Giving Communities a Fair Chance to Advance

On Saturday, December 5th, the Ella Baker Center co-hosted the recurring event, “A Fair Chance to Advance” at Primera Iglesia Presbiteriana Hispana – a Spanish-speaking community church in the heart of Oakland.

Through collaboration with the Alameda County Public Defender's Office, Centro Legal de la Raza, East Bay Community Law Center, Oakland Community Organizations, Roots Community Health Center, Swords to Plowshares, Urban Peace Movement, and other organizations and individual volunteers, the event provided free community services, specifically legal consultation around immigration and record reclassification. In the end, the event did even more, as it re-affirmed a greater unity and solidarity between organizers and community members of different backgrounds to advance civil rights and systemic change in Oakland. 

By 11:00 am, the room was buzzing with energy. Each of the community services being provided was presented at the beginning of the event, with translation between Spanish and English, so the attendees could decide what services and information applied to them.

Centro Legal de la Raza assisted people with DACA applications (a work permit program for residents who weren’t born in the U.S.). Oakland Community Organization leader, Mireya, provided information on Legislation 1159, which allows residents not born in the U.S. to receive professional licenses. Ella Baker’s Erika Martinez offered consultations surrounding Traffic Ticket Amnesty.

There were also legal consultations for Prop 47, which reclassifies certain low-level felonies to misdemeanors. All of these services were well utilized, and framed through the lens of immigrant justice and solidarity between communities of color and empowerment.

A group of students from UC Berkeley provided advice on Family Safety Planning. According to one of the student advocates, Anna: “[family safety planning] makes sure families have everything in one place, just in case.” In case of deportation or arrest, families should have a process on how to handle the implications regarding financial struggle, separation and dehumanization. The checklist recognizes these very real injustices that immigrant populations are at risk of experiencing, and empowers them to mitigate their stress surrounding their families well-being.

As one of the students pointed out, this checklist is relevant for anyone at risk of imminent arrest who may be unjustly separated from their loved ones. It’s these types of conversations and plans, grounded in direct services and pragmatic solutions, that highlight intersectionality around dehumanization and mass criminalization. Though there are real cultural and language barriers, many black and brown communities in Oakland live in fear of deportation or incarceration.

In addition to the community and legal services, “A Fair Chance to Advance” was a rallying cry for anyone being unjustly criminalized and brutalized by a system that is designed to profit off of punishment, not uplift.

At the end, we gathered in a communal circle for closing remarks, popcorn/palomitas style. With the help of a few translators, and a little broken Spanish, we each shared something we learned from the event. Repeatedly, community members and organizers alike emphasized the importance of solidarity between the immigrant community and the black community in Oakland.

There is a responsibility for community members, organizers, politicians, and leaders to recognize the amorphous nature of mass policing and prisons-- seeing that it may look very different depending on where you stand. “Fair Chance to Advance” events are aimed to connect direct services with the space for community members to imagine their position, their potential impact, in the mass movement to dismantle the criminal justice system and restore communities.

The event ended on an inspiring note; the unity against systemic threats - whether it be the threat of deportation, incarceration, or criminalization. Nuestro Ciudad!

Photo credits: Alexis Hoffman