PENDARVIS “OGPENN” HARSHAW

“You know how it goes. San Francisco sneezes Oakland catches the cold. So anything that happens in San Francisco is going to be amplified in Oakland. So you’re seeing even greater poverty out here in a place that had already had low income people, people working class people. You’re also seeing greater wealth out here. You can look around at the cars, the Maseratis that are flowing through the streets of Oakland and the examples of wealth are in your face just as well as the examples of poverty.”

 

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What is your full name and age?

My name is Pendarvis Harshaw. I am 31 years of age.

What neighborhood would you say you associate growing up with or yeah, where would you say you’re from in Oakland?

I would say I grew up on all three corners of the town. I really had my coming of age experience in the dubs. That’s where I learned the ropes from the guys over there. My early earliest memories are right here on these steps and in this building on Grand and Perkins where my mom used to work. I used to come here after school and on days off and hang out at the park or play on this patio up here or like I’ve got to cut in my hand from roller blading and cut in my hand on a broken Snapple bottle around the corner from here. So a lot of memories right here.

Speaking of memories, can you tell us like what Oakland kind of felt like and look like and what the, what the scenery was like for you growing up in your experience?

Yeah, growing up in Oakland. Different neighborhoods, different experiences. I can say my experience was definitely very centered around sports. I played baseball, growing up ran track, swam, basketball obviously. In the sports world, it was just a whole bunch of kids with talent who you swore were going to the league, you saw the potential and then person after person you saw a reason why they didn’t or couldn’t pursue their dreams. Be it an injury or being incarcerated or given up on their dreams. So yeah, that wasa major thread through growing up in Oakland. And then myself, when I gave up on my dream of becoming a second baseman for the Oakland A’s, I decided to get more into the arts and write more and chase poetry and rapping and filmmaking. And now I’m a journalist.

What do you think makes Oakland the city that it is, that stands out, as far as apart from other cities of similar stature and history and demographics, what makes Oakland special?

I think Oakland is special because it does have that quote unquote melting pot or the mixed salad kind of thing going for it, where it’s people from all different backgrounds coming together. It’s very, very, very, very diverse, man.  Lake Merritt is a place where you see different people from different walks of life and it’s not just racially diverse and economically diverse, religiously diverse. So I really appreciate that. And then on top of that the weather, it really makes Oakland unique. Here it doesn’t get too hot too often. It doesn’t get too cold too often. It’s just a perfect place for life to grow.

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Why do you think everybody is moving to Oakland now?

Everybody’s moving to and everybody’s moving away from Oakland. It’s really a city in transition. It’s not to say that Oakland hasn’t always been in transition. You know, like you look at what happened after war or during World War Two and the increase of African Americans to Oakland, which largely  a lot of my friends family members, they moved up here during that time period from the south and from the Midwest. My mother came here in 91 and this is where we landed here. Like literally right here. My aunt lived around the corner from here. So this is my first memories of Oakland right here. I was three years old. I was just a part of that great transition of people coming to them from Oakland. So I don’t think it’s really anything new. I think the reasons why it’s happening now is what’s really new and that economic disparity that’s happening all throughout the nation and largely in San Francisco. You know how it goes. San Francisco sneezes Oakland catches the cold. So anything that happens in San Francisco is going to be amplified in Oakland. So you’re seeing even greater poverty out here in a place that had already had low income people, people working class people. You’re also seeing greater wealth out here. You can look around at the cars, the Maseratis that are flowing through the streets of Oakland and the examples of wealth are in your face just as well as the examples of poverty.

 What was the reason as far as your mother or your family came to Oakland?

So my mother was escaping an abusive relationship with my father and she wanted to come out here because, her sister, my aunt had already kind of established herself in the company that they were running, ultra janitorial services, which is a very well known black owned janitorial service that ran from the late eighties until up until the mid nineties.

What do you not like about the changes that are occurring in Oakland?

What I don’t like about the changes occurring in Oakland is that there are some good things happening. It’s great in terms of seeing homicide rate go down, it’s great in terms of seeing more resources come to the town. What I don’t like about that is not everybody is benefiting from it. Especially not the people who lived here during the dark years, not people who lived here in 2008 when the real estate crisis happened. Not the People who lived here in 2001 when everything was falling apart in terms of the schools and right before the police went under a federal monitor. So it’s just frustrating to see Oakland be on the incline while everybody can’t enjoy the ride, especially the people who were here during the down times.

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What are you happy with as far as current changes that are occurring?

I’m happy that people are recognizing that not everybody can enjoy the benefits, reap the benefits. And so there’s a push, there’s political will to do something about it. You know, you see that with like the marijuana equity program. You see that with just different initiatives. Be it through institutions or through individuals or people that are trying to level the playing field and ensure that, you know, families that have been here for three generations reaped some of the benefits of this change in Oakland.

What are your hopes and aspirations for the community of Oakland?

Oh, that’s large. I’ll say for myself, I want to be a part of the community of Oakland. I would love to have land here. It’s a far fetched dream man. Talk about like almost intangible. Buying a home in Oakland, you would think somebody who I have two college degrees, I have a career, I published a book, I should be able to buy land in the place that I work for and write about. But I don’t necessarily see that happening, but it doesn’t stop me from hoping for it.

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So that makes me think of two more things since we’re talking about land or homeowners in Oakland telling me about Lee Cherry.

Lee Cherry,  Lee Cherry is a godsend to me… The Cherry family, man, he comes from a big family, I want to say 11 boys or something like that. His family has been in Oakland for decades. He currently owns the property where I’m renting a in law unit and he saw my situation, his daughter is a childhood friend of mine and she saw me struggling for housing and it was like, look man, we got this house in the back. We know you’ve got a two year old daughter,  come live here and so you find another place to stay. And that’s largely how I’ve been living in Oakland since I got out of college. Even before this, Keith Gregory, “Tivon” some people know him as. He opened up the Regulars Only house to me to be a roommate. If it weren’t for Keith Gregory or weren’t for Lee Cherry and his family, I wouldn’t have had a place to call home, not an affordable place.

Lastly, tell me about ‘OG Told Me” and  what drove you to that and what do you want to come out of that project and continue come out of that project?

Yeah, OG Told Me it was based upon my coming of age experience where I’d be walking down the street and some old black man would say something, he might be mumbling to himself and then just look up and be like, “Love your mother when she’s God on earth” and then go back to  mumbling to himself and I’m like, note to self, love my Mama. (Laughing)  That’s what that project comes from. It’s real life experiences and then I realized nobody was documenting them. Nobody was putting it in. It wasn’t an academia, it wasn’t in the arts world. I didn’t even see it in the media. So I created a blog. I decided to put the rubber on the road in 2011 when I was teaching at Oakland Tech. I was teaching a young black men’s class the first of its kind, the African American Male Achievement. That program’s pilot class and these kids were on their phone during the class. So I’m like, all right, we’ll catch them where they’re at. If they’re already looking at their phones, why don’t I put some content on the phone that actually could benefit them? And so I started interviewing people in the neighborhood, taking a photo of getting a quote about what wisdom they are passed down to young people and I put it on a Tumblr and the young people in the class and we’re like, hey I know, OG, I see you all the time. I didn’t know his name was blah, blah, blah. And so it allow me to be a bridge between generations in this community.

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