The Death of a Utopia

A few weeks ago I rode my bike down to Lake Merritt to experience a black business utopia. A few days later I discovered while watching the news that the whole thing would be drastically scaled back. The news spoke of neighbors complaining and the proper business permits not being held by vendors, and it all felt very typical of my city. In the early to mid 1990’s we had an annual event called “Festival at the Lake” in which hundreds of black vendors would come together to celebrate righteous blackness at Lake Merritt which is undoubtedly the crown jewel of our city. Then one year young people rioted. If I’m not mistaken they broke out the window to a Foot Locker and a few other storefronts. I don’t know why. I do know that Oakland was consistently one of the most homicidal cities in the country at this time. This to my knowledge, though I was just a young boy at the time, didn’t seem to concern the power structure in the way that one would think that it should. However, when corporate businesses were attacked on Lakeshore Avenue the footage was shown on every local news station for several days and within a few years there was no more festival at the lake. 

In the early 2000’s we had something called Carijama at Mosswood Park. It lasted for only a few years until it met a similar fate. Young people once again were getting rowdy. Neighbors once again complained. The news once again played its part to see to it that the festival was shut down. I remember thinking as a very young adult who looked forward to the memorial day festival as an indicator that the summer was officially here, that my city seemed to be very proud of failing black people. Instead of ironing out the edges and  considering ways to make celebrations safe, Oakland would much rather shut down all things black. This brings me back to the black business utopia that I experienced a few weeks ago. 

I met a black man who was selling organic honey that he along with his son and nephew had procured as beekeepers. He, like myself, is an allergy sufferer and he began making honey because it is a natural remedy for allergies. I saw a black woman selling tacos. I bought a refrigerator magnet from a sister who does custom made engraving. I bought sage from another sister. I bought an Oakanda shirt (the fictional homeland of Black Panther and Oakland combined) from a brother with a kind disposition and an entrepreneurial spirit. And everything felt so dope. It was just so righteous and so black that I knew that it wouldn’t last– at least not in Oakland. In a place like Atlanta for example they would institutionalize this vending. Maybe they would make vendors pay a fee and regulate the products more, but their first inclination would not be to scale it down to nothing. But alas, this is not Georgia this is California. A place where integration has come to mean every nationality can profit off of black people except black people. A place where residents replace actual black people with black lives matter signs. A place where the children of black southern migrants flee as soon as they graduate high school because, ironically enough, the American South is less racist. Can you imagine that? California with all of her liberal ideology is actually more hostile to black business owners than Georgia, Tennessee, or Texas. And Oakland is proving this to be true once again. Last weekend when I went to Lake Merritt there were less than a third of the businesses that were there the previous weekend. The Fire Department was there regulating parking and interrogating vendors and it was far less vibrant. It was clear that the utopia was dying. Or to be more concise–it was being killed. It was very disheartening to know that my city would rather create laws to keep black people in their respective corners of the city than to let us make legal money in the city that so many of us shed blood for. I rode my bike back to the Eastside in a somber mood with no merchandise, knowing that my beloved city had let my people down once again.

Keilani is Free

Today I saw my friend Keilani. I see her fairly often when I run around Lake Merritt. She went to both Junior High School and High School with me.  She is the same complexion as I am, well actually maybe a shade lighter which would place her right around the color of caramel. In 7th grade she was shy, by the time Sophomore year came around she was socially withdrawn. During Senior year she never spoke; not when I saw her in the hallway, not when I saw her on the bus, not in class, not at all. A few years later I heard from a few girls that used to rock with her that she wasn’t doing well mentally. They were saddened as they told me. I was saddened as I listened.

About a year later I saw Keilani at the lake. She looked happier than I ever remember seeing her. She told me that she had ghostwritten the last two scripts for Tyler Perry and she thought about me often because she remembered that I was a writer. She also told me that she had gone down to Hollywood but they were jealous of her so she came back to the bay area. I nodded my head as I heard her out. I had a very visceral response to her delusional tales. I was almost overwhelmed with pity to the point where it made me depressed. Keilani, the girl I had known since the age of 12, had lost her mind and I felt the sorriest for her. My reasoning was that she would never reach her full potential as a human being and that she would always suffer. But today when I saw her I felt differently. I was doing my abdominal workout when I saw her walking down Lakeshore looking like a queen with her freshly braided hair being her crown. I could see her smile through her mask when she saw me. She was in extremely good spirits as she explained to me why she won’t be in Los Angeles for the Academy Awards this year. She had a bag in her hand and she stood with such confidence and high spirits that I became intrigued by her. I wondered what she had seen that I had not. What did she know? How was her approach toward life lifting her up, and how was mine weighing me down.

In a bizarre way I envied her because she didn’t appear to be worried about a raise in pay or being married or losing 10 pounds before summer begins. She appreciated every step that she took while she was taking it. Her cheeks raised her mask because she was laughing while she spoke to me. I’ll never know why she was laughing, perhaps she could never tell me but the fact that she was speaking to me brought me joy. Keilana is in a world above the one that I am currently living in. She more than likely will never spend $200 at Banana Republic on clothes for an interview that will never happen like I did in February. She will never lose sleep over having to buy a new car. She will never be tempted to pay $1,000 a month for a personal trainer. She cares not what people think about her. And when I see her she never mentions friends that she doesn’t hang out with anymore. All she does is smile and look forward. And I don’t know if she has a mental health condition or if we are all crazy and she’s one of the few sane ones on this planet. I just know that she looks more at peace now than I ever remember her looking while I can’t say the same for myself.      

THE JEOPARDY CHAMPION!

As difficult as it may be for some of you to believe Professor Ajuan Mance is more than just a three time champion on Jeopardy. She’s also a classically trained musician, an artist, and a first ballot academic hall of famer. Check out the video to hear her story. Also please like, subscribe, comment, and share if you feel so inclined.

-Roger Porter

Singing the Gospel Truth: A Conversation with Lena Byrd Miles

All black people know that there are artists who can sing and then there are those artists who be sangin! Lena Byrd Miles is definitely the latter. And thankfully for us she took some time off from recording her debut album to talk about her faith, her journey, and her future. Please check it out and like, subscribe, comment, and share if you feel so inclined.

Surf Therapy: The Salvation of Dr. Diaz

I’ve never surfed in large part because I don’t know how to swim, however, if I did know how to swim then I am almost for certain that I still would never go surfing. The Ocean is a frightening place. It’s so powerful and unpredictable. I just could never bring myself to get on a board and maneuver it on the waves of the deep sea. That’s me though. Dr. Olga Diaz is different–hella different. She finds it to be therapeutic. You may have to watch the video to believe it, but it’s true. She’s even found a tribe of other black women that like to surf as well. Go figure. Check out the video to learn all about it. Please like it, comment, and subscribe to the tribe.

-Roger Porter

The 2020 Elections: Biden won but what does it mean for US?

I recently got over a dozen of my Tribesman together to discuss the Democratic victory in the 2020 elections. What transpired was a very engaging and at times volatile discussion about Kamala Harris, the wedge between black men and black women, and whether or not black people should continue to participate in the political process at all. You DEFINITELY want to check this one out. Let us know what you think. And remember it’s free to subscribe, please drop a comment, and a like is always nice ✊🏾.

Is Ice Cube Staying True to the Game?

Ice Cube shocked the black universe when it was announced that he had been meeting with the Donald Trump Administration to endorse his “Contract with Black America.” Recently I had a zoom conversation with over a dozen brilliant black people–each one with their own unique perspectives–about how they feel about Ice Cube’s move. Check it out! You will not be disappointed. Please like, subscribe, comment upon, and share this video.

-Roger Porter