The Downtown Oakland Specific Plan Team had the pleasure of facilitating a series of interviews with Oaklanders about their visions for an equitable downtown Oakland.
Thank you to Holly of MISSEY for sharing her time and brilliance with us! Watch the video or read the transcript below to hear Holly's thoughts.
What does Oakland mean to you?
Oakland means everything to me. I mean, it means freedom, it means expression, it means community. I mean, my family came here in 1949. My grandfather was in the Navy and like a lot of African Americans during that time, he was escaping the Jim Crow South. He was coming from Mississippi, he landed at Alameda and never left. You know and he brought my grandmother and they built a family and they built businesses and they built a church and this is where I’m from, this is my heart, this is my soul. And so I think in order for us to survive and thrive and continue to be what Oakland was really meant to be, we’re going to have to make some changes.
What are your thoughts on what is going on in Downtown Oakland right now?
You know my feelings about downtown Oakland at this point are mixed feelings. On one hand, I’m really excited to see the businesses coming back and to see restaurants and to see art and to see people out and about and shops, and it’s amazing. I mean, I remember going through different iterations of Downtown Oakland growing up. In the 70s and early 80s it was thriving and I would be here with my grandmother and we would be purchasing things for her shop and things for the home. And then we went through a really rough period where a lot of businesses were closing and people were unable to make it, or larger retail stores were fleeing the area. SO that was really scary so we had to go to San Leandro or go to outside cities to purchase what we needed. So to see that Oakland is making a comeback in a lot of ways in Downtown is really exciting. But the question I live in everyday working here is who’s thriving? And who are owning the businesses? And who can afford to be here? In my nonprofit organization, we’re experiencing the results of gentrification right now. You know, my feelings about Oakland are positive and my feelings about Downtown Oakland are mixed. I think that we need to really move with intention around who can afford to be here and who can afford the rental space, the retail space, the nonprofit space, the housing, you know, in order for us to be true to everything that makes Oakland amazing and special and beautiful, we’re really going to need to tackle those questions in the next few years.What is your vision of the future of downtown? And how could downtown better serve you?
What is your vision of the future of downtown? And how could downtown better serve you?
You know what makes Oakland special really is our commitment to everyone, right, to being all inclusive and making sure that everyone’s at the table. And so, my hope and vision for the future is that we make sure that the Downtown is a space for everyone. And so as newcomers come in, you know, I think that as a community of activists, and as a community of people that have always being committed to activism, we need to be demanding in coming together to make sure that we’re demanding that people that are coming into our community to make money are responsible to the community.
When you think of “Equity in Oakland,” what comes to mind?
When I think of “equity in Oakland” I think of what Oakland is supposed to be and what we all hope for. And what we have achieved in some ways and what we’re so far off the marker in many ways. And I think of us continuing to work together as a community to continue to reach towards that dream and I think of holding businesses, both small and large accountable to the people. And I think of all of us believing that it’s our collective responsibility to make sure that the most marginalized people are living quality lives. When I think that that’s what Oakland is really about and that’s what sets us a part you know. You can live in any city in the Bay Area, you can work in any city, you can bring business to any city in the Bay Area. The Bay Area has great weather, the Bay Area has diversity, but what it really means to be an Oaklander, to live, work, play, and thrive in this city is a commitment to equity. It is a commitment to a collective striving towards equity and towards inclusivity.
What changes would you suggest to improve social, racial, and economic equity in downtown Oakland?
The suggestions that I would change in order to improve equity in terms of social equity, racial equity, gender equity, in Oakland is really just… the first step has to be a collective commitment. We have to all believe that it’s our responsibility. Even at Missey where I work, you know, we’re serving trafficked girls, and it can’t just be a small piece of the population serving trafficked girls because the way that we got into this predicament in which 12-year old girls are being sold on the street…s has been a collective effort, has been collective neglect, has been collective… you know, non-valuing of childhood. And the way out, has to be collective as well. And that’s my philosophy on Missey and that’s also my philosophy just in terms of reaching equity in Oakland in general is we collectively got into this mess, and we collectively marginalized and locked out certain people, and so we have to realize that it’s all of our mistake, and it’s all of our issue, and it has to be all of our love and effort together in order to correct the problem.