Really Making Oakland a Model City
Mayor Dellums’ vision to make Oakland a model city? Regardless of what
he did or didn’t do, some other Oaklanders decided to do their bit to
make our town the best town it could be. The Ella Baker Center launched
the Soul of the City program a year ago. The program tackles issues
like economic and social justice by engaging the community. What they
do isn’t rocket science. It’s simple, effective and shows results. The
Ella Baker Center is throwing a party tonight to celebrate the
program’s first anniversary. The director of Soul of the City, Amaka
Agbo, chatted with the OakBook about the program's first year and its
Q: For people who aren’t too familiar with the Soul of the City, what is it that you do?
Soul of the City is a big vision campaign. It focuses on creating a
model in the city of Oakland in which we transform the city to address
social, environmental, and economic crises so that it is an urban city
that’s socially just, ecologically sustainable, and spiritually
connected. Instead of just focusing on economic justice or social justice issues, we bring them all together under one umbrella.
Q: What are the kinds of things you do in this campaign?
do community service events every month. This year, we’re doing them
every other month. We do a lot of work through the coalition, Oakland
rising about increasing voter participation in Oakland. We inform them.
It’s about how to have them be more involved in what’s going on
Q: Could you give me some examples of community service events that you’ve done?
that just ended on January 18 was at Sobrante Park Elementary School.
The school is somewhat isolated. It’s hard to get to by public transit,
BART doesn’t go there. We went in focusing on creating an outdoor
living classroom and also a community center. We were also setting up
an amphitheater. It’s a small space, we were able to do a lot with it.
It’s a place where people can come and talk and gather. You have people
from across the street coming to plant things there. The garden has
burned down twice before. You have community participation, and the
community watching over it.
We did tree planting in West Oakland. We partnered with Urban Relief. We planted 46 trees that day.
the Oakland running festival in March, 58 individuals are going to run
in the name of the Ella Baker Center with the message to build a
healthy Oakland together. We need to do a better job of personal
health. For those who can’t run, those people can participate by
handing out water to the runners.
Q: What’s been your biggest challenge this past year?
biggest challenge is that a lot of people are stretched financially and
with their time. People are working two jobs to support their families.
Trying to get more young people of color to come out -- It’s been hard
getting more young folks to come out and participate in our community
service. But they understand that we can no longer wait on our
political leaders to do something – it’s up to the individual.
Q: What about raising money in this economy? Has that been hard?
community service – we’ve been successful in raising money for that.
It’s a tangible thing that the funders can see. The money we
gave, these trees and benches are here because of that. We’re lucky.
Our funders have really stepped up.
Q: In this past year, what’s been your biggest accomplishment?
have volunteer appreciation events to thank the people in the community
that are coming out. The same people have come to two-three events. One
woman said to me, “Tell me what to do. I just want to get the work
done.” To see how the community service resonates with people, and with
children, it’s quite powerful. Kids come help carry dirt, and sand the
benches. It’s been powerful to see how the community in Oakland has
stepped up to take agency to improve their lives.
Q: And what’s coming up in the year ahead?
up – we’re going to continue community service. We’re going to ramp up
for the transformative workshop we’re putting tougher. It’ll be an
experience where we look at economic injustice, the state of the
environment and the spiritual disconnect around us. How did we get
there? What are the systems of oppression that have brought us here?
How can we change the way we interact with each other and the planet?
We’ll be looking at alternative economies. How can we start doing a
gift economy in the neighborhood?
workshop is going to start in July. We’re going to keep the classes
small. We’ll be doing them twice a month. Towards the end of 2010,
we’re gearing up our political education curriculum. Like the Instant
Runoff Voting – we’ll be educating people about things like that. A lot
people don’t know about the political process.
Q: Is there anything else that’s important that we haven’t spoken about?
thing that’s important for people to understand. It’s important to be
sincere and real about relationships to continue to build the movement.
It’s a way of holding each other accountable for the change we see in