Black Solidarity Week (BSW) is here and unlike inspirational quotes and memes found thru social media and on the internet, the concept is a living and breathing entity. So are the people behind it, as well as the issues that BSW seeks to tackle.
Launched in 2018 with a march through East Oakland, 1,000 people filled International Blvd, formerly known as East 14th Street, in the inaugural march through the streets. A series of week-long events also accompany the march each year. This year’s events include forums on Disaster Preparedness, Reparations and Art as a Tool for Solidarity.
“The overarching purpose objective is to be a launch pad for more organizing in the Bay Area,” says Tur-Ha Ak, co-founder of Community Ready CORPS (CRC), anchor organization for Black Solidarity Week. “This would create a space for us to talk about how we engage the conditions that are impacting us,” he said.
CRC’s purpose is to “build and/or contribute to self-determination in disenfranchised communities,” particularly in the Bay Area, according to its website.
The quest for unity brings to mind another internet/social media meme: the West Afrikan Adinkra symbol of the crocodile with two heads. The reasoning of the symbol states that they “share one stomach, yet they fight over food … a reminder that infighting and tribalism is harmful to all who engage in it.”
Ak’s reasoning for the need for a Black Solidarity Week is along these same lines. “What we are saying is Black folks here in the Bay area need to come together because its hard out here,” he said.
Statistics bear out his concern. Back in 2018, the East Bay Express wrote that if current trends continue Oakland’s Black population could fall to 70,000 people or fewer within the next 10 years, hovering at around 16 percent. That would be down from about 35 percent from the year 2000.
The Urban Displacement Project, an effort out of UC Berkeley, with the help of San Francisco’s Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, stated back in 2015 that the “most vulnerable” in Oakland were under threat of being displaced. This displacement was due to stagnant low wages not keeping up with the price of housing in the area.
For Nehanda Imara, the Collaborative Coordinator for East Oakland Building Healthy Communities (EOBHC), support for Black Solidarity Week is practical as well as philosophical.
“When we look at East Oakland, the communities with the worst outcomes are Black people, Imara said.
EOBHC is a nonprofit dedicated to increasing the health and wellness outcomes in the East Oakland area.
“I am about uplifting African people, that’s why I support Black Solidarity Week. My lens has always been pan Africanist. Pan Africanism teaches me that wherever you are you should be working for your people. I’m in East Oakland. I’m working for my people,” said Imara.
The issue of housing in Oakland proper received international attention beginning last fall when four single mothers and their children in need of shelter took over an abandoned home.
The house, which had sat vacant for two years, had recently been purchased at auction by Southern California-based Wedgewood Properties, real estate firm that specialized in “flipping”: buying property for cheap; making repairs, sometimes cosmetic only; then, either selling the property at an enormous profit; or sitting on the property, allow it to remain empty until a buyer comes along.
The single mothers, known as Moms4Housing, staged this “intervention” to call attention to the fact that in Oakland, there are more abandoned dwellings than there are homeless people. According to the “Moms,” there are four empty homes for every one homeless person in the city.
SFCurbed, an online news publication, initially expressed doubt about the Moms’ claim. Using census estimates for the year 2018 (the most recent year available), the publication reported in December of 2019 that “Oakland’s homeless count came out to 4,071 in 2019, while home vacancies total 15,571 (plus or minus 2,415) … a ratio of about 3.8 to one.”
The publication reported that most of the 10 areas that make up the Bay have a similar ratio of more vacant dwellings than homeless persons – hence, the reason for the Moms’ intervention during a time that is considered to be a housing “crisis.”
Initially rebuffing the Moms’ offer to purchase the home, Wedgewood initiated eviction proceedings against them, culminating in a pre-dawn spectacle of militarized police complete with automatic rifles and a tank. Despite this display of force, the Moms able to eventually reach an agreement with Wedgewood to purchase the home.
For that and other reasons, Dominque Walker, one of the Moms4Housing who was evicted by Wedgewood says she absolutely supports Black Solidarity Week.
“It’s going to take all of us to fight against the oppression we are facing,” said Walker. “This is my first time participating. I will absolutely be involved in future events because it is absolutely important for us to come together; history has shown that … we have to put our differences to the side and come together.”
Joyce Gordon, owner of a downtown Oakland fine art gallery, echoed Walker’s sentiments.
“It’s the only way we’re going to survive; we must unite,” said Gordon.
Says Gordon, whose gallery has been an Oakland institution for the past 17 years, “I’m a conscious Black woman living in this America for these 73 years … it’s important for Black folks to come together and support and respect each other and listen to each other and work together and love on each other.”
Black Solidarity Week, which began on Monday and runs through this weekend, takes place between the birthdates of Huey Newton, co-founder of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, and the assassination date of Malcolm X, internationally known human rights fighter.
Tur-Ha Ak gave the following explanation for holding Black Solidarity Week during such important historical dates:
“The significance of Oakland being the birth of the Black Panther Party and Huey’s birthday of February 17, and what he meant to the movement of our people. And Malcolm X and what he meant to our movement. If these two individuals had not been victims of the state, they would have matured to a place of creating true solidarity amongst our people.”
For remaining events or more information on Black Solidarity Week, check www.blacksolidarity.org.
“If you want to go fast, go alone.
If you want to go far, go together.”
~ Afrikan Proverb