Religious leaders in Oakland are using the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday to organize against violence and clean blight.
At Allen Temple Baptist Church in East Oakland, Mayor Jean Quan and Congresswoman Barbara Lee joined faith leaders and community members to clean blight along International Avenue.
Volunteers picked up litter, tires and pieces of furniture from the street.
“You name it bottles, glass, food wrappers, alcohols bottles—lotta alcohol bottles—broken glass, cigars… a dumping ground,” said Michael Landry, an Oakland native wearing a Raiders jacket and an “I Love Jesus” baseball cap. He and others worked to clear a graffitied couch and mattress from the sidewalk.
Allen Temple Program Director Rev. Daniel Buford said tackling problems like illegal dumping in East Oakland is a small step toward improving the lives of residents.
Last year, volunteers pulled several tons of garbage out of these blocks. This year, Quan said she’s concentrating the city’s limited resources on the 5 percent of the city with nearly all of Oakland’s crime.
“We were astounded to see how concentrated some of the issues were of high unemployment and violence,” Quan said. “If this is where 92 percent of the violence generates, if we can make a difference here, we’ll affect the whole city.”
Meanwhile, at Regeneration Church east of Lake Merritt, faith leaders, rappers and activists took turns at the microphone, rallying the community to work harder to stop gun violence. Eighteen year-old James Stewart said several of his friends have been victims of gun violence.
“I mean in Oakland, you grow up fast,” he said. “There’s gunshots every night. There’s not a night you go to sleep—where I live at—without gunshots.”
Last year was a particularly violent year in Stewart’s neighborhood—one reason why Reverend Harry Louis Williams II said he called the event together.
“But what I found in Oakland is not only is there devastation and murder,” said Williams. “But there are so many people who are doing incredible things to bring hope, healing and life to this city, often at great threat to their own lives.”
Rev. Williams organized community leaders like Nola Brantley (co-founder of MISSSEY, a group that helps sexually-exploited girls), Lorrain Taylor (founder of 1,000 Mothers To Prevent Violence) and Councilwoman Pat Kernighan. Speakers are looking for solutions to everything from drug abuse to sex trafficking.