As I listened to the song entitled “Blasphemy” by Tupac Shakur I found myself thinking about how much of a Christian the man truly was. “We probably in hell already/ our black asses not knowing/ everybody kissing ass to go to heaven ain’t going.” Pac was a pastor preaching to an unsaved congregation in a manner that they could understand. He encouraged young black people to change our conditions here on earth as opposed to waiting for a paradise that was not promised to everyone. Tupac also instilled the significance of spiritual reformation “Do what you gotta do but know you got to change/ try and find a way to make it out the game.”
And after listening to this track for probably the 5,000th time and hyper-analyzing the lyrics I became downtrodden and embarrassed. I was ashamed to be a part of a culture that worships the THUGLIFE tattoo on his stomach while ignoring the holy cross that was permanently inked to his back. Twenty years after the man’s death and we still refer to him as a thug, a rebel, the GOAT, a hothead, and a real NIGGA but we never refer to him as a devout follower of Jesus Christ. For how long will we allow the media to tell us what to think about our prophets? At what point will we seek the truth for ourselves?
So I recently hit the avenues and backstreets of Oakland, CA to take some pictures for The Oakland influence: Three Women from Oakland, CA share their thoughts wisdom and hope for the future (a creative project that I’ve been working on for the better part of 2012. Hopefully it’s coming soon) and as I searched tirelessly for beautiful black women to photograph I realized how faith-based my Deep East Oakland community is. As a matter of fact even the door to my home has a cross with the words “He Is Risen” inscribed on it. Which I never noticed until my Jewish friend pointed it out a few years ago. At any rate while I put the finishing touches on The Oakland Influence I thought I’d share a few depictions of faith in the ghetto.
The landlord of this apartment complex is apparently very outwardly Christian.
This apartment complex is part of the infamous Macarthur strip, however, one may think it was in the Holy Land based on this very outward display of Christian faith.
A little religious humor.
I found this clever poster on a home in the backstreets of East Oakland. I really wish that I had come across it in junior high school though. It would have made me feel good to know that even though the young ladies never looked twice at my nerdy self, Jesus still loved me.
Here we have a young woman who was literally raised in the church. So I decided to take a picture of her in front of her 2nd home.
I really liked how this mural flips the biblical passage Though Shalt Not Kill. Obviously it’s very important and unfortunately the message is extremely relevant in East Oakland.
When people discuss the identity of East Oakland they often speak of sideshows, drugs, police brutality, and crime but if they really knew the area they would be more inclined to incorporate faith into the conversation. The flatlands of Oakland is a very spiritual place that I was only able to show a small piece of in this blog; but maybe one Sunday morning you can come see it for yourself. There are more places of worship than there are liquor stores, hair salons, and barber shops in this area that has been given the dubious title “Baby Iraq.” Even though my community is neglected economically we never neglect our Lord and Savior.
PS Be on the lookout for The Oakland Influence featuring journalist Niema Jordan, founder of Outdoor Afro Rue Mapp, and Emergency Medical Physician Evelyn Porter.
Peace and thanks for reading.
September 24, 2011
Troy Davis is dead and I must confess that while he was alive I participated in no protests concerning his execution date, I did not write one letter to any politician in the state of Georgia or anywhere else, and to be honest I barely stayed informed about his plight. I hate to say it’s because I have given up on justice but the truth is that I believe I have.
I put everything that I could into making sure that the police officer that killed Oscar Grant on January 1, 2009 was prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Johannes Mehserle killed Oscar Grant on a crowded BART platform, only to have his deplorable actions caught on a camera phone and shown on news stations around the country yet he still wound up serving about 9 months in jail. At the time of the verdict certain journalists and legal experts were claiming that we should be happy that the police officer was convicted at all. And that a police officer going to jail for such a thing as murder was unprecedented and therefore justice was served.
Unlike with the recent Troy Davis execution, during the Oscar Grant situation I did attend several protests. I did write a few articles that were published; I did engage in passionate debates, I went to town hall meetings, and I did stay informed about the trial up to the minute, but in the end there was nothing. I still haven’t recovered from the spiritual blow that was delivered by that injustice. I did not put my faith and energy into seeing that Troy Davis got a retrial because I cannot give what I don’t have.
When the officers who beat down Rodney King were acquitted we burned things, when Mark Duggan was killed we burned things, yes we riot, we fight, we are warriors, we have determination, we have heart, but we still do not have justice.
One thing I have learned to do is to choose my battles carefully. Troy Davis was put to death and that is a travesty, however, I can’t say that I feel let down. For as a black man I have come to expect this kind of thing to happen.