Hundreds of Black activists, educators, entrepreneurs, healers and artists convened last weekend for “a People’s Assembly” to discuss and strategize solutions to improve life for Black Oakland.
The enthusiastic daylong “State of Black Oakland” (SOBO) gathering was held Saturday, March 28 at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle in downtown Oakland.
The assembly was a “listening space” where a coalition of Black-led organizations called on attendees to discuss what must be done to improve the lives of Black people in the city.
Over a quarter of Oakland’s Black population left the city since 2000. Organizers wanted to bring Black people together to build on Oakland’s unique contributions to the Black Power Movement.
“It’s really important to remember that Oakland was the epicenter of the Black Power Movement on the West Coast,” said Liz Derias, co-convener of SOBO and an organizer of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement.
The legacy of the Black Panther Party and other Black “do-for-self” organizations was evoked throughout the day.
“We say Black Lives Matter, but we have to have some Black Power to enforce it,” said Community Ready Corps (CRC) Founder Tur-Ha Ak. The assembly focused on CRC’s Nine Areas of Self-Determination: economics, politics, education, health, family, media, art, traditions and ways, and self-defense.
The common thread between all of the areas was Black self-determination.
During three facilitated sessions, attendees joined smaller discussion-circles to talk about solutions in the nine areas. Within the circles, participants discussed their experience within that area and explained what “self-determination” looked like within that context, and shared potential solutions.
In the area of economics, attendees talked about past and possible solutions, such as a Black business listing, food and housing cooperatives, changes in Black consumer spending and workforce training for the tech economy.
The media session, facilitated by Cat Brooks, co-chair of the ONYX Organizing Committee, discussed the need to challenge negative images of Black people in media and the need for Black ownership of media outlets and cultural spaces.
The self-defense session focused on broadening the notion of what self-defense means. “Self-defense is not only individual or physical, but it is collective and connects to all the other areas”, Ak said.
Participants discussed the need for Black people to protect themselves from what CRC defines as “primary predators” – white supremacy – and “secondary perpetrators” – so-called ‘Black-on-Black crime’.
Organizers noted that this first “State of Black Oakland” builds on a history of collective convening of Black people in the Bay Area to assess the status of Black folk.
During the 1970s, annual “State of the Race” conferences regularly convened in the Bay Area following the 1974 Pan-African Congress in Tanzania.
Reflecting on SOBO, Oba T’Shaka, professor emeritus of Africana Studies at San Francisco State University, said, “It’s very positive. It builds on the Black Lives Matters Movement and is pulling in people from different walks of life.” He added, “The democratic way has been consistent with our culture.”
Organizers see this assembly as part of a process to develop a Black “People’s Agenda.” Event organizers did street outreach in the weeks ahead of the event to get input from Oakland residents. The plan is to host two more assemblies this summer, in West Oakland and East Oakland, analyze the information within the nine areas, and develop an agenda.
SOBO was organized by a coalition of organizations, including Eastside Arts Alliance, Black Organizing Project, All-African People’s Revolutionary Party, African American Studies at Merritt College, Onyx Organizing Committee, the Community Ready Corps, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and Race for the Times.
For more information about SOBO, visit Facebook.com/sobo2015 or email [email protected]