March 5, 2013
By Eric K. Arnold
The red outline of a neon cross from the nearby Korean Community Christian Church church emanated above 1-O.A.K.’s head like an electric halo, as the Oakland singer stood at the Telegraph and 24th St. Peace Stage, wearing a green RespectOurCity t-shirt and performing a cover of William DeVaughn’s R&B classic, “Be Thankful for What You’ve Got.”
The lyrics—you may not have a car at all, but remember, brothers and sisters, you can still stand tall—seemed thoroughly appropriate, considering the circumstances: Following the prior month’s First Friday celebration, gunfire erupted, leaving 18 year-old Kiante Campbell dead and several wounded, and causing event organizers (myself included), concerned stakeholders, and city officials, to rethink the future of the event, and institute numerous changes, the most salient of which was tightly-curated antiviolence messaging throughout the entire FF footprint.
Just moments earlier, District 3 City Councilperson Lynette Gibson-McElhaney led the Peace Stage crowd, which conservatively looked to number upwards of a thousand people, in observing a moment of silence in honor of Campbell, and other victims of gun violence in Oakland. Gibson-McElhaney called for everyone in the crowd to raise the peace sign in the air; a sea of hands followed suit. The hands remained held high for what seemed like an eternity, but was in actuality just a couple of minutes.
No one said a word.
“When that happened, I could feel, this city is still–from [24th st.] to [14th],” said Amber McZeal, a member of the FF organizing group. “It was a change… I didn’t recognize how many people were in the audience [because] all I could feel was stillness.”
The moment of silence was followed by an invocation led by Hub Oakland’s Ashara Ekundayo, who poured several libations into a large bowl, held by McZeal. The peace vibe had been set earlier in the day—aided by the widespread presence of ROC shirts, worn by community members, artists, DJs, event organizers, and Mayor Quan’s volunteer monitors—and was maintained throughout the night, which ended quietly and without incident, around 9 pm. (disclosure: I’m one of the ROC organizers as well.)
Even with the new guidelines and thematic programming, First Fridays was still a celebration of Oakland artists and homegrown culture, a point brought home by 1-O.A.K., and all the other inspired Peace Stage performers: Jennifer Johns, The Kev Choice Ensemble, Los Rakas, The Seshen, Chinaka Hodge, DNas, Do D.A.T., Chris Riggins, DJ Aebl Dee, DJ Tap-10, La Gente, and Candelaria. The music was a diverse mix of conscious hip-hop, reggaeton, jazz, funk, electronic, cumbia and R&B.
March 1’s event had less music programming overall; only two amplified sound areas were permitted by the city, the other one being the “Heal the Hood” stage curated by original First Fridays vendor Needa Bee, which featured DJs ((Local 1200)), Ras Ceylon, and numerous spoken word artists, poets, and youth organizers.
There was still lots of art on display, including the interactive paint wall at “the Art Zone,” along with local artisans and vendors. I did see less public drinking, though I wouldn’t say there was 100% compliance with zero tolerance. Overall, the event seemed less chaotic than in previous months, and the reduced number of sound systems resulted in less aural bombardment from every direction.
If heads can remain cool and calm, First Fridays might have a future after all.