Community Relations Blog

Check Your Shelf Podcast: "Hello, AAMLO"

Made possible by a Friends of the Oakland Public Library mini-grant, Check Your Shelf: The Oakland Public Library Podcast, invites listeners to take an inside look at OPL. Community Relations Librarian Amy Martin brings you inside the walls to get to know the library as a friend. The first season will feature six episodes diving into the different places, programs, and initiatives that make OPL truly special.

Listen on:

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Episode 2: "Hello, AAMLO" Notes

Transcript coming soon.

The African American Museum and Library at Oakland (AAMLO) is located at 659 14th Street in Oakland.

Audio recordings used in Episode 2. Recordings included in this episode are used with permission from the African American Museum and Library at Oakland.

A Mystery Reel of Film Arrives at AAMLO - photo essay featuring Sean Dickerson

AAMLO Collections Mentioned in Episode 2

And Some Fun Extras:

Library staff featured on this episode:

Bamidele Agbasegbe-Demerson, Chief Curator, African American Museum and Library at Oakland (AAMLO)
Marco Frazier, Library Assistant, African American Museum and Library at Oakland (AAMLO)
Sean Dickerson, Library and Archives Assistant, African American Museum and Library at Oakland (AAMLO)
Dorothy Lazard, Librarian, Oakland History Center at the Oakland Public Library


Episode 1: "Public Detectives" Notes

Click here for a transcript.

Dorothy Lazard, manager of the Oakland History Center, talks annexation and developing exhibits on Oakland history.

vintage ad, harbor with text oakland the city of opportunity

book cover dated 1902 text "oakland athens of the pacific"

Are you also in the throes of potty training? Here are the books and DVDs Mahasin Aleem recommends:

And finally, the red snapper recipe that made us cry. Thanks, Kirsten Baldock.

Until next month, we'll see you around the library!



Women's History Month

Girl Power Film Festival 2020Girl Power floral

Celebrate Women's History Month with a series of four films chronicling inspiring and trailblazing women!

  • 3/2 - What's Love Got to Do With It
    This autobiographical film is centered on the life of Tina Turner; her rise to fame and her fall from the idyllic American marriage.
  • 3/16 - Frida
    Salma Hayek stars as Mexican surrealist artist Frida Kahlo in this biopic, which chronicles her turbulent marriage to Diego Rivera, her political activism, and the severe pain she experienced following a bus accident.
  • 3/23 - On the Basis of Sex
    Future Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg launches her career fighting for gender equality by proving discrimination "on the basis of sex" is unconstitutional.
  • 3/30 - Harriet
    The incredible true story of Harriet Tubman, and her quest to lead hundreds of slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad.

Mondays in March @ Eastmont Branch
Keywords: adults, films, movies, East Oakland


Women Bike Book ClubBook cover for the "the Mechanical Horse"

Let's explore the history of women in American cycling with Margaret Guroff's The Mechanical Horse: How the Bicycle Reshaped American LifeLearn how "women shed their cumbersome Victorian dresses—as well as their restricted gender roles—so they could ride. [...] Margaret Guroff demonstrates that the bicycle's story is really the story of a more mobile America—one in which physical mobility has opened wider horizons of thought and new opportunities for people in all avenues of life."

Thursday, 3/5 - 6pm-7:30pm @ Golden Gate Branch
Keywords: bikes, The Mechanical Horse, book club, Women Bike Book Club, North Oakland



Intro to Female Persian PoetsPersian Poetry

To celebrate Women's History Month, and to expand answer that was asked in our first session on Persian Poets, what about Persian female poets? In this session female poets, female feminist poets, modern feminism, and ancient Persia will be discussed.

Saturday, March 7 - 1pm-2:30pm @ Piedmont Avenue Branch 
Keywords: poetry, Persian, Persian poets, Persian authors, feminism, North Oakland, Piedmont

Button and Bookmark Making for Women's History MonthWomen's History Month graphic

Come make bookmarks and buttons featuring important and inspiring women. Use our artwork or create your own tribute to the important women in your life!

Saturday, March 7 - 1pm-4pm @ West Oakland Branch
Keywords: poetry, Persian, Persian poets, Persian authors, feminism, North Oakland, Piedmont

Black Women: Their Presence in the City of LightTomb of Josephine Baker

Journey with Oakland native Riki Stevenson, whose slide-illustrated presentation—Black Women: Their Presence in the City of Light—takes us across the landscapes of Paris, France. We explore places where African and African American females studied, created art, forged socio-political alliances, opened businesses, and at times made the famed City of Light their home. (This program is organized by Stevenson’s European-based company Black Paris Tours.)

Saturday, March 7 - 2pm-5pm @ African American Museum & Library at Oakland
Keywords: Black women, history, Black History, African American Women, African American history, culture, art, Paris, presentation, AAMLO

Women's History Trivia Nightvintage and outdated drawing of the female brain

Come test your trivia prowess and celebrate Women's History Month at a women's history-themed trivia night. Play solo or with a team. 6 people max per team. Eat snacks, learn, win prizes! Door at 5:30, trivia starts at 6pm. 

Tuesday, March 10 - 6pm-8pm @ Main Library
Keywords: trivia, women's history, games, adults, teens, Downtown Oakland, Lake Merritt



Meet Saadia Faruqi, author of the Yasmin! book series, & book giveawayBook cover for Yasmin! children

Come meet Saadia Faruqi, author of the popular Yasmin! series. Attendees will learn about the Yasmin! series in this fun, interactive presentation. Author, Saadia Faruqi, will also share her experiences growing up in Pakistan and talk about her journey as a writer. Pizza and refreshments will be served at 5:30. Presentation will begin at 6:00. FREE books will be signed and given away at the end of the presentation.  *Limited quantities of the books are available and are intended only for children in attendance at the program. One copy per child, please. First-come, first serve.  

Wednesday, March 11 - 5:30pm-7pm @ Main Library (Children's Room)
Keywords: children, kids, books, Pakistan, Yasmin!, food, free books, Children's books, family, Downtown Oakland, Lake Merritt



Shifting Culture Conversation Series: Race, Gender and Leadership with Shaana RahmanShifting Culture Conversation Series @ Main Library 

Shaana Rahman is a bicycle personal injury lawyer who runs her own firm, and is dedicated to tearing down barriers to women leading in business and succeeding in their careers. Hear Shaana's story and then join a guided discussion group on topics of race, gender, leadership in the workplace, and leadership in the bicycling movement. The Shifting Culture Conversation Series is presented in collaboration with Bike East Bay.  Bike East Bay promotes healthy, sustainable communities by making bicycling safe, fun and accessible.

Wednesday, March 11 - 6pm @ Main Library
Keywords: Shifting Culture, series, bikes, bicycles, business, professional, leadership, Bike East Bay, Downtown Oakland, Lake Merritt


Women and the Art of Meditationgraphic of dark head profile outline with a tree and roots within it

Learn how to rejuvenate yourself in our workshop, Women and the Art of Meditation. Part of AAMLO’s ongoing Festival of Knowledge, the session conducted by Josie Santiago focuses on “chair” yoga, relaxation techniques, aromatherapy, stress free music, and more.

Saturday, March 14 - 2pm-4pm @ African American Museum & Library at Oakland
Keywords: meditation, Festival of Knowledge, mindfulness, relaxation, health, adults, AAMLO, West Oakland, Downtown Oakland


The Girls in the Bandvintage black & white photograph of Black women with instruments

When the world told them they couldn't play, they did it anyway! They wiggled, they jiggled, they wore low cut gowns and short shorts, they kow-towed to the club owners and smiled at the customers…and they did it all, just to play the music they loved. THE GIRLS IN THE BAND tells the poignant, untold stories of female jazz and big band instrumentalists and their fascinating, groundbreaking journeys from the late 1920s to the present day. These incredibly talented women endured sexism, racism and diminished opportunities for decades, yet continue today to persevere, inspire and elevate their talents in a field that seldom welcomed them. This 2013 documentary is 88 minutes long. 

Tuesday, March 17 - 6pm-7:30pm @ Golden Gate Branch
Keywords: music, history, music history, women's history, Black history, African American history, arts, culture, jazz, documentary, North Oakland, Emeryville, South Berkeley

Shirley Chisolm: Unbought and Unbossed Film Screening

Recalling a watershed event in US politics, this Peabody Award-winning documentary takes an in-depth look at the 1972 presidential campaign of Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress and the first to seek nomination for the highest office in the land. Shunned by the political establishment and the media, this longtime champion of marginalized Americans asked for support from people of color, women, gays, and young people newly empowered to vote at the age of 18. Chisholm's bid for an equal place on the presidential dais generated strong, even racist opposition. Yet her challenge to the status quo and her message about exercising the right to vote struck many as progressive and positive. Official Selection at the Sundance International Film Festival and the SXSW Film Festival"A refreshing antidote to the opportunism and cynicism that rules the political roost inspiring tale of someone who made a difference." - James Greenberg, Hollywood Reporter

Tuesday, March 17 - 6pm-8pm @ Temescal Branch
Keywords: women's history, Black history, African American history, American politics, Black politicans, Women Politicians, documentary, North Oakland, Emeryville

Documentary Film Series: She's Beautiful When She's AngryFilm poster for "She's Beautiful When She's Angry"

Join us at the Dimond Branch for a series of documentary films on Wednesday evenings. Snacks will be provided and a brief discussion will follow each film. March's film is She's Beautiful When She's Angry, a documentary about the birth of the Women's Liberation Movement in the 1960's.

Wednesday, March 18 - 6pm-8pm @ Dimond Branch
Keywords: women's history, Women's Liberation Movement, 1960s, documentary, feminism, films, Dimond District, Fruitvale, East Oakland

In Praise of Our Mothers and GrandmothersBlack Female Project poster

Join AAMLO for a community discussion, In Praise of Our Mothers and Grandmothersorganized by BlackFemaleProjectThe discussion will include topics such as: kinship roles, mentorship, workplace dynamics, and community leadership. 

Saturday, March 21 - 2pm-4pm @ African American Museum & Library at Oakland
Keywords: Black Female Project, mothers, grandmothers, community, leadership, adults, AAMLO, West Oakland, Downtown Oakland


Women's History Month Film: A League of their OwnA League of their Own movie poster

Come celebrate Women's History month with us by watching the true story of two sisters who join the first female professional baseball league. Snacks will be provided but feel free to bring something to share!

Saturday, March 21 - 3pm @ Lakeview Branch
Keywords: movie, true stories, sports, baseball, women's baseball, film, women's history, Lake Merritt, Grand Lake






Lunch Hour with the DivasMaya Angelou receiving medal of honor from ex-President Obama

Take a break for Lunch Hour with the Divas. Selected documentary film screenings explore Black women in the arts and the struggle for freedom. 

  • Monday 3/23 & Tuesday 3/24 - Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise
  • Wednesday 3/25 & Thursday 3/26: Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice 

Monday, March 23 - Thursday, March 26  @ African American Museum & Library at Oakland
Keywords: movies, documentaries, Civil Rights, films, lunch time, AAMLO




Trailblazing Journalist Delilah Beasley & California's African American Historyblack & white portrait of Delilah Beasley

Join Liam O’Donoghue, host and producer of the East Bay Yesterday podcast, as he interviews writers Dana Johnson and Ana Cecilia Alvarez, authors of the new book, “Trailblazer : Delilah Beasley’s California.” Dana Johnson is a professor of English at the University of Southern California and author of the short story collection, "In the Not Quite Dark." Ana Cecilia Alvarez is a professor at California Institute of the Arts and serves as the Development and Communications Manager at Clockshop, a Los Angeles-based arts collective.

Tuesday, March 24 - 6pm-8pm @ Main Library
Keywords: Delilah Beasley, East Bay Yesterday, East Bay history, Black history, women's history, African American history,Dana Johnson, Ana Cecilia Alvarez, journalism


Women's History Month Craftdrawing of Mae Jemison, first black woman in space

Create your own refrigerator magnets featuring famous women from history! Best for ages 3 and up.

Wednesday, March 25 - 3:30pm @ Dimond Branch
Keywords: crafts, DIY, arts, creative, programs, Dimond, East Oakland, Fruitvale


Shifting Culture Conversation Series: Intersectional Issues in Biking With Childrentwo young children pose in front of a bike

Parents are uniquely focused on the next generation. A panel of parents will explore the intersectional issues faced by people biking with children or while pregnant. Then we'll engage in discussion that turns to these leaders for safer streets and more people-focused infrastructure. The Shifting Culture Conversation Series is presented in collaboration with Bike East Bay.  Bike East Bay promotes healthy, sustainable communities by making bicycling safe, fun and accessible.

Wednesday, March 25 - 6pm-8pm @ Main Library
Keywords: intersectional, bikes, cycling, bicycles, biking, children, pregnancy, motherhood, Bike East Bay, Downtown Oakland, Lake Merritt



Before I Was a Critic I Was a Human BeingBook cover for "Before I Was a Critic I was a Human Being"

Join us in March for our monthly book club featuring titles from Small Press Distribution. Pick up a free copy of our March book at the February Book Club meeting (2/26), or at the Main Library Reference desk starting on February 27 while supplies last. MARCH’S BOOK CLUB PICK: Before I Was a Critic I Was a Human Being by Amy Fung. Literary Nonfiction. Asian & Asian American Studies. Native American Studies. Women's Studies. BEFORE I WAS A CRITIC I WAS A HUMAN BEING is the debut collection of essays by Amy Fung. In it, Fung takes a closer examination at Canada's mythologies of multiculturalism, settler colonialism, and identity through the lens of a national art critic. Following the tangents of a foreign-born perspective and the complexities and complicities in participating in ongoing acts of colonial violence, the book as a whole takes the form of a very long land acknowledgment. Taken individually, each piece roots itself in the learning and unlearning process of a first-generation settler immigrant as she unfurls each region's sense of place and identity. 

Wednesday, March 25 - 5pm @ Main Library
Keywords: Amy Fung, Small Press Distribution, books, Asian studies, Native studies, women's studies, conversation, book club, Downtown Oakland, Lake Merritt



Berkeley Rep Talk: School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girlsstill image from School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls play

By Jocelyn Bioh
Directed by Awoye Timpo
Main Season · Roda Theatre
March 19–May 3, 2020

“Modeling. That’s the plan after I graduate you know. Become the next Iman. College is cute, but I’m thinking about my future realistically.” Paulina, the reigning queen bee at Ghana’s most exclusive boarding school, has her sights set on the Miss Universe pageant and the glamorous life that’s sure to follow. But her plans and even her very reputation are shaken up when Ericka, a new student who’s strikingly beautiful and talented, captures the attention of the pageant recruiter—and Paulina’s hive-minded friends. Winner of the 2018 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Play and the Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Award, School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play is a biting comedy that tackles the universal issues of beauty and self-worth that face teenage girls across the globe.

Saturday, March 28 - 1pm-2pm @ Piedmont Avenue Branch
Keywords: Berkeley Rep, School Girls, plays, Ghana, African, Piedmont, Emeryville, North Oakland



Women's History Month Film: Queen of Katwe Queen of Katwe film poster

Come celebrate Women's History Month with us by watching the incredible true story of a Ugandan girl who sees her world rapidly change after being introduced to the game of chess in the Queen of Katwe. Snacks will be provided but feel free to bring something to share!

Saturday, March 28 - 3pm @ Lakeview Branch
Keywords: Queen of Katwe, true stories, chess, movies, films, Uganda, Lake Merritt, Grand Lake



Celebrate Black History Month at Your Library!

This Black History Month, Your Library is hosting a series of events to help you Explore, Connect, and Grow!

From storytime to crafts to historial lectures, we've got something for you and your loved ones. All our events are free and open to the public. 

Check out all our events. 

Questions? Contact us.


Saturday Children’s Story Hourcover for "Freedom on the Menu" book by Carole Boston Weatherford

Carole Boston Weatherford in Freedom on the Menu, recalls the bravery of four young African American students at North Carolina A&T College in Greensboro. They sat down at a “whites only” lunch counter on February 1, 1960 and requested to be served. Their bold action ignited a protest movement across the country to end racially segregated public eating facilities.

Saturday, February1 - 11am-12pm
African American Museum & Library at Oakland
Keywords: storytime, story hour, children, kids, parents, caregivers, civil rights, 1960s, segregation, AAMLO, American history, Black history, African American history, Black authors



30th Annual African American Poets & Their Poetry Celebrationpoet Phyllis Wheatly black & white illustration

Please join us for the 30th Annual Celebration of African American Poets and Their Poetry. This year's theme (in accordance with theme of the Association of the Study of African American Life and History) is 400 Years of African American History. We also want to include and highlight this year the contributions of American born Africans in California like Ms. Delilah Beasley, journalist and author of the essay Slavery in CaliforniaCommunity members of all ages are invited to participate by reading poetry, performing, dancing, or/and displaying works of art. If you're interested in being featured in this program, please call 510-238-7352. For those interested in the featured program please send work for consideration by 1/24/20 to the West Oakland Branch Library. There will be a rehearsal on 1/25/20 10am - 12pm. You can also sign up for the open mic at the program. We are also encouraging Poetry Celebration veterans and new participants to contribute to the 30th Anniversary Anthology. Deadline is February 1st. Light refreshments will be served.

Saturday, February 1 - 1pm-4pm @ West Oakland Branch
Keywords: African American poets, Black poets, African American history, Black history, BHM, American History, literature, poetry, all ages, art, culture, family, learning, West Oakland, open mic



Anti-Displacement and Art Workshop // Taller de Arte y Anti-Desplazamientoold map of Oakland, CA

What makes a neighborhood and how can we shape it? Join us for an afternoon of neighborhood history and zine making focused on anti-gentrification. Taught by local educator Ken Eby-Gomez. Free, ages 12 to 20. In collaboration with Self Help Graphics & Art and The California Endowment

Saturday, February 1 - 1pm-5pm @ César E. Chávez Branch
Keywords: Fruitvale, gentrification, Oakland history, crafts, teens, young adults, youth



African American Quest for the Right to Voteheadshot of Oscar C. Wright, retired Oakland educator

Learn about the African American Quest for the Right to Vote from the perspective of retired Oakland educator Oscar C. Wright. A nonagenarian, Wright also shares insights about the profound social changes resulting from the modern day Civil Rights Movement.

Saturday, February 1 - 2pm-4pm African American Museum & Library at Oakland
Keywords: AAMLO, Civil Rights Movement, American history, Black history, African American history, voting, social history, social movements




RJOY Elder CircleLakeview Branch of the Oakland Public Library near Lake Merritt, Oakland, CA

Elder circle is a weekly gathering for community members to share wisdom in a restorative space. Elder's Circles are an embodied experience that can feature anything from deep breathing and music to movement and the infusion of African Spirituality through ritual.

Mondays - 1pm-2pm Lakeview Branch
Keywords: elders, restorative justice, restorative practice, Lake Merritt, African Spirituality, seniors



House of Samba KidsSamba dance class for children featuring Master Percussionist James Henry

Master percussionist James Henry will delight all with his music. Join us for a fun-filled musical event.

Monday, February 3 - 1pm Eastmont Branch
Tuesday, February 4 - 11:30am @ Main Library
Thursday, February 13 - 10 am @ West Oakland Branch
Saturday, February 15 - 2pm @ César E. Chávez Branch
Keywords: East Oakland, Eastmont, Lake Merritt, Downtoan Oakland, West Oakland, Fruitvale, Samba, Samba Kids, percussion, culture, music, James Henry, kids, children, family, caregivers, caretakers



The African-American Multimedia Conference logoAfrican-American Multimedia Conference Presents: Self-Publishing Workshops

Join writer or organizer of the African-American Multimedia Conference Sumiko Saulson for a three-part series on self-publishing:

  1. Finishing Your Manuscript
  2. Preparing Book Interiors
  3. Exteriors, Covers and Ads

Monday, February 3, 10, 24 - 5pm-7pm Eastmont Branch
Keywords: East Oakland, Eastmont, Black authors, African American authors, writing, writers, self-publishing, workshop, adults, teens


Black History Read-In & Culture FestCalifa

Join OPL staff, community artists, and historians as we celebrate African American History Month with a day full of engaging, creative, multi-generational programming. All events are free and are wheechair accessible. Light refreshments will be served at 5pm. All events are free and open to the public! 

Tuesday, February 4 - 10:15am-7:30pm Main Library
Keywords: Lake Merritt, Downtown Oakland, culture, American history, Black History, African American history, art, history, family, kids, children, teens, adults, parents, caregivers, caretakers



African American Oakland, 1915-1965vintage black and white image of three Black men sitting in chairs

Oakland History Center librarian Dorothy Lazard will present a talk on the growth of Oakland’s African American community during a period of enormous change in the city. She will share stories of the political and cultural movers and shakers who helped establish Oakland as one of California’s most progressive cities. A slide show will accompany this presentation.

Wednesday, February 5 - 6pm-7:30pm Main Library
Keywords: Lake Merritt, Downtown Oakland, culture, American history, Black History, African American history, Oakland history, Oakland History Center





Documentary Film Series: Chisholm 72: Unbought and Unbossed Unbought and Unbossed

Join us at the Dimond Branch for a series of documentary films on Wednesday evenings. Snacks will be provided and a brief discussion will follow each film. February's film is Chisholm '72: Unbought & Unbossed, a documentary about Brooklyn Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm and her 1972 campaign for the the Democratic Party presidential nomination.

Wednesday, February 5 - 6pm-8pm Dimond Branch
Keywords: Dimond district, politics, Shirley Chisholm, films, documentaries, Fruitvale





Art Talk - Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963–1983painting by Barbara Jones-Hogu

This Art Talk brings the de Young museum's exhibit Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963–1983 to you! The internationally acclaimed exhibition, organized by Tate Modern, celebrates art made by Black artists during two pivotal decades when issues of race and identity dominated and defined both public and private discourse. The de Young’s exhibit includes a focus on Bay Area artists whose work promoted personal and cultural pride, collective solidarity and empowerment, and political and social activism. This multi-media presentation will delve into highlights of the show. You can visit the exhibit at the de Young for free on January 11 and February 8
Image: Barbara Jones-Hogu, "Unite" (detail), 1971. Screenprint. Estate of Barbara Jones-Hogu, Courtesy of Lusenhop Fine Art

Wednesday, February 5 - 6:30pm Rockridge Branch
Keywords: Rockridge, North Oakland, art, de Young, Black artists, art, culture, Bay Area history



Black Fright Flicksfilm poster for Blacula (1972)

African American actors, directors and screen writers have contributed to the American Horror Film genre for decades. This month join us as we enjoy some classics (and cult classics) of Black horror films from the 1970s to the 2000s. 

  • February 6th: Blacula, 1972 (Rated PG)
  • February 13th: Tales From The Hood, 1995
  • February 20: Bones, 2001
  • February 27th: Vampire in Brooklyn, 1995

Please note: All movies shown are rated R (except Blacula). You are welcome to bring your own snacks and refreshments.

Thursday, February 6, 13, 20, 27 - 3:30pm Eastmont Branch
Keywords: films, American horror, cult classics, Black horror films, Eastmont, East Oakland, older teens, adults, teens



Black Panther Party Legacy Event: Honoring the Women of the BPPBlack Panter Party logo (black panther on the prowl)

With guest speakers, film screening and a Black Panther Party History Exhibit. Sponsored by the West Oakland Library and It's About Time Archives. For more information call 916-455-0908. 

Saturday, February 8 - 2pm-4pm West Oakland Branch
Keywords: West Oakland, Black Panther Party, Black history, American history, film, conversation, women, Civil Rights, BPP




Who's Your Neighbor?: Creating Community at the Library, Family Drum Circle

Join us for the first program of a five part series called Who's Your Neighbor?: Creating Community at the Library. You'll learn a song, dance and drum rhythm during this afternoon drum circle led by Rosetta Saunders. Children 8 and older are welcome to join the circle. Rosetta Saunders, is a retired educator/historian having taught People of Colors history in the United States. She has studied West African and Afro-Cuban drumming for the past twenty years and is currently facilitating drum circles for health, healing and joy! This event is made possible by the Friends of the Oakland Public Library.

Saturday, February 8 - 2pm-3:30pm Dimond Branch
Keywords: music, drum circle, adults, teens, youth, African Diaspora, FOPL




Living the California Dream: African American Leisure Sites During the Jim Crow Era African American Leisure Sites During the Jim Crow Era

Join our Meet the Author session to journey with historian and heritage conservation consultant Alison R. Jefferson, Ph.D., in a Powerpoint presentation based on her new book, Living the California Dream: African American Leisure Sites during the Jim Crow Era. A question and answer period, book signing, and light refreshments follow the presentation.

Saturday, February 8 - 2pm-4pm African American Museum & Library at Oakland
Keywords: Meet the Author, Black authors, American history, Black History, African American history, Jim Crow, AAMLO, Downtown Oakland



Make A Quilt Square - Celebrate Black History Monthclip are of a quilt in progress

Celebrate Black History Month by making a quilt square.  Community members may each contribute to our 2020 Community Quilt - squares will be sown together and then hung in the library.  Supplies provided.  For all ages. 
West Oakland - The African American Quilt Guild is hosting its Annual Demonstration and Workshop. Supplies will be provided so that you can make your own quilt. For all levels and ages!
Melrose - Community members may each contribute to our 2020 Community Quilt - squares will be sown together and then hung in the library

Saturday, February 8 - 2pm-4pm Melrose Branch
Saturday, February 22 - 1pm-3pm @ West Oakland Branch
Keywords: Black history, quilting, East Oakland, West Oakland, quilts, crafts, art, culture, all ages, DIY, maker, sewing



Golden Gate After Hours: Celebrating African American Neighborhood Historyvintage image of Ruth and Eugeme Lasatemay

Join us for a unique Thursday evening ‘after-hours’ at the Golden Gate Library! Enjoy a special presentation celebrating the seminal work of Ruth and Eugene Lasartemay, one of the founding families of the East Bay Negro Historical Society (EBNHS). Did you know that the collections of this groundbreaking group were housed here at the Golden Gate Branch? These materials now live at AAMLO, where presenter, historian Susan Anderson, served as interim curator. Experience the Golden Gate Library Local Collection, a new place-based reference series, in specially designed reading chairs crafted from repurposed library furniture. Explore neighborhood stories in larger than life photo and text prints installed on library windows, hallways and even the elevator. Contribute your neighborhood memory to the project’s growing collection of community stories. Enjoy local music from the library's collection provided by Leo Mercer, organizer of  The MERCER BrotherhoodMeet your neighbors, learn about the community, and enjoy organic snacks by Phat Beets, North Oakland’s food justice organization. This special celebration is part of the library’s programming in honor of African American History month.

Thursday, February 13 - 6pm-7:30pm Golden Gate Branch
Keywords: Black history, African American history, North Oakland, Commons Archives, EBNHS, BHM, community





African American Read-In for FamiliesAfrican American Read-In logo

Come read books celebrating African American children and families as part of the National African American Read-In. Books will be on display for families to enjoy together, for ages 0-12. The National African American Read-In is the nation’s first and oldest event dedicated to diversity in literature. It was established in 1990 by the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English to make literacy a significant part of Black History Month. More than 6 million people around the world have participated in the Read-In!

Saturday, February 15 - 10am-4pm West Oakland Branch
Keywords: Black history, African American history, children, kids, parents, caregivers, caretakers, diverse literature, literacy



Storyteller Kirk WallerStoryteller Kirk Waller holding a banjo by a large tree

Join us for storyteller Kirk Waller, who will be telling both well-known and unknown stories. You’ll love his engaging and musical storytelling style. This is an event the whole family will enjoy. Local storyteller Kirk Waller is winner of the National Storytelling Network's JJ Reneaux Emerging Artist Award, and winner of Parent's Choice Gold for his CD, "But Why?" His stories are also found on Amazon's "Story Party.”

Saturday, February 15 - 2pm Elmhurst Branch
Keywords: storytelling, kids, children, East Oakland, family, caregivers, caretakers, music, stories




African American Multimedia Conference: Panels, Workshop, and AwardsAfrican American Multimedia Conference logo

The event will include workshops and panel discussions related to African American media arts inclusive of video, music, audio, gaming, animation, vblogging and podcasting. Mission Statement: To ensure that both individual artists and community arts organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area’s Black Community in Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, Vallejo and other cities are empowered with the tools they need to tell their stories, and that San Francisco Bay Area Black Voices not be silenced. To achieve this, we work to foster within our community the creation and exhibition of works, music, film, video, and digital arts conveying the African American personal and community experience. To encourage through training, consulting, and exhibition programs African American participation in multimedia: film/video, music/audio, and animation; create works in the media arts, and assist media artists with disabilities.

Saturday, February 15 - 2pm-5pm Melrose Branch
Keywords: Black creatives, African American arts, culture, workshops, panels, East Oakland, Melrose

Black History Cinema: Spider-man Into the Spider-Verse

Come to the Lakeview Library to watch Spiderman: Into the SpiderverseWe'll enjoy popcorn andscreenshot from the Spiderman Into the Spiderverse snacks.

Saturday, February 15 - 3pm-5pm Lakeview Branch
Keywords: kids, teens, children, Spiderman, movies, films, Lake Merritt





Negro League Baseball in the East BayTeam portrait of Berkeley-based California Eagles

The East Bay had a number of Negro League Baseball teams including the Oakland Larks and the Berkeley-based California Eagles. The Oakland History Center presents master storyteller Ben Tucker, a member of Stagebridge storytelling troupe, who will share exciting stories from the heyday of Negro League Baseball. Mr. Tucker will have copies of his sports memoir, A Good Run, on sale at this event.

Wednesday, February 19 - 6pm-7:30pm Main Library
Keywords: Oakland History Center, Oakland history, Negro League Baseball, Black history, sports, baseball, Berkeley, Ben Tucker, books, book talk, Black authors, BHM, sports history



Get Crafty with art inspired by Alma Thomas and Odili Donald Odita! Bright colorful circular art inspired by Alma Thomas and Odili Donald Odita

Join us for a crafty afternoon in the TeenZone!  We will be getting inspired by two African American artists and making our own art.  All materials provided.  For youth ages 12 to 18.

Thursday, February 20 - 3pm West Oakland Branch
Wednesday, February 26, 3pm @ Rockridge Branch
Keywords: crafts, art, DIY, teens, TeenZone, Black artists, African American artists, West Oakland, North Oakland, Rockridge



Black History Cinema: Harriet (2019) Film ScreeningFilm poster for Harriet

Come celebrate Black history month with us by watching the incredible true story of Harriet Tubman, and her quest to lead hundreds of slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad. Snacks will be provided but feel free to bring something to share! Rated PG-13

Saturday, February 22 - 2:30pm Lakeview Branch
Keywords: Lake Merritt, films, movies, BHM, teens, adults, Harriet Tubman, Underground Railroad





We Keep Us Safe booktalk by author Zach Norris, executive director of the Ella Baker Center for Human RightsBook cover for Zach Norris' "We Keep Us Safe"

We Keep Us Safe booktalk by author Zach Norris, executive director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. With introduction and discussion moderation by Rev. Celeste Frazier from East Bay Church of Religious Science A groundbreaking new vision for public safety that overturns more than 200 years of fear-based discrimination, othering, and punishment. As the effects of aggressive policing and mass incarceration harm historically marginalized communities and tear families apart, how do we define safety? In a time when the most powerful institutions in the United States are embracing the repressive and racist systems that keep many communities struggling and in fear, we need to reimagine what safety means. Community leader and lawyer Zach Norris lays out a radical way to shift the conversation about public safety away from fear and punishment and toward growth and support systems for our families and communities. In order to truly be safe, we are going to have to dismantle our mentality of Us vs. Them. By bridging the divides and building relationships with one another, we can dedicate ourselves to strategic, smart investments—meaning resources directed toward our stability and well-being, like healthcare and housing, education and living-wage jobs. This is where real safety begins. We Keep Us Safe is a blueprint of how to hold people accountable while still holding them in community. The result reinstates full humanity and agency for everyone who has been dehumanized and traumatized, so they can participate fully in life, in society, and in the fabric of our democracy.

Wednesday, February 26 - 6pm-8pm Temescal Branch
Keywords: Temescal, North Oakland, Ella Baker Center, Zach Norris, public safety, mass incarceration, community, book talk, Meet the Author




2020: Visions Toward Tomorrowvintage image of the African American Museum and Library at Oakland on 14th Street in Oakland, California

Join SAAMLO (Friends and Stewards of AAMLO) for 2020: Visions Toward Tomorrow. The evening—promoting the legacy of Black History 365 days a year—features spoken word artists, jazz musicians, community choirs, visual artists, and words of wisdom from Oakland’s community sages.

Saturday, February 29 - 5pm-8pm African American Museum & Library at Oakland
Keywords: Temescal, North Oakland, Ella Baker Center, Zach Norris, public safety, mass incarceration, community, book talk, Meet the Author

Write a Novel at Your Library

Every story matters. Let's start writing yours!

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) began in 1999 as a daunting but straightforward challenge: to write 50,000 words of a novel during the thirty days of November.  Now, each year on November 1, hundreds of thousands of people around the world begin to write, determined to end the month with 50,000 words of a brand-new novel. 

Writers, both new and published, hype you during the process so you’re never alone during your creative endeavor.

Think it sounds a bit lonely?

The library can help! 

We are hosting multiple Come Write Ins throughout the month. You can drop in and work on your next novel with other NaNoWriMo writers.  We'll provide space, library resources, and some NaNoWriMo swag!

  • The Lakeview Branch will be hosting on Wednesdays in November from 6-7:30pm for all ages of writers.
  • The Montclair Branch will be hosting on Wednesdays in November from 6-7:30pm for all ages of writers.
  • The Main Library will be hosting on Mondays in November from 12-1:30pm (except for Veteran's Day) for all ages of writers.
  • The Rockridge Branch will be hosting on Saturdays from 10am-12pm and Tuesdays from 6-8pm in November for adult writers.
  • The Piedmont Avenue Branch will be hosting on Tuesdays in November from 4-8pm for all ages of writers.
  • The Piedmont Avenue Branch has a special time for kids in grade k-5 to get guidance with their writing on Tuesdays from 4-5pm in November.

Want some help getting started?

We have a variety of writing resources to help you.

NaNoWriMo, the organization, has published some books that are great tools for getting started.  Click the cover to see the title in our catalog.


There are plenty of other books to help you along this journey, as well, that you can find at the library.


And for young writers too:


What do I do with this novel once I'm done?

On our new platform, Biblioboardyou can create, share, and discover!

Submit your eBook to the Indie Author Project to have it showcased in the Indie California Statewide Collection while retaining all rights to your work. Readers across the state can discover your work with the potential for national exposure if selected for Library Journal’s IAP Select Collection. 

If you need a bit of help, you can create and professionally format books, poetry, novels, and any other written content into digital, ready to print formats with Pressbooks.

Discover local works from self-published authors, top indie eBooks, and much more.  No hold, checkout, or lending limits.  

Need some inspiration?

There have been many well-known published novels written during NaNoWriMo. Here are some, to get you inspired! Click the cover to see the title in our catalog in all formats.

Cover of the Night Circus  Water for Elephants Cover  Fangirl Cover  Wool cover      

“Even if you’re an outliner, leave room for the unexpected things to sneak in. Surprises are half the fun, the spontaneous road trips through tangents and subplots. They might end up being more important than you think. And if they’re not, you can always edit them out after November. No one has to know so for now, for this glorious November, you can do whatever you please. It’s your world to create and explore and even destroy if you want.” - Erin Morgenstern

"During NaNoWriMo, I never left the world of the book long enough to lose momentum. I stayed immersed in the story all month long, and that made everything come so much smoother than usual. I got a much quicker grasp on the main characters and their voices. The plotlines shot forward…”  - Rainbow Rowell

“[NaNoWriMo] forces you to silence that internal editor and just get something written. If you’re telling yourself that it’s OK to be writing something bad because you can always come back and fix it later, it takes a lot of the pressure off.” - Marissa Meyer

Check out many more pep talks from amazing authors right here!

Ready to go?

November is nearly here, so start your coffee brewing, crack open those laptops or notebooks, and join us in this creative journey of novel-writing.

Fall History Series

This season the Oakland History Room explores Oakland's neighborhoods and the political, economic, urban planning decisions that made the town we know today.

The Great Oakland Annexation of 1909

Wednesday, October 30, 6-7:30 PM @ Main Library

Did you know that the Fruitvale, Melrose, and Elmhurst neighborhoods were once considered Oakland’s suburbs? Join Oakland History Room librarian Dorothy Lazard as she presents a talk on the annexation campaign that doubled the size of our city.

The Controversy in the Way of the MacArthur Maze
Wednesday, November 13, 6-7:30 PM @ Main Library

The design and placement of the MacArthur Maze was Oakland’s most complex of highway projects. Local historian Stuart Swiedler will present a talk that will utilize rare aerial photographs, ground images, and documents to tell the story of the Maze project and the controversial impact it had on the California Industries and Orientation Center for the Blind.

 Previous Events:

Exploring the Laurel District
Wednesday, October 2, 6-7:30 PM @ Main Library

Local historian, editor and author Dennis Evanosky will share the history of his Oakland neighborhood, the Laurel District, from the arrival of the Ohlone to the early 20th century development of Laurel Grove Park and Key Route Heights. He will also discuss the arrival of the streetcars and the MacArthur Freeway that divided the neighborhood.

East Bay Yesterday Live: Exploring BART History with Michael C. Healy
Wednesday, October 9, 6-7:30 PM @ Main Library

East Bay Yesterday podcast host Liam O’Donoghue will interview Michael C. Healy, author of “BART: the dramatic history of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system” (Heyday Books) before a live audience. Healy served as the agency’s spokesman from 1972 until 2005. Expect to hear stories of epic political battles, scandals, a “phantom station,” and even a baby born on BART. 

Oakland's Redevelopment History in Pictures
Wednesday, October 16, 6-7:30 PM @ Main Library

The Oakland History Room recently acquired tens of thousands of photos from the now-defunct Oakland Redevelopment Agency. Audiovisual archivist Moriah Ulinskas will discuss the transformation of West Oakland and Downtown Oakland as it was photographed before and during the City's most aggressive period of redevelopment.


OPL Responds: Know Your Rights with I.C.E.

OPL Responds Logo

It is important to know your rights with recent reports that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) may be coming to the Bay Area soon. 

The library can help you get the information you need to protect yourself, your family, and your neighbors. Ask us! If we don’t know the answer, we’ll connect you to someone who does.

Creative Commons photo by Joe Bruskins via Flickr.

We’re lucky to have several local organizations working to help people with immigration questions and challenges. There are too many to list here! For a comprehensive resource guide, check out our Know Your Rights page.

And remember, knowledge is power. Here are 5 Ways to Fight ICE Raids With Power, Not Panic.

If you want to volunteer to support your neighbors and friends in the event of an ICE raid, check out or click here

If you're concerned about immigration coming to your workplace, review this very useful Employer Guide created by the National Employment Law Project and National Immigration Law Center.

For questions and reports about immigration enforcement, call the 24-hour hotline supported by the Alameda County Immigrant Legal and Education Partnership.

Poster for Alameda County Immigration Legal and Education Partnership     Spanish Poster for Alameda County Immigration Legal and Education Partnership                   

Meet the Ten Amazing Oakland Youth Poet Laureate Finalists!

The Oakland Youth Poet Laureate program is an unprecedented citywide effort to celebrate literacy through poetry and connect young writers to far-reaching opportunities. Each year we accept submissions from talented Oakland writers (ages 13-18) to be considered for the city’s top literary honor. The Laureate earns an educational scholarship and embarks on a year of opportunities as an ambassador for literacy, arts and youth expression.


This year we have ten wonderful Finalists. Please join us at the James Moore Theater at the Oakland Museum on California on June 7th, 2019 at 7PM to find out who our next Youth Poet Laureate is! Hear amazing performances from all of our finalists and our current Laureate, Leila Mottley. 

You don't want to miss it!

Every few days leading up to the final event we'll be introducing a Finalist and sharing their work.  Keep an eye on this space to meet all of these incredible young poets.

First up, Hayden Beaulieu, an 18-year-old high school graduate:  

Siara Edmond, 14 years old, goes to Skyline High School:

Darien Em is a 16 year old who goes to Oakland High:

Next, we have Samuel Getachew, who is a 16-year-old at Oakland Technical High School:

Monique Nadine Jonath is a 16-year-old at The College Preparatory School:

Here is Greer Nakadegawa-Lee, a 15-year-old who goes to Oakland Technical High School:

Zouhair Mussa is a 15-year-old who goes to school at Oakland High: 

Here is Jordan Tisnado, a Dewey Academy 17-year old:

Eleanor Wikstrom goes to Skyline High School and is 16 years old:

See video

17-year old Lizette Navarro goes to Oakland School for the Arts:

See video

Growing Up Oakland: Interview with Toni Ratliff

Read more about Growing Up Oakland, a project entirely created and run by Oakland Youth Poet Laureate poets. 

As a part of Growing Up Oakland, Oakland youth interviewed adults who grew up in the city. These interviews have served as jumping off points for poems in youth poetry workshops and also as breathing histories of Oakland through time. Here is a full interview between Leila Mottley, 16, and Toni Ratliff, 38, used in Skyline High School workshops:

Full name: Antoinette Andrea Ratliff

Leila: Where did you grow up? what neighborhood? what time period?

Toni: North Oakland. 56th Street. In the 80s.

L: Do you have family in Oakland? Is your whole family here?

T: Yes, actually. My mom and dad’s side of the family lived on the same street. On 56th street. So my grandmother lived over here with my mom and all her siblings and then my dad’s family lived across the street and down, but on the same block.

L: And did both of your parents grow up in Oakland? And their parents?

T: Yes. Um, my mom’s parents both grew up in Louisiana. And my dad’s mom...I don’t know.

L: Do you know what brought your family to Oakland?

T: California had the reputation for having better opportunities for black people.

L: Do you think they found that to be true?

T: Probably, compared to where they were. Yeah. Because my grandmother moved from Louisiana to Texas and then from Texas to Oakland.

L: When you were a teenager, where did you spend most of your time?

T: Emeryville Public Market, baby.

L: All the teenagers hung out there?

T: No, no, just the nerdy ones. The bookstore [Borders] actually, if I’m keeping it real. And then there was a movie theatre right there, so you could catch the bus really easily.

L: What high school did you go to?

T: Holy Names.

L: What was your high school like? How would you describe the people and your experience?

T: Well, I have to back up a little bit, then, and explain my elementary school because I went to a Catholic elementary school, but it was predominantly African-American population in that school. And, so, when I got to high school it was way more diverse than I was used to. But that was good--it was diverse in a good way, I was just exposed to more than I was in my elementary school. But I also noticed that it was pretty segregated. Like most of the white girls hung out with the white girls, most of the black girls hung out with the black girls. And I found this group of people that didn’t do that and so there was a Mexican girl, a white girl, a black girl; our group was very diverse, but we would all pop in and out of the other groups, like “you know, we can hang with you guys, but you guys only hang with each other. That’s weird, we’re gonna hang over here too.”

L: Do you think that reflected your experience outside of school too, where most things were segregated and you looked for the integrated pockets?

T: Well, no. I mean, I feel like most of the people I hung out with outside of school were black. And so, in school, I was like “oh, hey, I see you in school, we’re friends. We didn’t make time to hang out outside of school.”

L: What was your neighborhood like?

T: Black. It was described--I remember this because my grandmother was really upset by it--it was described as a “run-down part of Oakland” in the news, because something happened and they were like “in the run-down part of Oakland” and she was like “ hey! That’s right down the street from our house. That’s not okay.” I didn’t feel like it was a run-down part of Oakland at all. I did realize, once I got to college, that litter is not a norm everywhere, you know, little things like that where I was like “huh, it’s not grimy most places. That’s interesting.”

L: Did you have a lot of friendships in your neighborhood?

T: I’m gonna say no, to be honest, mostly because I was not cool enough--like they wanted to do stuff and I was like “you’re not supposed to be doing that and Imma say something. Don’t hop that fence ‘cause that’s not your yard,” you know? So I grew up in my grandmother’s house and my cousin grew up on the same block and we would go hang with the neighborhood kids, but they were always like, “ugh, why are you always bringing your little cousin, she’s just gonna tell on us.” And I’m like “well maybe you shouldn’t be doing that.” So, no, I had like one friend on that street and then she moved and I didn’t have any. But I had a lot of cousins, so I didn’t feel lonely.

L: What was your favorite part of Oakland when you were growing up? And why?

T: Well, when I got to high school, me and my mom moved out of my grandmother’s house on 56th Street and we moved to 40th Street and Telegraph. Between Telegraph and Broadway. And I was just like “it’s awesome over here. Like, it’s so cool. There’s pizza down the street and there’s this over here and that over there. And all the buses and MacArthur BART was right there, so it was super close. Easy access to a lot of different things. I liked that the bus stops were really close by. I don’t think I thought about that that much, I was just like “this is where I live.” Later, my husband has such pride in San Francisco, every time somebody says San Francisco, he’s like “alright, alright!” and I’m like, “really?” I just never felt that. When I was younger, I would rep my street or whatever. That was my connection. Like “‘where you from?’ ‘Forty-one-hundred.’” Like, I’m from Oakland. I had an appreciation for other places and I never felt like Oakland had the best burgers or the best ice cream or the best blah blah blah.  It’s just like, this is my homebase and I go out and explore other places. This is home and then you go out and visit the world.

L: Who influenced you most when you were growing up?

T: My grandmother and that’s funny, because I was very confused as a child because of her, actually. Because she didn’t identify as black. She’s Creole, so her skin was lighter, but her hair texture was like my hair texture. Watching the news she’d say stuff like, “ugh, those black people” and as a child, growing up, I didn’t know what that meant. I was just like, she’s saying “those black people” so I’m not….I asked her one day, “aren’t we black?” and she was like “no, honey, we’re peach.” So, I literally thought that was a thing, went to school and people would ask me because they couldn’t tell since I used to wear my hair straight and I wore more make-up so I got mistaken for Mexican a lot. So they’d be like, “where you from? What are you?” and I’d be like, “I’m peach.” And it took one of my cousins being like “no,” ‘cause it was my grandmother, you can’t tell me she’s wrong; that’s my grandmother!

L: How do you think people perceive Oakland?

T: I think Oakland has a negative reputation most places that you go, unless they’ve been there. Unless they’ve seen that those things aren’t true, it has a really negative reputation. Like sometimes when I tell people I’m from Oakland, they’re like, “oh” like they’re surprised that I am from Oakland. I think the perception is changing because the population is changing.

When I got to college--it was Saint Mary’s College so it wasn’t far from here but it felt really far to my family in Oakland--it was really small, not very diverse, so all of the black people at least knew of each other, we knew each other. And I remember going out. Me and my other friend from Oakland were like “okay, we’re gonna take you guys to Oakland and we’re gonna go to the movies, we’re gonna go to Nation’s. We’re gonna take you to all the hot spots.” So there were two cars and my friend was like “we’re gonna take them through East Oakland.” You know that street that’s like: houses, houses, cemetery? So we drove them just past that ‘cause it was fun, ‘cause that’s normal to me and growing up we didn’t realize that it was unusual to have a cemetery in the middle of a residential area. Usually it’s off in the hills or a scenic area. So we took them past that and the other car was calling us from their car like “what the hell? Where are we? What is happening right now?” And so we took them to a liquor store and we were like, “we’re gonna eat here: food and liquor, see? It says food and liquor.” And they were like “what?” Some of our friends were from L.A. and they were really scared because of the reputation of Oakland. These are like football player guys and they were like “uh uh, my jacket’s blue though. Should I take it off? ‘Cause there’s gangs in Oakland” and I was like “you’re gonna be fine” and he was like “no, for real, I’ll take it off” and I was like “you don’t need to take off you’re jacket.”

Then we got to Nation’s and it was a Friday night, so it was packed, ‘cause it was the one on Broadway that’s really small. So it was packed and there was a lot going on and they were like “we don’t feel comfortable here, we should go, there’s too many people” and I was like, “but you guys are from Compton” and they were like, “no, no, no, Toni. Our hoods are poor, yours are dangerous.” That’s the distinction they made for Oakland. And I’m saying, “I don’t wanna go to your neighborhood because Compton’s got a reputation” and they’re like “no, no, no, everyone’s just broke in Compton. We don’t have guns. Your hoods have guns. I should take this jacket off, I don’t wanna get shot.” But just seeing that these big, tough black guys from a hood in California were still scared to be in Oakland, out on a Friday night--we really did not eat there, I forget where we went, but yeah.

L: Did you stay in Oakland? If yes, why? If no, why not?

T: I did not stay in Oakland, actually. I went to college in Moraga, which was so so far away. And then, after college, I lived in Pleasant Hill for a while. It was lovely, except there weren’t enough black people for me to feel comfortable. And I didn’t realize that was a thing because of what I was used to and then in college I knew that was unusual, this is not reflective of the real world, we’re seriously outnumbered here. So, we lived in Pleasant Hill for while and then I started feeling like, I’m tired of getting excited when I see another brown person on the street. That’s when me and [my husband] decided to move to Oakland, when we moved in together. He wants to live in San Francisco and I hate San Francisco and that was before the rent prices were outrageous, it still felt possible for normal, average people to live in San Francisco and I was like no, I don’t want to live there. So we compromised because Oakland is near San Francisco.

L: Do you think disliking San Francisco is a common Oakland thing?

T: I remember we went on a field trip in elementary school to San Francisco and we had some free time, so me and my friend stood in the doorway of wherever we were supposed to be and we were just waving at people on the street and they were just giving us really crappy looks and I was like “I don’t like San Francisco. I feel uncomfortable right now.” ‘Cause, in Oakland, I feel like people would smile back or you’d get a positive response.

L: Where do you work? How is your work environment different from your home environment?

T: [A preschool]. When I started at [the preschool], I used to tell people here “I live in Berkeley, I don’t live Berkeley.” I’m from Oakland, not Berkeley. I found that a distinction I needed to make for myself. And, over time, it’s been 8 years now, I can’t say that anymore. I’m composting, I’m looking at my eco footprint more, I’ve tried to go gluten-free a couple times. Friends who’ve known me since elementary school see me and are like “wow, okay, you’re just all in Berkeley now.”

L: In 5 words, what does Oakland mean to you?

T: Lake Merritt. Zachary’s. Family. History. Resistance.

L: What was Lake Merritt like? What did you do at Lake Merritt?

T: Aw man, okay, you’re too young for this, they don’t do this anymore. Festival at the Lake was a real thing that used to happen once a year at Lake Merritt and they would shut down the streets around Lake Merritt and it was a huge festival with concerts and food venues and all this stuff and it got so violent and crazy that they shut it down because, the last time that I went, I actually saw a mob of guys moving together as one surround a girl and then move on. She had no clothes. That was insane. I was like “who’s gonna help her?” She got swallowed, groped until her clothes were gone. I was probably twelve and I was with my dad and my sister, so I felt safe, but I was like, “who is she with? Who’s going to help her?”

I remember going again when I was fourteen and I was with two of my friends and we were walking past an area they blocked off because they didn't want people there. And there was a fence and guys were just standing  along the fence and as girls walked by they just grabbed at their bodies. You knew if you walked past there, you might get groped. And then they would do sideshows sometimes and stuff like that. And then they stopped doing Festival at the Lake, but it turned into every Saturday was like a mini Festival at the Lake and police would just have to be over there. Things like that would happen at the Lake, but also really fun family-friendly walks around the Lake and hanging out there with my friends and that kind of stuff.

L: Did you feel connected to that history of resistance growing up?

T: No, not until I was older and not living there did I really understand because of my family. My family moved from Louisiana to Texas to here and my grandma’s parents didn’t teach her the Creole language because they wanted her to assimilate and just fit in. And I think the culture they were trying to fit into, they said it was Catholic, but I feel like the culture they were trying to assimilate into was white culture. They didn’t talk to me about what the world is actually like, I just had to learn it from experience.

L: You mentioned the police. What was your relationship with the police?

T: My relationship with the police when I was growing up in Oakland was very much “they are the people who bring my grandfather home after he’s gotten drunk somewhere” so I didn’t see them as a threat, necessarily. They seemed like they were there to help and then once I got to high school, when I started hanging out with more guys who had gotten into trouble with the police, I was like “oh, some people feel really strongly that the police are dangerous.” And personally I might have gone into law enforcement and then in college I did an internship with the ATF. My experience with law enforcement hasn't been negative enough for me to be like “I hate those police.” But then, living with [my husband], he has experienced that and he is such a loving, patient, caring, positive person, so for him to be like “I hate cops,” that says a lot.  there was a time when they were like “we’re looking for a black guy, get on the ground” and they put their knee in his back and that happened and I was like “oh my God, I’m scared for you.” But at the same time I know black police officers…it's just another group of people. There are good people and bad people in all groups.

L: Do you have children? How do you think your experiences growing up have influenced the way that you raise them?

T: Yes, I do. I have two children. I think it's interesting for my kids because [my husband] is identified as a black man in the world, but he’s Samoan, culturally in every way. Like, he didn’t see Roots, he didn’t watch Shokazulu on TV when he was growing up and I was like, “that’s what all black people did, what do you mean? It comes on every year, you watch Shokazulu, that’s just what you do.” And he was like “I’ve never seen it.” He wasn’t familiar with some soul foods, he’d never had cornbread. They’re Samoan, they don't eat that. [My husband’s] family is so much bigger than mine and they get together so much more than mine, I feel like [my kids]  are getting so much of a bigger influence from their Samoan side, so we have a lot of conversations about “what am I?” [and I say] “you’re Samoan and you’re black, but when people see you they're going to think you're black. So if you want them to know, you're going to have to tell them you’re Samoan.” We also have conversations about what Creole means. We pray in Samoan together sometimes, so for them I think a lot of it is about navigating that experience, which I didn't have to do when I was younger because we didn't talk about it.

Also, they go to a school like the one I went to where it's predominantly African-American, so they  see a lot of faces that look like theirs when they go to school everyday, but then they also come here [to Berkeley] where they don't. The fact that they live in Berkeley and they go to school in Oakland is already so different from my experience where I lived in Oakland and went to school in Oakland, so it was like brown people, brown people, brown people everywhere until I got to high school. They are exposed already to so many more cities then I was, whereas I was just in Oakland all the time. My mom did not go to San Francisco until I needed a prom dress and we got lost in San Francisco. Everything you need is in Oakland, you don't have to leave. But, my kids, their grandmother lives in Fairfield, my mom lives in Sacramento, we have family that lives in Fresno, their God-sister lives in Las Vegas, so they’ve already been to so many other places. They’re spread out more.

L: If you had to pick a favorite street in Oakland, what would it be and why?

T: Martin Luther King. We lived on 56th and MLK, but also, my school was down that street--40th and MLK--so that was the street I would walk up and down. Is it the nicest street? No. But when I get there, I’m just like “that’s the corner store where I used to get all my candy and that’s where my uncle used to work and that’s where my school was, when we caught BART we’d go there and yeah.

L: What was BART like? Was it the same?

T: Oh my God, no, it’s so different now! I got on BART last year to go to San Francisco and it was ridiculous how different it was. Like everybody was on their phones, earbuds. So different, so different. I feel like I was guaranteed to talk to at least one person somewhere along my way on BART and [this time] I didn’t interact with any human beings the whole time and it was very isolating and weird compared to the last time I went on BART. I remember this one time when me and my friend were riding BART to go to Target to get stuff for college in El Cerrito  and this guy was like “y’all cousins, huh? I could tell, I could tell.” And me and my friend couldn't look more opposite. He just struck up a conversation and I don't think that would happen anymore.

L: What about bus? AC Transit? Same? Different?

T: Well, now you can get on the back, you don’t even have to go in the front or interact with the bus driver. The seats are all different:  they used to all face forward. They're structured differently so there's less interaction there too.

L: Did people use cars or public transit more?

T: I don’t know, I feel like  life is so different now that I have kids and a car. I feel like when I was growing up a lot of people caught the bus, especially because I was in a little bubble, living in Oakland and going to school in Oakland, everything in Oakland. Once I got to high school it was like, no, lots of people have cars but also a lot of my friends caught the bus to school and caught the bus back. Now I feel like Uber’s available, so I don’t know, I feel like people don't feel the need to have a car the way they used to. Teenager’s now are like “I don’t need my license” and when I was growing up, that was the thing. There was a movie about it: in the 80s where this guy just wanted his license so bad, that was the premise of the movie. Everybody got it, even if they didn't have a car. Very few of us had a car, but we all had our license, just in case.


Growing Up Oakland

Growing Up Oakland is a project entirely created and run by Oakland Youth Poet Laureate poets. Seeing a need for an expansion of the Oakland narrative, they are retrieving and broadcasting stories of childhood in Oakland through poetry, interviews, and visual art.

Growing Up Oakland highlights the variety of experiences of childhood throughout the long life of the city by using both interviews from people who grew up across various decades and creative work by current Oakland youth. This is a memorial of how the experiences of Oakland and youth have both changed and stayed the same throughout time.

After interviewing a variety of people who have grown up in Oakland, the poets have been taking these interviews into Oakland schools and leading poetry workshops.

The first workshop was with an 11th grade class at Oakland Technical High School. Some of the poems born out of these workshops have transformed into tangible postcards that are currently being distributed around the Bay Area.



This series will continue with more postcards, the release of full interviews, and a zine. Look out for them!

Growing Up Oakland Project Leads: Lizette Navarro - 2017 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate Finalist, Samuel Getachew - 2018 Oakland Vice Youth Poet Laureate, Leila Mottley - 2018 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate


Growing Up Oakland: Interview with Toni Ratliff can be read here.