By Laney College President, Tammeil Y. Gilkerson, Ed.D.
Last Thursday, I attended the world premiere of “FOR O.” – a play at Laney’s Odell Johnson Performing Arts Center. Written by one of our former students, Antonette Bracks, the play focuses on gentrification in the Bay Area in a powerful yet humorous way.
The play, performed by student actors representing various bay area cities, is set as a “family meeting” organized by the city of San Francisco. The cities of Vallejo, Berkeley, Richmond, and Emeryville arrive for the meeting and are persuaded by San Francisco to stage an “intervention” with Oakland regarding the disconcerting changes of higher rents, new businesses, condos and outdoor encampments happening to her.
There are also other neighboring cities that show up uninvited, curious to find out about Oakland’s problems.
When first confronted by her siblings and cousins, Oakland acts defensively. She thinks that the businesses and condos – the gentrification – only shows how good her “hustle” is and that others are jealous of how “sought after” she’s become. But it’s Vallejo who tells Oakland that she’s the one who has probably been hustled out of her land.
Our student actors did a magnificent job capturing the personality of the cities they portrayed. San Francisco was the uptight and ritzy matriarch who did not want Oakland – her “cool and artsy” sister – to become like her. Berkeley, on the other hand, was the “hippie,” meditation-obsessed cousin that could sense only the “bad energy” surrounding her neighbor. Cameo appearances by San Jose, Alameda and Marin were also artfully portrayed.
As I watched “FOR O.” I couldn’t help but reflect on the need for continued support of the arts in our community. “FOR O.” and other productions like it, allows students to creatively express their thoughts and ideas while simultaneously stimulating critical thinking on issues affecting our communities. Arts education at Laney helps to nourish the creative capacities of our students and has been shown to improve academic performance. More importantly, a commitment to the arts has a way of unifying the community that cuts across all demographic categories and economic circumstances to provide a civic platform for exploring issues and facilitating dialogue.
Today the arts are under assault—especially by our current U.S. President. I believe participation and exposure to the arts fosters an innovative spirit that can help to create a common vision to tackle the larger issues we face. Find out more about our programs at http://laney.edu/academic-