MASHAMA THOMPSON

“What I don’t like about what I
currently see happening in Oakland is this push of gentrification
that is sort of sucking the life, the culture, the arts, the history
out of neighborhoods. That shit hurts because it’s something
you love changing or being erased, not growing. If it was
growth, I’d be all about it. On the other side of that coin is we
had the opportunity and I think that’s the bigger lesson. It’s not
what the people came in from the outside and did and – you
know. If we don’t look at that as an opportunity to say: ‘Damn,
the hood is valuable.’ ‘Damn, -we- are valuable.’ You know,
that’s the only way that gentrification happens is when we stop
seeing the value in our own neighborhoods. And we’re gonna
take the short buck, the quick buck to get out and not see the
longterm value of what we’ve already established. And I think
that to me is the bigger problem. And that is the thing you gotta
look at yourself and say, ‘Well how did this happen?’ Cause it’s
just not happening in Chinatown. You know what I’m saying?
Shit’s not changing in Crocker Highlands. Like those were
established neighborhoods just like we had and the only reason
why gentrification can happen is because we didn’t see value.
And so: ‘Grandma left me the house and someone’s going to
give me 300,000 for it.’ and we don’t see the long term strategy.
You know, that’s the real culprit and yeah, they’re taking
advantage of people that haven’t had, and you give them a little
bit of something. But as black folks, as Oaklanders that care
about the history of Oakland, today is another day that you
have an opportunity to stand up and say: ‘I’m going to do my
part. I’m going to invest in Oakland. I’m going to change this
thing. I’m going to move this value or object forward.’ And
understand that with every challenge, it just means there’s a
greater opportunity if you’re willing to work. So, you know, fuck
gentrification, that shit is bad but it’s, like, part of the gravity of
the equation, you know. Everybody I talk to is like: ‘Damn, I wish
I would’ve got in in Detroit!’ (Laughing) ‘Damn, I wish I would’ve
got into Brooklyn!’ ‘Damn, I wish I would’ve got into Oakland!’
Like, Bro, we had the opportunity. Now we have another
opportunity to educate ourselves and move forward. One thing
I tell my wife all the time is: Land. They’re not making any more
of it. So, yes, it’s harder today than it was, but you got to get in
because 10 years from now it’s harder, 20 years from now it’s
even harder, 50 years from now it’s impossible. Right? Like, if
we want to be here, then we got to -be- here, you know? And
that means you gotta sacrifice, you gotta figure it out, you
know. Whether it’s you and 10 of your homies gotta buy a
house together, you fucking figure that shit out. You get the
equity, you buy another property and you move on and you
bring your value to the table.”

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Your name and your age.

My name is Mashama Thompson and I am 37.

You really had to think about that? (Laughing)

I did, I did, straight up. (Laughing)

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

Home is the east, but the first half of my life I grew up right here, central downtown lake. But in my brain and my heart, I feel like I’m an East Oakland kid.

What was it like growing up in Oakland?

Man, growing up on Second and East 14th. At that time in the 80s was, it was cool. It was amazing. I used to walk this neighborhood, walks to the store, me and my sisters would walk to Lake Merritt bakery, get donuts. It was really great, cool place to grow up being so close to the lake. It really had a sense of community and just really laid back. My parents did a great job of shielding me from the ills that were happening in the city. I grew up in the 80s, but I didn’t really experience much of any of what was happening in East Oakland and West Oakland with crack and all the things that sort of came out of that war on drugs and all this craziness. My formative years of my childhood they really focused on giving us just joyous memories, great cultural experiences. We’d go over to  the museum to things at the time that I thought were boring and I hated it. But in life found that that was expanding who I was, the possibilities that I could see all started right here on second avenue.

So the apartment’s a two bedroom. It’s me, my Mom and my two sisters.
At some point I became too grown to be in a room with my sisters, right? Mostly because we got on each other’s nerves and shit. So, there was a closet under the stairwell that goes to the second story, right? It was my Dad’s closet. And I was like, ‘I’m going to turn this into my room’. So I literally slept under the stairs and it was like – I wish you could see it – I slept under the stairs in this closet that was like a walk-in closet. All my Dad’s clothes was to the left and to the right I cleared it all out and I made my little room in there. And then I got a little bit older and my parents gave me their bedroom which is
at the back of the house. And I think they started sleeping on the couch, I guess. I can’t remember at the time. We had, like, the old-school pullout couch or whatever. So they gave me the back bedroom. My parents had a water bed. So I was like 10 years old, I think. 10 or 12. Waterbed. TV. The windows in the back opened on hinges like this so I could open them up and go in and out on my own.

So basically what you’re trying to tell us is you’ve always been a
MacGyver-ass type player. (Laughing)

(Laughing). I just did things, man. And like at the time, you just didn’t
know that was your world of possibilities. You didn’t know anything different. And it just was like: These were the things that I did and the things that my parents sacrificed for me and allowed me to do. And it was beautiful. It was real beautiful.

It sounds like the amazing beginning of a movie.

The other thing is — This is the last thing I’m gonna say about this house.
So, I almost burned this building down. I think it was my homie, one of my best friends, Alex came over. We was going to do like a sleepover or whatever, we’re gonna, like, play Nintendo all night, yada yada. And in the dining room there’s a fireplace. It was crazy. Like if you saw the inside of this you’d be like: ‘Dude, nobody could ever build this. You couldn’t build this layout today. Impossible. No Way. It’s not safe’. So there’s like an interior fireplace – and I thinking I’m being cool and shit with my homies over –
I’m like: ‘Yeah man, watch’. I pull out the little fire poker, I’m like, fucking with that shit. And he’s like: Oh, that’s so tight!’ with, y’know, sparks and shit flying. And I hit the wood and go to pull the poker back and the wood -sticks- to the poker and I pull it out – and the hearth was only like a foot – so it jumps out and now it’s on the carpet. Right? And I’m just like shocked. I’m just like: ‘What the –‘. I’m like frozen. My Mom just happens to be coming down the hallway. So, like, the fireplace is here and the hallway is directly to the left of it. She happens to be coming out the hallway. Me and my friend are standing there, staring at this fire in the -middle- of the dining room. Frozen. My Mom, like, starts screaming, runs, gets some water, throws some water on it. But, like, me and my homie did not move the whole time. The whole time. Had to be like five minutes of, like, between the time I pulled the thing out, it started burning the carpet, there’s a fire in front of us and we’re just frozen until my Mom put the water on it. And we just stood there. It was crazy, man.

What did you get into for fun as a kid?

Man, as a kid? I mean mostly I just went to school. But, you
know, we would ride bikes around here. In fact, this kid tried to
steal my sister’s bike up the street and I remember being just
shook as fuck. Then this dude like yelled from the top window

and the kid ran off. But we used to like ride bikes at this tennis
court that’s right on the lake. We used to have, they called it
Juniors Tennis or Kid Tennis or something, and I remember
doing that like pretty much every summer and just thinking it
was the most fun in the world. You know, we would go to the
Zoo, the Oakland Zoo, I mean, hundreds of times it feels like.

The window.

I’m halfway through the window and my Mom comes running
and just pushes her hand to my whole face and just shoves me
out! And I just — POW! back on the ground, right? And I’m like,
‘How could you do that!? How could you do that!?’ (Laughing)
I’m like livid, right? And my mom’s like: she closes the window,
locks it, didn’t care. Oh dude, it was so cold-blooded man.

Why were you trying to climb in the window in the first place?

Because she locked me out the house! She locked me and my
sister out the house. And then my sister had like sweet talked
her so she let her back in so I was dolo or something.

How did you get locked out of the house?

I don’t know what I was doing. I was doing -something- that I
probably shouldn’t have been doing. And yeah, she just pushed
us out the house, locked the door and so we’re like trying to do
all these things to get back in. I think I was in the backyard
because there’s there’s like a big stairwell, like a big wooden
stairwell and there’s a bathroom window kind of on the back
inside. And I was seeing if I could get to that and then all of a
sudden it just — this light dawned on me that this front window,
I could pull it open. I could just like kinda pull it open. So I just
remember coming, sprinting around the back, scramble up this
thing and just literally my stomach is like in the window sill and
I’m like leaning over about to fall in and my Mom just —
palm-to-my-face and just thrust me out the window.

She gave you the Mush.

She mushed me all the way back to the street, dude. And as a kid I
was like, I wasn’t hurt at all, but I was like mentally livid that she would have no care. But I guess I, you know, I deserved it for sure. Yeah, that was special. (Laughing)

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We had a chicken coop. My Dad’s from Saint Thomas so, he built a chicken coop, so we
had chickens. So we had eggs, you know, fresh eggs all the time. And my dad got a rooster. So every morning: rooster did what a rooster does, right. The block complains. And one day I’m like: ‘”Yo Dad, I don’t hear the rooster no more. What happened?”
He’s like: “You remember dinner last Thursday night?” (Laughing) But yeah, man, this was a cool place to grow up. Palm trees…My Dad loved the fucking palm trees, man. When he came he was, like, -in love- just cause it felt like home for him. Especially coming from Boston.

When did your family move to Oakland and do you know the reasons why they chose to come to Oakland?

This is actually a cool story, I’m glad I know it. So my Mom is
from Boston, my Dad was from St.Thomas. He happened to be
living in Boston doing – I think at the time he was doing youth
development at the Y. My mom and my Dad started dating but
my Mom was, you know, just dead-set tired of the winters in
Boston having grown up there her whole life. And she said ‘I’m
moving to California.’ And my Dad was kind of like ‘Whatever,
okay’, they were just dating, so she bounced. And either three
or six months later, my Dad packed all his stuff up and was like,
‘I’m coming.’ And so they decided to settle out here.

Yeah, he met my Mom in Boston and then she jetted on him.
They were dating and she was like, ‘I can’t do these winters
anymore. I’m gone.’ And I want to say three months, because
my Mom had a house in Boston – and this is gonna make y’all
mad – she bought this house, I want to say, for like $25,000. This
house was like 3000 plus square feet, but it didn’t have no heat.
So winter was hella cold, right?

That’s a lot of house to be cold.

Yeah, you just couldn’t — there’s too much volume to try to
heat. So she was like ‘I’m not doing no more winters. I don’t
care. I’m out.’ Right. She didn’t care about the house no more,
she’s like ‘I’m out.’ So my Dad and my Uncle stayed together in
this house over the winter. And my Uncle, before he passed, he
told me all these stories about — He’s like: ‘Man, I knew your
Dad was the one because of how he dealt with the cold.’ He had
all these different inventions and he was doing all these things
so that they could stay warm. I can’t remember all the details
but he was like: ‘That’s when I knew your Dad was -the one-.’ He
told my mom, he was like: “If you can’t get along with Walt you
can’t get along with anybody! Cause this guy’s amazing, you
know?” So yeah, I think he spent that winter with my Uncle – my
Mom’s brother – in this big ass house on Beacon Hill in Boston.
And then he was like ‘Fuck it. I can’t do any more winters.’ He’s
from St Thomas! He’s like, ‘I’m out’. So he goes and comes out
with my Mom and became an Oakland kid.

My mom’s really good friend – my Aunt – was in the Black Panthers and
that’s how she kind of was introduced to Oakland. But they
wanted warmer weather, they wanted to be around black folks. At the
time it was, you know, ‘Chocolate City’ and they just wanted the
lifestyle. You know, Oakland is this amazing come-as-you-are
city. There’s no fanfare. I mean, recently there is, but at that
time there was no fanfare. There was no national news of
positivity to come here. So you really had to kind of be
introduced to the lifestyle by somebody and then once you got
here, you’re like, ‘Oh, it’s so freeing’. You know, it was just open
and you could just be who you were and so I think that’s what
they were searching for. Just a more relaxed, laissez-faire, ‘Who
are you? What are you about?’, you know, more than ‘What do
you do?’ What do you have?’ So I think that’s what they were
searching for.

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

Man, being an Oakland native is like, it’s -pride-! (Laughing) It’s
just so much fucking pride. You know, growing up in Oakland,
you’re like the little kid, nobody wanted. You know, as it relates
to San Francisco. You are the scary place, you are the place of
drugs. You were just, like, forgotten. And so being here and
knowing what it was, you grew up with a lot of pride and love
for the city because it’s a beautiful place. And -now- it’s starting
to get it’s recognition for what it was and, you know, hopefully
it doesn’t lose all of what it was and it becomes a better version
of itself – at least the self that I knew growing up here. But yeah,

man, growing up in Oakland, it’s a place like no other. You
know, it is The Independent, it’s The Rebel, it’s just different.
Like, people came here to do things in a different way and not
live by the notions of the world. And so growing up in that, you
just got a lot of pride. You just got like all the pride. Ask Dam.

So you kinda just started to get into it, but if you would like to
expand further; What makes Oakland special in comparison to
other cities of similar stature and history?

I don’t know about a similar stature and history. (Laughing).
Oakland is a hard working place. You know, our iteration, my
generation’s iteration, it blossomed out of industry happening
here. The port and the huge influx of black folks coming here
just to work hard. Shit, so much shit makes Oakland special. But
yeah, I think it’s the backbone of hard work, you know, and that
independent spirit. It’s crazy to say this, but the power of
Oakland is that there is no culture. Like there’s no – What’s the
cultural food of Oakland? You know, what’s the beacon or icon
of Oakland? It’s like there is nothing, because it was everybody’s
and like anybody could come here and make it their own. So
you know, you go to New Orleans and everyone’s like ‘Oh, you
gotta eat beignets’, you know. You go to New York everyone’s
like ‘Oh you gotta eat the Thin Slice New York Pizza’ and it’s like
you come to Oakland and it’s just like there is none of that but
that’s the beauty of it! It was what you made it. So it was, you
know, the Black Panthers, you know, it was the A’s and the
Raiders in the 70s, you know, it just embodied the diversity – I
hate that word these days – but it embodied the diversity of
what it means to be human and what it means to be here, you
know? And to really see people do their best to try to coexist as
cultures kind of butted up against each other. Like, to me that’s
Oakland. That’s the strength of it. That’s the beauty of it. It is
the American Dream embodied.

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

Now people want to move to Oakland because it’s fresh. It’s
always been this way, it’s beautiful, weather’s crazy and it has
all these nooks and crannies that are just amazing. You know,
I’m 37 years old and I still find different parts of Oakland every
year that I’ve never been to. We have amazing parks. We have
access to like so much of everything. And then national press
doesn’t hurt. You know, when people say it’s the hottest city
and it’s just got fresh, fresh vibes and culture and a beautiful
environment, creative people and people want to be around
that. Especially if you’re devoid of it. The fear is you lose that
when you’re no longer the bastion for that culture or those cultures or those ideas and people are coming here for that and pushing out what made that. So that’s the, that’s the catch 22 of it. But my feeling is that – or my knowing is that – in its inception,
Oakland was the whitest city in America. (Laughing) It literally
used to be the vacation town for people who lived in the city. I
have a book, a hundred-some odd years old. It’s called ‘Oakland is…’
or something like that. I should find it, let you see it. But it talks
about the genesis of the city. And you know, for me, Oakland is
a Black city, but that was the current iteration that I grew up in,
in the 70s and 80s and into the 90s. But the reality is that when
it started, in its inception it was, you know, Whiter than it has
ever been again. So my hope is that we’re able to blend into not
a new Oakland, but a better Oakland, right? Like, how do we
move forward with the people that are here with the
opportunities that are here, with the influx of capital that’s
happening. Like how do we move forward, not lose our heart,
but become a better version of ourselves?

What do you feel like the communal values are of the current iteration of Oakland?

The Oakland I know. Man, this is a tricky one. I’ve done a lot of
thought and a lot of work around this. You know what? This is
what I’ll say. I currently live in East Oakland off of 73rd avenue
and my neighborhood for me literally is a reflection of Oakland.
You know, me and my wife are in our thirties in our first home,
investing in our home and our neighborhood, you know, trying
to build a community there and when I look at who’s in my
neighborhood, you know, I got O.G Keith across the street who
has lived in the neighborhood for 50 years from Memphis. You
know, uh, my next door neighbors been here a lifetime. You
know, an Oaklander that’s a little bit older than us, in their early
forties, but have lived in Oakland their whole lives and they’re,
you know, they’re in their first home with their two kids. And
then across the street, you know, young white couple, great
people from New York. You know, Aaron is a data scientist,
Danielle is a technical writer. So to me, my neighborhood is the
hope of Oakland. You know it’s a mixture of new and old, people with different values and experiences and I hope that that is where we could get to from a value standpoint. That I’m able to say: ‘Hey, I’ve been here my whole life and this is what it
is for me.’ and you’re able to come in and say: ‘Hey, that’s great,
I love that. That’s why I’m here, let me add my value.’ I think the
trouble is when you talk about replacement. When you’re
moving in and pushing out. So, you know, I don’t know if there
is a community value that I could stake a claim on right now, but
my hope is that it becomes this idea where Oakland is still the
place to come as you are and to uplift the cultures that you
don’t know or to be able to be a place where you can start to
recognize the cultures that you don’t know and then bring your
beautiful, dynamic self. You know, bring your amazing, bring
your value, bring your perspective. But as a value add and not to
replace.

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

Yo, being a good Oaklander for me means exactly that. It means
welcoming people in and those people being very cognizant of
the fact that there is deep history here. There’s deep roots here,
there’s culture here, and there’s always things we can improve
on but there’s definitely legacies that we don’t want to erase.
And so if people come here with that mindset of ‘I want to join’
or be a part of what’s happening here, I’m all about it. That is
the legacy of Oakland, like that’s how it got to be ‘Chocolate
City’, you know. People came here for new opportunities for
new life, for their families and they added value, you know, and
they became a bastion for the people that couldn’t do it
elsewhere. You know, a beautiful example of that is Jazz in
Oakland. You know, everybody came here, everybody came to
Oakland, you name it. They were here at Slims, at the Orbit
Room because they couldn’t perform in the city. So like you talk
about what Oakland is, that’s Oakland! Oakland welcomed black
artists here when San Francisco told you you couldn’t perform
here. So as Oaklanders, we need to welcome people in, even if
they’re different than us. And if you’re different than us coming
from the outside, you need to welcome yourself here and be
receptive to what exists.

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What are the current changes occurring in Oakland that you’re not that excited about?

Yeah, man it’s this gentrification shit. What I don’t like about what I
currently see happening in Oakland is this push of gentrification
that is sort of sucking the life, the culture, the arts, the history
out of neighborhoods. That shit hurts because it’s something
you love changing or being erased, not growing. If it was
growth, I’d be all about it. On the other side of that coin is we
had the opportunity and I think that’s the bigger lesson. It’s not
what the people came in from the outside and did and – you
know. If we don’t look at that as an opportunity to say: ‘Damn,
the hood is valuable.’ ‘Damn, -we- are valuable.’ You know,
that’s the only way that gentrification happens is when we stop
seeing the value in our own neighborhoods. And we’re gonna
take the short buck, the quick buck to get out and not see the
longterm value of what we’ve already established. And I think
that to me is the bigger problem. And that is the thing you gotta
look at yourself and say, ‘Well how did this happen?’ Cause it’s
just not happening in Chinatown. You know what I’m saying?
Shit’s not changing in Crocker Highlands. Like those were
established neighborhoods just like we had and the only reason
why gentrification can happen is because we didn’t see value.
And so: ‘Grandma left me the house and someone’s going to
give me 300,000 for it.’ and we don’t see the long term strategy.
You know, that’s the real culprit and yeah, they’re taking
advantage of people that haven’t had, and you give them a little
bit of something. But as black folks, as Oaklanders that care
about the history of Oakland, today is another day that you
have an opportunity to stand up and say: ‘I’m going to do my
part. I’m going to invest in Oakland. I’m going to change this
thing. I’m going to move this value or object forward.’ And
understand that with every challenge, it just means there’s a
greater opportunity if you’re willing to work. So, you know, fuck
gentrification, that shit is bad but it’s, like, part of the gravity of
the equation, you know. Everybody I talk to is like: ‘Damn, I wish
I would’ve got in in Detroit!’ (Laughing) ‘Damn, I wish I would’ve
got into Brooklyn!’ ‘Damn, I wish I would’ve got into Oakland!’
Like, Bro, we had the opportunity. Now we have another
opportunity to educate ourselves and move forward. One thing
I tell my wife all the time is: Land. They’re not making any more
of it. So, yes, it’s harder today than it was, but you got to get in
because 10 years from now it’s harder, 20 years from now it’s
even harder, 50 years from now it’s impossible. Right? Like, if
we want to be here, then we got to -be- here, you know? And
that means you gotta sacrifice, you gotta figure it out, you
know. Whether it’s you and 10 of your homies gotta buy a
house together, you fucking figure that shit out. You get the
equity, you buy another property and you move on and you
bring your value to the table.

Yeah, man. One of my clients told me recently “the ceiling of today is the basement of tomorrow”.

Absolutely. That’s great. I love that.

Talking about opportunity, what are you excited about as far as current changes in Oakland?

Man, it is amazing. Um, I move around Oakland in my orbit and every time I get outside of that orbit, there’s some new shit. I like fly restaurants, you know, like fuck, I love all that shit. You know, I want to eat good shit. I want to experience cool bars and nightlife and, um, experiences and other people, other cultures, like I want it forever expand. Um, and for me right now, what that means is if you’re really moving around Oakland, it’s expansion is almost like travel, you know, like how many times can you say your city moving around your city is like traveling and that’s the, that’s the opportunity. So, um, okay. You know, we just gotta we just gotta find the things that, that we like and um, and experience those things and, and talk to New People and say, what’s up to OG you know, and talk to the French cat that just moved here and is an engineer, like those are all amazing opportunities. Um, despite what you know, the circumstances might say in this life, all you have is your experience. That’s it. That’s the only rule to the game is to experience life. You know, there’s no magic end goal it’s a continuum. And so if you stop and try to freeze Oakland in 95, and I don’t want it to ever change, it’s like, well, this is a missed opportunity, you know? Um, yeah, I experienced this shit. Experienced the change, experienced the difference. Expand yourself. Like, those are all amazing opportunities, especially if you’re low on capital and you can’t travel and go experience stuff this just happening in your backyard. So, um, I think that’s the opportunity.

Tell me about the social creative experience of black excellence that is 510media?

Yeah, 510media is a dream at this point. 14 years ago — or well,
I guess more than 14 years ago, I met this dude, Nana Kofi Nti, a
real charismatic dude. Through circumstance we decided to
start a company together on the idea that we could create a
space for a Black Renaissance in the arts. And as branders
photographers, professional creatives by training we just
started, we just jumped on a thing and started moving. And
today it’s a dream. It’s beyond my wildest expectations. We’re a
full service boutique branding agency working with amazing
clients from our hometown heroes, the Oakland A’s to the
49er’s, getting opportunities to work with Adobe. I mean

510media is everything I just said in the last 30 minutes. You
know, it is Oakland. It is black excellence. It is an experience. It is
all about expansion, growth and development. It’s about
connection. It’s about the communication of values, beliefs and
ideas from one party to the other and we do that through
creative arts, through creative thinking and deep research and
deep listening. But yeah, it’s an Oakland product. Like it couldn’t
have happened anywhere else for us. So I don’t know if that
-really- answers the question, but yeah, 510media, we do brand
development for companies big and small, and we try to help
connect our clients to their target demographic, their target
user, which essentially means we are storytellers. We are
deliverers of values, beliefs, ideas, and emotions in trying to
galvanize people to positive action.

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