Oakland throws it down at Mosswood Park


After a hard day of volunteering across Oakland cleaning up, planting gardens and helping at libraries, hundreds of Oaklanders got their boogie on Saturday at Mosswood Park for the first "Throw Down for the Town" put on by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

As part of Soul of the City campaign, the Ella Baker Center organized residents to help Oakland shine through volunteer work at more than 20 service projects around the city.

Working with organizations and community groups, volunteers did everything from cleaning Lake Merritt, to helping re-green César Chávez Park. Volunteers also did work with Habitat for Humanity and  help create a dog park in the city. Organizations participating in Saturday's event included Youth Uprising, ACE Arts and City Slicker Farms.

Nwamaka Agbo, campaign director for Soul of the City, said Throw Down for the Town is really about empowering the community through positive collective action.

"We decided to go really big this time because there's so many different organizations doing great work across the city and this is an opportunity for us to come together, do the work on the same day and meanwhile turn out volunteers that have been hungry to do some beautiful work for Oakland and be able appreciate them and celebrate the work that's happening," Agbo said.

Soul of the City, launched by the Ella Baker Center in 2009, helps "place the well-being of Oakland in the hands of the community" through a number of initiatives around community service projects and civic engagement work.

"Far too often Oakland doesn't get recognized for all of the beautiful things going on and we think that there are so many organizations doing things that's worth celebrating," Agbo said.

After the work, volunteers were rewarded with a full-on festival that featured plenty of food, music and community building. Do D.A.T. put down their beats on a solar-powered performance stage.

Ella Baker officials said the Thrown Down for the Town event is about more than spending one day cleaning up parks.

"This is an opportunity for people to be loud and proud about their love for Oakland," Agbo said.

Volunteers who came out Saturday said they were happy to give their time to the event.

Ivana Xavier, volunteering at the new East Bay Children's Book Project office at Mosswood Park, said Oakland offers unique events for community engagement.

"It's so easy for the community to want get together and sort of beautify the town," Xavier said. "You don't really see that anywhere else." 

Sam Roth, another volunteer, said he loves the strong sense of community in Oakland.

"People say a lot about Oakland, but there's a lot of really amazing things like this happening that makes you so proud of the city," he said.

Organizations that joined the service festival said the event was a natural event for a city known for activism.

EBASE, a local grass roots organizations, decided to join in Saturday's event as a way to do outreach around issues like jobs at the Port of Oakland and the redevelopment needs of the old Oakland Army Base.

"We're really excited the Ella Baker Center is doing this," said Jennifer Lin, research director for EBASE. "We think this a wonderful way for community groups and volunteers to come together and support Oakland."

Agbo said the Ella Baker Center is looking forward to turning the event into an annual celebration of Oakland.

"Next year we do hope to have more opportunities to have local businesses get involved and actually support this event because we think it's something that can grow and better help Oakland," Agbo said.