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By John Jones III50 years ago, Dr. King and our other social justice ancestors fought for African Americans to have equal rights and to claim the promise of American democracy. The victories they achieved in civil and human rights are severely eroded by the racial displacement crisis in Oakland and other major cities in America today.
We all know what the problems are.
With the new economic prosperity in Oakland, housing costs have soared beyond the reach of the vast majority of current residents. We all know that African Americans who built Oakland have taken the brunt of the impact with the loss of more than 25 percent of its Black population since 2000 and the disproportionate representation in those displaced and those living unsheltered in encampments.
I am a third generation born and raised East Oakland resident (and single father of two fourth generation sons).
I have personally witnessed the disappearance of many landmarks including East Oakland Hospital (where I was born), the eight-story Montgomery Ward’s building across the street; my first elementary school (Sister Clara Muhammad), Eastmont Mall where I attended my first movie; Mojo’s Skating Rink on 72nd Ave and E 14th (where I attended my first date); Edward Shands Adult School (where I worked a summer job as a teen); various nightclubs and bars I patronized as an adult in my social life (Sweet Jimmy’s, the End Zone, The Vintage Inn, etc.).
As a formerly incarcerated person, I have met many barriers to my ability to reintegrate into society after making parole in 2012.
For eighteen months I was unemployed and homeless, forced to “couch-surf” and even spending one year in a tiny one room shack with six other adults with no running water.
A growing number of people living sheltered are returning home from prison due to criminal justice reforms, to a city that many can no longer recognize as “home”.
That’s why I’m involved in working to create a Black Cultural Zone in East Oakland, seen as the last bastion for Black residents. The Black Culture Zone Collaborative is working to organize anti-displacement strategies to keep Black people and culture in East
Oakland, such as mobilizing investments for community-based projects, including for a Black Culture Zone Hub. We’re organizing the Beloved Oakland Event on Feb. 18 at the Fox Theater to honor Oakland’s social justice icons like Clem Daniels, Ron Dellums, and Ericka Huggins, and to raise funds for the Black Culture Zone.