LEON “DNAS” SYKES

“You can’t be from Oakland. You can only be a part of it.”

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What is your full name and age?

Leon. David Sykes the Second also known as DNas Aka David Nasty. I’m 33, I will be 34 in about 13 days.

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

I called this the lake area,  I guess it’s now called the Rose Garden area. My sister’s I used to tell everybody I was from the 30s, because where I lived until I was four years, I was that off of Brookdale and Humboldt. So I used to claim the 30’s up until about 21, then My sister partner was like, Nah, Bro, like y’all from Piedmont. Ya’ll from Deep East Piedmont, that’s where you’re from, so this area’s now I call it Deep East Piedmont DPP aka Real Lake Shore and I’ve been over here since, since 91. So I’m raised here on Vernon street right by the Rose Garden.

When are the Deep East Piedmont tee shirts coming?

You know what, I’ve been thinking about it. I don’t want Piedmont folks to buy it and be like “Yeaaaah”. You know what I mean? It’s funny because people really are starting to respect the Deep East Piedmont. I’ve been thinking about it, maybe this summer.

I could see that also going sideways, real fast.

Real bad. Real fast. Real bad.

What was it like growing up in your neighborhood?

It’s funny because,  I’m literally a block and a half away from Piedmont. This neighborhood used to be a lot of youth, a lot of youth that lived here. It was kind of aged out since, but I’m being little black kids in this area. We caused a lot of trouble, you know and just like just mischievous stuff. My neighbor across the street that Pink House. We used to still lemons, well not we, I was always a little too scared to get in trouble. I used to watch my friends steal lemons off the tree. Being over here everybody knew everybody. We were talking earlier and we saw one of my neighbors walk by who I’ve known over 20 some odd years since I was a child. This in contrast where it is now too where it was.  Being where you’ve grown up and been able to see the change and it’s been amazing. I used to get asked, was I lost? You know what I mean? This is at 22 years old, 23 years old. Are you lost? Do you need help? And I’m like, I’ve been living here since 91, what are we talking about? All the kids, we all used to hang out. All my homies down on Mariposa right here on Santa Clara we all would hang out and everything like that. On the other side of the freeway you have the Fed halfway house, you have the connection to Lake Shore and  what is now whole foods and everything. This has always been kind of the suburban side a little bit. But, you connect everything, you connect to Grand, you can connect to Piedmont Av. We used to fuck up the Rose Garden. So now to be an adult and I realize how precious it is. And I’m like, damn, bro, like we were really on some fuck shit as kids.

When did your family move to Oakland? Do you know what the reasons why?

So my mom and my dad are originally from Ohio and Pennsylvania. And my mom’s from Ohio and my Dad’s from Pennsylvania. They moved to Marin and like 74, then moved to Oakland in 1980, I believe my mom started working at Kaiser Aluminum, lived over in the hills of Edwards. Around the time I was born we was off Humboldt and Brookdale and then my parents divorced and moved to High street, moved off of Edwards and then I moved over here in 91. And so they came here for a better opportunity.

What does it mean to you to be an Oakland native?

Being from The Town, I  used to say this is during the Hyphy movement. The revolutionary existence is already in us. We’re already naturally rebellious.  We’re unique man, in my eyes we are the metaphor of one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. And in other words for years, especially because Oakland was was 43% black, which is considered predominantly black, we were Chocolate City West and a lot of folks just did not want to fuck with being in Oakland. They didn’t want to come to Oakland. And being from Oakland you gives you that chip on your shoulder. So being from here is being unique, being hard edged but also being a worldly enough to be able to interact with anybody and everybody. I went to France when I was 14, for my eighth grade graduation, only black kid there, all the kids in my group from Oakland were mostly from the hills. And then you know, we met all these other people and I remember there was one girl from my Miami. We told her we’re from Oakland, she’s like “Y’all seen somebody killed? Have you had done this, have ya’ll done that? And while that is a reality for a lot folks, that hasn’t been the majority of my reality of whatnot. So being from Oakland is like you have to also dispel the stereotypes and dispel the myth. Being from the town bruh, we innovative? We’re also boogie you know. When you think about the Bay Area, you think of San Francisco of course, San Francisco, Richmond, Oakland, Berkeley. I feel like Oakland is the epicenter  And I felt like we wear that like “Bruh I’m from The Town”. I tell people I’m not from the Bay Area, I’m not from California, I’m from Oakland.

Why is Oakland special?

Oakland’s my heart bro. I’ve done a lot of work in Oakland, community wise,  in the entertainment industry, but community wise, education wise is, it’s what’s taking my heart. I’ve had the opportunity to work in other places. I’ve worked at Alameda, I’ve worked in Berkeley, but it was nothing like Oakland. Again, it’s that sense of pride. It’s a sense of we’re not supposed to be good, we’re not supposed to excel. And that’s just how things are talked about. One of my favorite Memes is the Simpsons visiting  Alcatraz or something and they’re like swimming. She’s like, oh, we can go to San Francisco was like, Nah, we’ll go to Oakland. And it was on some the town was hella horrible. And also, Dave Chappelle, when he did, “For what it’s worth”, he was like, when you go over the bridge and you get to San Francisco the city is like “Hello, how are you doing : ) ?” You go over the bay bridge and it’s “Welcome to Oakland Bitch”. And that’s what the Oakland means to me.  I have thought about recently, relocating at times, but I can’t leave Oakland, I love my city. I hate my city at the same time through all like the socioeconomic things that happen. But I love Oakland. Oakland to me, it’s my heart. My son is the first Sykes born in Oakland. So him born at Kaiser was like alright G, you legitimate certified. I was born in the city. So when I die, it’s going to say San Francisco born, Oakland Raised. You know what I’m saying? But you, boy that’s all you. I love it bro. I really do. I really do love it. The work that I’ve done has allowed me to love being from here and really cherish it.

What do you think makes it stand out even more so in comparison to other Chocolate Cities? Cincinnati, Detroit, etc?

I would say the revolutionary mindset. I’ve been to DC, I call DC like my second home, my sister went to Howard and I was there and I was like, this is just like Oakland. I don’t think there are a lot of things that differ besides maybe the ideology that was put in place by the panthers. I think that is something that absolutely is an inspiration to everybody. Which is also funny because the majority of these cats weren’t born in Oakland. They came here at young ages, but I think Oakland being not the melting pot. Somebody told me stop saying that, quick tangent. Somebody says stop saying melting pot because that’s a mixture and it’s kind of like one flavor. As we’re more diverse now we have all these different flavors and that’s what makes Oakland unique. And that’s what makes us a little bit different than other places. You know what I’m saying? When you have like Cesar Chavez and all these folks that have been influential and creating this city and also in this country’s ideologies. Especially in a, I don’t like saying liberal, but what is right. What is a positive move.

Why do you think so many people are so eager to move here now?

I don’t know, bro. That is by far something I ask myself every day. I think as is being shown Oakland is this friendly place, although it’s always been this friendly place. But just let’s stop being political politically. Correct. It’s been more white people coming and they’re like, “Oh shit, this is actually really cool and San Francisco’s too expensive, so I can move over here and still enjoy that”. But then moving to Oakland and now they’re falling in love and actually learning that this city, this town, cause we are Hella country, this city, this town is where you want to be because you are going to get a mixture of everything. You’re going to receive so much love and acceptance from everybody.  I think that’s what pulls people in. I think that’s what’s making everybody come, that they’re seeing all the things that has been hidden and is now coming to light and being in the open.

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

There’s culture, there’s culture in every area. For example, Deep East Piedmont, it may not be too loud at night. I had a neighbor that was out at like one o’clock in the morning making hella noise, I’m like “Aye, Bro. Around 10 o’clock is when we kind of shut down”. You might go somewhere else and you’re gonna hear hella banda music till four o’clock in the morning. Understand that that’s a part of the neighborhood. It’s interesting to, and I want to say that it’s not always just people who are new to Oakland is when we moved to different neighborhoods. Just in general. I’ve had homies that are from the town and all of that and they move from maybe this area from the lake or they moved from a quiet neighborhood and they moved to the hood and are like, Oh, it’s 4th of July. I’m hearing fireworks every day. And I’m hearing the banda music, especially in the 30s is amazing. Four o’clock in the morning and you’re still going to hear it. Accept it, when people want to call the police and all these things, it makes it harder. What I love about my neighborhood NOW is that a lot of people have started to know each other and that’s a huge part. And being a neighbor, even if y’all don’t know somebody by name, at least acknowledging their presence and acknowledging  presence makes you a good neighbor. Just respect, is what makes us a good neighbor and makes you actually want to deal with each other. When you moved to new areas, get acclimated with it. I love the National Night Out, that they have across everything  and that was put on by OPD or whatever. But it gives us a chance to know each other. It gives a chance to build community and that is the importance of being an Oakland. Growing up in Oakland or growing up anywhere and being a neighbor is knowing each other and really just being involved in your community.

 What do you think are the community values of Oakland?

Mind your own business, If  I don’t know you, I don’t need you necessarily in my shit, unless you were like here to help, you know. So I think that’s a really hard question.

Appreciate the land, appreciate all of the land. Understand that you’re not always going  to always be a part of everything happening. And that’s for all the cultures. there are different things that are happening like Dia De Los Muertos. And it’s something you may not know about, so learn about it, you know what I mean. Learn about what your city has to offer. That’s even going up to let’s say the yuppie stuff like Chabos Observatory. We need to start being more interactive in everything that Oakland has to offer.

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

That’s a multifaceted, multilayered thing. One, we’re putting more money into these departments. Let’s go on infrastructure alone. These potholes, it’s all bad. They’re doing some construction down the street EBMud is over here working on some stuff and they’re going to do a horrible patchwork which is gonna make the street even worse than what it is. The exclusion of black folks and people of color. There are a lot of events and things that are happening in Oakland and a lot of things in the infrastructure and the education in these fields that are excluding some of our poor communities, which are known to be mostly POC areas. The mayor, how we run this city really affects us every day. And I do not see enough being done to help those that have existed here for generations. You hit on so many different layers, but I would say socioeconomic things that, things that I don’t like about going on in Oakland. The targeting of black owned and predominantly black used facilities. I.E. clubs, New Caribbean City being a thing that’s going on. New Caribbean city was the only after hours club in Oakland. They just had their permit removed and it is mostly on the basis of them playing hip hop music and which is a target on it, their reasoning was the crime that happens around that area, not inside, not inside of the establishment, but in like block radiuses around the area, which  when you think about it, that’s on 14th and Webster, you have Radio, a block and a half away from there. You have Golden Bull, a block and a half away from their Lay Over a block and a half away. You have all these other places that are amazing establishments but also don’t necessarily always catered to what’s considered the predominantly black hip hop crowd. So when you’re seeing this one group, there’s one establishment  being punished and makes you start to think about it and you think you started thinking about the Egbert Souse’s and all these other places around the years that have been the targets.

What do you like about the current changes occurring in Oakland?

I love seeing New People. I’m not against New People from coming to Oakland. If that was the case, I wouldn’t be here. My parents would not have been able to come here. I love seeing new and old, I just people that love Oakland. I love seeing the work that’s being done through events, through community, through charity, everything that even through politics. I love seeing everybody put on for the city. It is something that I go home, I go to sleep and I’m happy, it wakes me up and I’m excited to be there. That is the number one thing about Oakland is that when you love Oakland, you’re very prideful. I had a homie I always tell everybody this story, I had a Homie, he was telling me he moved here from England by way of Zimbabwe and he had a chance to move to San Francisco. He came here in 2000 and it was like this this shit’s to boogie and moved to Oakland and he instantly fell in love with the culture, the people, everything. He was like “You can’t be from Oakland. You can only be a part of it.” And that really resonated with me and it has continued. This was a conversation we had four or five years ago. And it stuck with me so much because there are people that are from Oakland who live in Oakland but do not necessarily care about Oakland or really like representing Oakland, like our mayor. So that’s a very important piece is that you get what you put in and again, another man’s trash is another man’s treasure.  If you treasure Oakland, you’re going to do the work to make sure you keep Oakland that treasure. My biggest thing right now is we need to get a special event permits removed from OPD and put in the cultural arts commission or somewhere around art and culture. If we’re talking about special events that revolve around art and cultures the people that should be handing out the permits  or approving these permits are these commissions, rather not than not the biases that folks may have around certain things, which is through OPD.

So what’s the work that needs to be done ?

I think building community, a lot more community policing. And what I mean by that is, not necessarily just like OPD type stuff, but like us really working with each other to keep it safe.  I watched the Nipsey hussle funeral yesterday and it really resonated with me as a cat that was from the streets, but he really put on for the community and that’s something that we need. We need that Fubu ideology that For Us By Us ideology. If y’all gonna to do some stuff, I can’t necessarily stop you from doing things, but I need y’all to ensure that my children were taken care of, your children are taken care of, our elders going to be taking care of. We are rebuilding the dollars.  I believe in the shop local, like the plaid Friday and all these things that is about recovering the dollar within Oakland. Those are things that will help us.  The mental health stuff, all these different things that are like state funded or federally funded and that we need these services and also we need to be able to create more with them. We need to open the doors.  West Oakland is a STEAM, Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math funded area. We need to really start putting more money into that. We need to make sure that the STEM/STEAM education way of life is being supported better. I think that’s a huge, education has to be a main focus and the way to freedom financially, or whatever is through education.

What are your hopes and aspirations for Oakland?

This is always where it gets tricky because you, one side of you, you want Oakland to be on the map on the forefront. But the other side is like we kinda good being a secret.  I would love Oakland to continue to grow technologically, financially and it benefits everybody. We can’t keep building this housing or bringing in these companies if we’re not been benefiting people that live here. You can’t afford to live in a city that you work in. And that is a really hard pill to swallow. What I would like to see is for Oakland to be financially affordable for everybody. That’s the best way I can put it. It’s like we need it for ourselves and to legalize Side Shows. I think that we need to legalize a lot of things are criminalized and I mean it’s targeting black and Brown folks and people of color or just folks that live in this certain lifestyle. Let’s legalize this shit. Let’s figure out how we can make this an alternative to where folks would even be teaching classes. I get to teach folks how to swing tires. You know what I’m saying? How t figure eight, you know what I mean? How to profile, how to dip and yolk. Because at the end of the day, Nascar and drag racing, all these things that became motor Sports, I don’t see how that it’s not.

How and where does that occur?

The Warriors are gone. The Raiders are pretty much gone. We got that whole parking lot. I actually said a Home Base a while ago cause that’s where the Side Shows was happening at,  the Food Co. or PaknSave whatever it is all on 73rd. We got a lots. We have lots. You can have them or go to two race way. You can figure out how to make it work. We got all these other things happening. We’ve done all these other events. Let’s make that happen. If you give somebody an alternative, you can do it here or fuck it, you can go in the streets and if you go in the streets it’s all bad. But why not do it here and then you’ll be good. You know what I’m saying? We got car clubs, we have motorcycle clubs, all these things. Let SideShows be a thing. And I’m not even a fan per se, but I’m like shit, let it happen, you know?

I love Oakland.  I ain’t leaving. I ain’t leaving. I got a rent control. I forsure ain’t leaving less I buy a house. If I buy a house, it’s gonna be in Oakland.

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