live off of Foothill. And so when we first moved over here it was a little bit more quiet cause I mean it’s hella busy on High Street, but you know, it’s a little further away from High Street. I just remember there being like a lot of kids. We would kick it and ride bikes and all the fun stuff. Go down to the stores on High Street, go to the gas station and get gas station nachos. That was a big thing. That was a big part of my childhood, gas station nachos and Icees. I remember we used to chase the ice cream truck and sometimes folks would jump on the ice cream truck and ride the ice cream truck and that would be funny. And then the ice cream man would give us free things. So that was cool. That was fun. It was a lot of black families on this block though and this neighborhood in general, the school is right around the corner. We used to play ball at the school. It used to be a public school. So a lot of the kids I kicked it with went to that school. So yeah, you know, it was really chill. It’s interesting to just be sitting in this park (Maxwell Park) now because this park was not as nice when I was a kid. We did have swings, but that was about it.
After dark this was not the place to really be. There was a lot of things that went down in this park. But since then they have done some work to the park and switched it up. I noticed that a lot of the people, a lot of the families that lived here when I was a kid, they started to move, really in the late nineties, early two thousands. As I started to get into high school a lot of people just started to move. A lot of folks, their families are moving out to Sacramento, moving out to Stockton. So I remember that growing up and the neighborhood changing a lot then. There’s now a lot more families that are starting to move back to this neighborhood, but new people, you know, different folks.
When did your family move to Oakland?
My mom’s 60th anniversary of living in Oakland was last year, so 2017 minus 60. That’s 1950 something. When they came out here, there’s a lot of family stories and myths about what was happening at that time, I’ll say. But they came from Greenwood, Mississippi. So my grandmother and my mom and some of her siblings or younger siblings moved out here. And I know that my grandmother and my grandfather were kind of going through some issues with their marriage at one point. And my grandfather was locked up out here. I remember visiting him in prison when I was very young. I was a kid. But yeah, the family moved out in the 50s, and really for my mom, she just remembers that in the south it was rough, it was racist. Both of my grandparents were sharecroppers, they were farmers. They faced a lot of racism, a lot of racial violence. So there was a lot of conditions that lead them to want to move out to California and try to build a different way of life. Everybody at first moved to north Oakland and that was the first place where everybody lived, near like 57th & Genoa.
At that time black folks were just starting to move towards East Oakland cause East Oakland at that time was still kind of white, especially different parts of it. So they lived primarily in North Oakland and they started to move further east. When my mom went to high school, she ended up going to Oakland High and my grandmother was cleaning houses in that neighborhood. My mom went to Oakland High and then eventually my family moved closer to that neighborhood, like near East 19th. My grandma was able to save up to buy a house over there. Another one of my aunts bought a house around the corner, so everybody was kind of in that neighborhood. But then time passed and some people moved further east. My mom was able to get a house. The first house that we lived in was on 40th and Foothill. She bought that house in 1970 something. She was going to Laney College part time and working at a burger joint, and was able to scrape and save to purchase a house. My other aunt was in school. She bought a house right up the street. She still lives over there. For a long time my family was living in the same neighborhoods and everything. But then once the 90s hit you started to see a lot of people move, you started to see the prices of housing go up. A lot of people started to move out of Oakland, but it used to be that my aunts and my cousins, everybody would be in a two block radius basically of each other. But now there’s a couple of my aunts that’s still live out here, but a lot of folks have moved out to Vallejo. I have an aunt and two uncles that live out in Vallejo also. It was like a little Vallejo crew and then there’s folks that are still in Oakland. But that was really what brought my family here. My mom, I remember, sometimes she’ll talk about the differences between Oakland and living in Mississippi. And it was so interesting because she was around when the Panthers came up and she would always talk about how she just didn’t understand as much. For her here, racism didn’t feel like it felt in the south.
For her, she totally understood why black people would take up arms in the south because people were so overt and so racist, and so overt with their racism. It was so obvious. It’s so blatant. And so you felt like, at least she said that she felt like, that was where you needed more protection, but for her moving out here, it felt really different for her. So it’s just a really interesting perspective. You know what I’m saying? Like her coming from the south and the experiences that she had with what racism looks like out here and how out here it was kind of like this almost promise land in a way. You feel me? Where there was a lot more opportunity than what she was seeing growing up in the south.
So what does it mean to you to be an Oakland native?
Oh man. I mean at a time like right now when there’s not very many of us, I mean I always feel like a unicorn anyway, but I definitely feel like a unicorn now. I mean, when I was a kid and in high school, there was always a narrative about getting out of Oakland. Like it was always about there not really being much in terms of opportunity here. A lot of people that I went to high school with for a while, like everybody wanted to leave Oakland after high school. It was like, “oh, how can I leave Oakland? I don’t want to try to go to college here. I want to try to move to the east coast. I want to try to go to Atlanta.” Everybody was trying to go to different places where they saw a lot more opportunity in terms of jobs and all of that kind of stuff. Thinking about even like stuff to do, just like, thinking about like nightlife and things like that. Like folks were really trying to get out of Oakland. It just feels so powerful to me to still be able to be here, especially because I don’t own a home. So to be able to stay here as a renter, as an adult has been like a major feat. You know what I’m saying? I feel like it’s somewhat of an accomplishment just kind of given what housing looks like and how hard it is to, to kind of keep and maintain housing out here in Oakland.
But for me, you know, it also means a strong sense of loyalty, you know, like that’s really important. I feel like there’s like almost a duty or an obligation to ensure that black people have some place here in Oakland. For me, I didn’t even understand really what racism was really until I left Oakland, because every place that I had been, every school I had been in, like everything had always been like, there’d always been black people, you know what I’m saying? And so I didn’t really understand what it was like really being in places where I would be the only black person or whatever until I got to be an adult until I left and went to college.
I always felt like Oakland was a black city. I felt like it was a black city. I felt like it was about black people about black resistance, about like black creativity, you know? And so, so yeah. So for me, being an Oakland native, I feel like it’s about that. It’s about preserving that history and that culture. And that loyalty that we have, that respect that we have for each other. And just a love for the town. That’s just unlike anything else. It’s kind of hard to describe it because it’s just a feeling, you know what I’m saying? But yeah, for me being a native means, it means all of that.
What is it that you think makes Oakland a special in comparison to other cities of similar size, stature, and history. What is it? Why does Oakland stand out?
Yeah. It’s a special combination of things, you know what I’m saying? Especially where we’re located, I feel like there’s a lot about the history of Oakland and just of the west coast and of the kind of ways that the economy has developed, it’s things like that that kind of situates Oakland in this really special place. I just feel like there’s a lot of industrial cities, you know? But I do feel like Oakland being this industrial city on the west coast, outside of this financial center that really became, and for a long time was a genuine working class city, you know. I just feel there’s always been like this spirit of innovation and creativity that happens here that we love and that we appreciate and it doesn’t exactly have to be loved and appreciated by anybody else.
There’s some cities that you know, that get a lot of love and get put on the map for doing certain things or whatever. Oakland is getting a little bit more of that now, but you know, we’ve been innovating, you know what I’m saying? We’ve been making innovations in music and in dance and other cultural and political innovations. We’ve been doing that here in Oakland. And so it’s never been like, we do it without ego. We do it for Oakland. Like it doesn’t matter. You know what I’m saying? Like how much national shine we need to get for what it is that we do, even though the things that happen here do radiate and have this national impact, but we’re not doing it for that. It’s not about that it’s about the love of Oakland. So I feel like that’s one of the things that really sets Oakland apart. The weather is fantastic. I mean, the sunsets are beautiful. The weather’s great, the breezes are great. All of that, all of that is great. Naturally what it looks like, you know, the trees are beautiful. I love that there’s all these special, like little cuts, like even over here there used to be when we would ride our bikes, there’s like a little street down here behind Walgreens and there’s a creek and that creek runs, it’s the same as the Sausal Creek, but you wouldn’t know that its Sausal Creek, but the creek runs and there’s a spot over on Brookdale. This person that my cousin actually went to high school with, in his backyard, he’s like right sitting on the creek. It’s a beautiful spot, but there’s all these beautiful little natural cuts and all these places that you know, that you just wouldn’t, even know about unless you just happen to be there. So that’s another thing I love about Oakland too. It’s just like, there’s so much beauty in so many things that are hidden that we keep on lock and share with each other. You know what I’m saying? Because we don’t want everybody to know and everybody to move here, but people are doing that anyway. But yeah, that’s one of the things that I do, you know, that’s something I do really love. It’s like some of those hidden gems, you know.
Why is everybody moving here now?
Why is everybody moving here now? I mean, you know, that’s a loaded question. I think, you know, trends get set for different reasons, you know what I’m saying? And the movement of people and there’s a lot of. it, when it comes to the tech economy, there’s a lot of job opportunities in relationship to that, in relationship to biotech. There’s always been a lot of biotech actually here, like Bayer’s been in Emeryville for years. But then other types of tech that are coming here. And so I think that there’s a lot of opportunity for that.
You know when there was the first kind of Dotcom kind of boom in the 90s, that brought in a lot of people, a lot of folks started to come for that. And then I think that just kind of opened the flood gates. Folks started to see all the things about Oakland that were beautiful. Folks were like, yeah, that weather is great. Yeah, Oakland is beautiful. Oh, it’s great that pretty much you can be anywhere in Oakland and be 10 minutes away from nature almost. Like 15 minutes away. I mean, before the traffic got all crazy you could get to anywhere in Oakland super quick.
There’s just like a lot about the town that’s just a wonderful place to live. And so people are starting to see that, in addition to kind of what’s happening with the economy. I feel like there’s a lot of economic factors, which I feel like always influenced where folks are able to go and where folks are able to live. I mean, economic factors are a lot of the reason why my family even moved out here. Racial factors, I feel like those things are connected in a lot of ways. So I feel like those are a lot of the reasons. But yeah, I don’t know all the reasons why people are moving here. I mean, I wish that I knew them very well. I’m guessing some of them. But I think there is a lot of opportunity and compared to living in San Francisco.It’s cheaper than living in San Francisco. It’s more convenient than living in like Mountain View or wherever else some of these tech campuses are. So I feel like there’s something about the culture and the love that people also like when they move here. There’s something that they feel about Oakland, about the size of it being both large and small at the same time that people also like as well. I think people like that feeling of a close-knit feeling but then also being in like a city. And so there is that here in Oakland, you know? I think a lot of that. I think it’s also a great place to, as someone raised here, I think it’s a great place to raise a family. I think you get a lot of exposure to a lot of people. When I was growing up, everything was extra, it was extra multiracial. I went to school with kids from the Philippines and from Vietnam and from Guam and you just learn about a lot of different cultures. You walk around Fruitvale and you’re going to learn about people from all over Latin America, not just from Central Americans, Mexicans.
There’s just like a lot of cultures here. There’s a lot of folks from the African diaspora, especially from Nigeria, from Ethiopia, Yemenis folks. I mean, so there’s just so much. I feel like that’s always been here, there’s always been a level of a real richness and diversity of cultures, like true diversity. I don’t usually even like using the word diversity because I feel like it’s been co opted to mean some BS, but genuinely different cultures that have different places and things like that in Oakland. I think one of the things too, which I know you asked this earlier, but it’s making me think about it, is one of the things that I’ve noticed about Oakland that’s different from other cities that I’ve lived in is that Oakland is one of those places that you can go wherever. It’s not just like black people don’t just stay here or you know, gay people don’t just stay here or whatever. I feel like in a lot of other cities, like it’s kind of broken up like that. Growing up here I felt like everybody went everywhere. You know, you just went to a place, you know what I’m saying? There were little spots where you knew it was going to be like some folks by Eastmont on a Saturday night. You knew it was going to be hella black folks, you knew folks were gonna be doing side shows. You knew that that kind of thing was going to happen.
You know, there’s certain parts of the lake where, you know, gay folks was kicking it. So you knew things like that, but it wasn’t like, “Oh, I’m not going to go to this place because I’m black.” It didn’t feel like that. I feel like in other cities that I’ve lived in it’s definitely felt like that. You have to know kind of where to go. So I’ve always appreciated that about Oakland, about just feeling like, you know, welcomed when I was a kid, at least when I was younger, I felt a lot more welcomed, pretty much anywhere. But now it’s changing up because the people who are here are just really different and they don’t have that same mentality. So now sometimes I’m like, “Oh, I don’t know if I’m gonna go to that bar. I don’t know if I’m gonna go to that restaurant” or, you know, like, “I don’t know if I want to be in that neighborhood,” you know? So it’s just changing up a little differently. Like that’s a big difference in addition to just, you know, what it looks like, what traffic looks like. Like who’s walking their dogs down the street, you know what I’m saying? Who’s walking around? Like, all of that looks, you know, really, really different, really different than it used to look.
What do you wish people knew about Oakland before they moved here, as far as the culture-scape of Oakland before they moved here? Or what would you say are your guidelines to be a good neighbor or good Oaklander?
Laughs. I mean, I think…I would…That’s a hard question for me to answer because the first thing that comes to mind for me is that, if I could talk to people before they moved here, I would encourage them to move to somewhere else, you know? So I’d be like, “Yo, like checkout Walnut Creek or, you know, what I’m saying and I wish that like 10 years ago, 15 years ago that people were more directed to some of those suburbs and that we were able to do more to keep like black folks who are now living in Antioch or in Stockton or in Sacramento, do more to keep those folks here. I mean, one thing, you know, like I live in Fruitvale now and what I love about my neighborhood is that it reminds me of how Oakland was when I was a kid.
Like you hear kids running around yelling, you’re gonna hear some music bumpin’, you know what I’m saying? All kinds of music. Somebody might have a Mariachi band in their back yard, you know what I’m saying? People might block the street because they havin’ conversations or you know, it might be a random barbecue or whatever. And so those kinds of things make sense to me. You know what I’m saying? Like, you know, sometimes people still do doughnuts and things like that, which I know sideshows are a challenging, controversial thing because they can be very dangerous. But they’re also, you know, like a form of expression. But I wish that people were more… compassionate and considerate. I think that a lot of times when people move to a city, they just see the opportunity of a new place and they don’t really think about the impact that they’re having on the fabric of the city.
And so I think that for people who would be moving here now, just to know that they’re moving to a gentrified city. That the place that they’re taking, either the house that they’re buying or the apartment that they’re renting, like if they’re moving in it’s very likely that they’re taking the spot of somebody who was born and raised here that couldn’t afford to be here anymore. They’re taking somebody’s spot, you know? I kind of feel like folks need to know that. I feel a lot of ways about a lot of the changes that I see. I feel a lot of ways about how hard it’s been as an adult to stay in this city. So I feel a lot of ways about that.
What are some of the changes you don’t like?
I don’t like…there’s a lot of shit I don’t like. I don’t like, how much the rents have shot up by people who are coming here and landlords then taking the opportunity to then jack up rents because how rent control works. And so people didn’t pass Prop 10 and should have had Prop 10 passed years ago.There isn’t like real rent control that can really make sure that folks can stay here. Really the impact of the rent is crazy. I don’t like the traffic. The traffic is horrible, just like more people. We just didn’t have traffic like that before. It just wasn’t like that. It wasn’t as many people of moving around and things like that. I really don’t like the drop in the population of black people, like that steady, steady, steady going down. I mean at one point it was a 25% drop in the black population and then the next thing you know, it’s more like a 40% drop and then it’s more like a 50% drop. And so, I mean, you know, I’d love to see what the actual numbers are now, but seeing the drop in the black population that’s been one of the things that’s been really, really, really challenging and really has changed a lot of the culture of this city, has been that drop and the black population.
And then also like sometimes when people move here they can contribute to that drop. I remember a few different stories of some of the neighborhood watch groups in different neighborhoods being taken over by five people who are new to an area and just want to change it to be more like wherever they lived before. And in some cases harassing people, calling the police on people instead of talking to people. Some people being mad and filing noise ordinances against drumming that happens. You know what I’m saying? It’s like this, these are things that have been happening, you know, drumming happens, or even out in West Oakland when people were filing noise complaints against churches.
I feel like people don’t understand that there’s some existing culture and there are existing things that people are already here doing and livin’ their lives. And it’s not for you to come to a city and change it to just fit what it is that you want. It’s like, no, there’s already a way. You know what I’m saying? That we’re doing things, there’s already a culture that exists here. And so, you know, to respect that culture I think is really important. Some of the other changes that I feel like are directly related to gentrification, you know, more police, I mean in terms of like legislators and mayors of Oakland, there’s always just been a really interesting history around that and some of the decisions that some of those legislators have made that have impacted Oakland.
And some of them that they’ve made or some decisions they haven’t made that have then impacted Oakland. A lot of what’s happening with the schools is a big thing. And that’s really related to gentrification. A lot of the kids that are moving out, a lot of the families that are moving out that aren’t using public schools combined with this overall lack of investment in public schools. And so you see all these charter schools that are popping up. So I feel like that’s really changing. You know, that’s really changing things a lot. Even the school I was talking about that we grew up playing ball at right up the street at Maxwell Park is a charter school now.
The school that I went to Saint Jarlath on School Street right there in Fruitvale, right in the Dimond district and that’s now a charter school. It just got turned into a charter a couple of years ago and that used to just be, it was just a place where like working class kids of color whose family wanted them to go to a private school, they could go to that school. It was a cheap private school. And so you just don’t have those same kinds of things. You don’t have those same kinds of opportunities. It used to be a city where you could survive as a working class person. It was a real working class city and now it’s not that anymore, you know? It’s not working class in the same way of being affordable for people who are teachers. You know what I’m saying?
You’re looking at the teachers, and what’s going on with the strikes and things like that. It’s like teachers can’t afford to live here. You know what I’m saying? You know what I mean? If the teachers can’t afford to live in your city, there’s a problem, you know what I’m saying? There’s a problem with affordability, you know what I’m saying? And those are the kinds of people you want to keep. I mean, I feel like you want to keep everybody, but you know, definitely you want your teachers to be able to live in the city where they’re teaching and where they’re working. You know what I’m saying?
So I just feel like that’s some of those changes that have just been really hard. And it’s also just really hard to see that a lot of businesses closing down, businesses that are fighting to survive and stay open. A lot of the people who used to own stuff, like a lot of black folks that used to own land and used to own businesses, don’t own them anymore. So yeah, so all of those changes, it means a lot for kind of who’s in a position to benefit from all of this growth. Right. And it’s like, I think that in some ways there’s a lot of people who are from the town who are taking advantage of those opportunities to be able to do that.
But I feel like on a broader level as a broader community that there aren’t as many of those opportunities for folks who are from here to really like take advantage of those changes. So I think if I had a magic wand I would be like, “Yo, we can have growth and we can have development.”
What are some of the changes that you do like that are going on in Oakland?
Some of the changes that I do like? What do I like that’s happening? I mean, I liked that the Warriors started winning championships. That was great. But I don’t like that they’re now going to San Francisco, but, that’s something that I did like. I mean, you know, I appreciate being able to sit in this park. I think that there’s been some improvements that I think benefit the neighborhoods. It would be nice to see more streets repaved. That would be a nice change. I feel like there’s like random streets, you know, like along 580. I’m like, “Oh, okay, they actually repaved this,” you know what I’m saying? Just this little part though. So I’m appreciating where I see some of that happening, but not very much. I mean, what else would I say that I like? I like some of the changes. I like some of the ways that they redid the amphitheater at Lake Merritt. I thought that was dope. I did like when they first started doing the Art Murmur, I actually did like that shit.
And then it turned into First Fridays and some of the aspects of that were really cool, but then it started to get all weird, you know what I’m saying? And bringin’ in random people. But at first when it was just kinda a little bit more on the low, it was really chill. It was actually really cool to visit the different art galleries. And then there was actually a lot of Oakland artists that I learned about through that in the first days of the Art Murmur when that was happening. So I did like that when it first popped up. What else would I say that I like? I have enjoyed that I feel like there’s a little bit more kind of bustling downtown.
Like that’s been cool that there’s been like more restaurants opening up and things like that that I think are pretty cool to have. So, I mean, that’s been pretty cool. I like to eat, you know what I’m saying? I like going out to good restaurants and good places, so I’ve enjoyed that. I liked that they put a Plank in Jack London. I wish it was a little bit cheaper, but I think it’s still cool. I like having something like that, like some activities in Oakland. Because I miss things like when they had the Castle, when they used to have a movie theater, you know, where that Walmart is now.
I miss having things like that, cause there used to be shit to do, you know, for kids at least. So I like that they have that. I liked that they started doing the ice skating rink downtown. You know, I think that that’s dope. They have the one that’s on 17th, but then they got the outdoor one that they started doing in the holidays. I think that’s a dope little thing to do. I definitely enjoy some of the different things to do and some of the attractions and things like that.
What are your hopes and aspirations for Oakland moving forward, if you could have it your way?
Yeah, I mean if I could have it my way, man. So one, I love how Marshawn Lynch is buying up properties. I would love for more black folks to be able to buy properties, especially both residential and commercial properties. It would be great to have that and to kind of rebuild up black businesses in Oakland. Like that would be great. Because I feel like the way that the economic basis of the flatland communities especially was so devastated by industries leaving. And that they’re still like some void there to fill and it would be great for other people from Oakland and who grew up in Oakland to be able to be a part of, again, this kind of like wave of development and change.
I mean that would be a big thing. I would love for us to be able to go back in time and decrease some of the rents, especially on some of the older housing, the older apartment buildings that, you know, some of them are just…it’s just not worth no $3,000 a month, you know what I’m saying? So really getting like real genuine affordable housing. I would love to see Oakland do legit affordable housing, legit workforce housing, that prioritizes teachers. I think that would be wonderful, that prioritizes families and single parents.
I would love to see a change in education and how education is funded in Oakland. I would love to see more of an equitable distribution of resources to schools and would love to just see there being more investment in preschools and providing free child care for people, for working families. So I would love to see things like that and programs like that because yeah, I feel like childcare is a big thing, you know, and it used to be like neighborhood child cares and things like that and you see much less of that now with a lot of the folks that provided those services had to move.
So I would love to see that. I would love to see us go back to having a real legit festival at the lake. I feel like people try to do all these other festivals or whatever. Like Art and Soul is not, it’s not really it. I mean I’m glad that we at least have that, but it’s not like, like how it would be. Like the festival at the lake, the multiple days it was all around the lake, it was accessible, you know what I’m saying? Like, it wasn’t this closed off thing. It was this thing that was open to the community. And so that was beautiful and fun. I loved when folks were doing all the barbecues at Lake Merritt. I loved the days where Sundays was like the cruisin’ days at Lake Merritt. I would love to see them get rid of those like No Cruising Zone laws and some of that stuff. I would love to see that, you know what I’m saying? More space for that. What else would I do with my magic wand? I would get rid of some of these people who don’t understand the different lanes of the freeway and what they mean.
You feel me? Like you’re going to be slow and then get over to the right. Further to the left, you need a smash. Smash harder the further you get to the left. Don’t be over here going 50 miles per hour. So I would love to see [laughing]. I’m just saying, I feel like that’s a big difference.
I feel like we all want that all across the country.
Is that across the country? Okay. I feel like it’s just, you know, but yeah. But I would love to see that. Oh, you know, one other thing I want to see? I would love to see black folks that have been displaced from Oakland be able to come back to Oakland. And in a real way, because there are schools here that their kids can go to, because there’s housing that they can afford and because there’s economic opportunities for folks. I would love to see that.