The Beauty of Changes, in Oakland and Beyond

Detail from Amend TDK's 'STAY' mural, Jack London Square, Oakland.

Detail from Amend TDK's 'STAY' mural, Jack London Square, Oakland. (via @amendtdk / Instagram)

My name’s Pendarvis Harshaw. I was raised in Oakland, and find passion in reading, writing, educating and biking… Oh, and talking to OGs about their life experiences, but that’s another story. 

In my free time, I like walking on beaches and watching the process of creation and destruction. This past summer I was near Monterey Bay, and I saw a sandcastle built and then destroyed all in one day. And it made me smile.

Why would it make me smile? Because it was relieving to see something so carefully constructed and then rapidly demolished. Relieving because humans constantly compete with time and attempt to build things that last, when we all know that nothing is forever. Change is coming. And after that will be more change. It’s best to accept it.

 

There was once a mural of Oakland baseball legend Rickey Henderson on the backside of a club venue on the corner of Third and Washington Streets in Oakland’s Jack London District. The artist, Amend, who I met while he was in the process of completing the mural, told me how Henderson himself stopped by and gave a hat tip of approval of the piece. It was the ultimate honor in Amend’s quest to show the Town to itself, an appreciation for our culture in spite of the “changes” going on right now.

Not too long after completion of the artwork, the building changed ownership, and the mural was painted over with an extra-dark black coat of paint.

Amend shows a passerby his A's mural-in-progress in Jack London Square.
Amend shows a passerby his A’s mural-in-progress in Jack London Square. (@amendtdk / via Instagram)

Luckily, I still have photos of Amend’s work; even more importantly, I’m inspired by his efforts. There is honor in creating a moment of beauty in the face of impermanence.

And that’s who inspires me. The “live for the moment” kind of people. The people who leave their own mark, in their own hand. The people who say: I know this isn’t going to last forever, but dammit, while it’s here it’s going to be beautiful.

 

In 2017 alone we’ve witnessed dramatic examples of destruction. The manmade disaster of the current administration is rivaled only by the natural disasters of the past few weeks, with two hurricanes and dozens of wildfires.

This year, we’ve also witnessed blossoms of benevolent change, sprouted from seeds planted long ago. Racist structures are being toppled, physically and metaphorically. Gender biases are readily being questioned, challenged and slowly dismantled. Socially acceptable language, symbols and customs continue to be in flux. And for better or for worse, demographics are shifting in inner cites all around the United States, changing the culture of the community — and the electoral landscape.

I’m a firm believer in two things. Number One, that humans cannot effectively progress if we are divided. And Number Two, that I’m not the only believer in Number One.

While there are divisions, they won’t last long.

There are people who enjoy the rich culture of Oakland, but that won’t last long if you keep displacing the culture creators and keepers. There are employers who underpay African-American women, while relying on them to fuel the economy — that won’t last long either. And there are those in a system that deports, incarcerates and subjugates members of the immigrant community while enjoying the fruits of their labor — that’s simply not sustainable.

There are people building sandcastles on the beach while global warming causes sea levels to rise.

We are given whatever time we are given. We had no say in when it started, nor do we know when it will end. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t build something meaningful, purposeful and beautiful while we’re here, even if it only lasts until the next big wave wipes it away. 

The completed A"s 'STAY' mural in Jack London Square.
The completed A”s ‘STAY’ mural in Jack London Square, before it was covered in black paint.

And so I’ll be here each week, documenting meaningful, purposeful and beautiful things. I ask that you send comments, critiques and questions; become participants in the construction of this work of art I call a column, for again, we evolve better when we work together.

And finally, I ask that you go out there and create something beautiful. Something that isn’t built to withstand the test of time, but something that’ll be appreciated now. Something that will right the wrongs of the past, despite the fact more wrongs will manifest. Something that will inspire the future dwellers of this earth to create magnificent castles — no matter what changes may come.

Pendarvis Harshaw is the author of ‘OG Told Me,’ a memoir about growing up in Oakland. Find him on Twitter here.

The Beauty of Changes, in Oakland and Beyond 8 September,2017KQED Arts

  • Lisa Lomba

    This is beautiful, Pen. I also am an affirmer and believer in the beautiful in all its forms and in the #1 and #2 core beliefs expressed here. I greatly admire the reframe of contentious issues into sustainability and the necessity of change. I will be sharing this with everyone I know. Thank you!

  • Tivon

    Great read. Sad that mural was taken down it was a work of art. I wish owners of buildings would give consideration to the time and effort it takes to beautify their space at no cost to them. a dark wall replaces a work of art…with deep roots…a photo that literally hundreds of peopled stopped by to take a photo with…the depth and pace of Oakland’s erosion is saddening.

  • champ green

    very powerful an profond it motivates me to Keep building

  • William Evenhouse

    I am very old now, 78, and living in Cairo, Egypt. Here and elsewhere I am theFolksinger. But my plans involve interaction with an Oakland architect and my Oakland son, the eldest, to build a small living quarters that I and my wife can use, back of his house and that of his partner. Maybe finish building two years from now and be able to do the 80’s (mine) playing a bit of music in Oakland instead of Egypt. Your article and its vision encourage me.

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