I have lived in the East Bay my entire life but yet have never truly explored the City of Oakland and what is has to offer. It’s hard for me to understand why… the city is only a BART ride away from my hometown, Union City. It’s a fact that Oakland is known to have as many sunny days a year as Orange County. What then has kept me away for so long? As far back as I can remember, I recall being advised to stay away from Oakland. Crime rates are high. The people are scary. The streets are dirty. Homeless people are everywhere. Watching the news with my family would only confirm these theories. I began to tell others what I had been told. With this in mind, it’s easy to see how the cycle continues and people assume that Oakland is somewhere that is not worth visiting.
Contrary to what I had been told in the past, my first weekend in West Oakland could not have been a more positive experience for me. Like I was taught to be, I was initially suspicious of the community. As the weekend progressed, I learned that many of the people I met were no different from my fellow housemates (Kaitlyn, Mehari and Treasha) and me…
James, an educated young professional, moved into the neighborhood because of the convenient BART access to San Francisco.
Carlos, a high school student, wants to go to college but does not know how to get there.
Ray, a neighborhood resident since 1943, has seen how the neighborhood has drastically changed over the last 70 years.
Tim, a recent college graduate, just found a job with a San Francisco company that has donated over 8 million dollars of its profit to local charities.
None of these people were scary. I didn’t feel uncomfortable when I was with them. They made me realize that there is much more to Oakland than what the media portrays it to be. People who I never met welcomed me with open arms despite the fact that I had moved in this very weekend.
Before this weekend, a goal of mine was to be accepted into the community. Now, I realize that I want more. Rather than simply being accepted into the West Oakland community, I want to become a part of it. I want to be as welcoming to an outsider as James, Carlos, Ray and Tim were to me. Helen Keller once said,
No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit.
In order promote social change in the community of West Oakland, I must remove myself from would I have heard about the city in the past. Focusing on negativity will get me nowhere. I enter these next 8 weeks with openness and hope. The future I see… is bright.