Faith in the Ghetto (An East Oakland Photostory)

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.

Angelique represents!

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.

Though shalt not kill.

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.

Amen

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.

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A Powerful Photograph

March 2, 12

The power of a photograph should never be underestimated. I was on facebook today when I was tagged in a collection of pictures posted by a close friend. There were 3 photographs all taken around the time we were 19-years-old. In one of the photographs I was sitting on the top of a mustang with the nappy beginnings of dreadlocks in my head. I was surrounded by friends; a couple of them were looking away, and at least one of them was throwing up his hood. It’s a very nostalgic shot. It’s really tender and it’s hella East Oakland.

But it was another picture that overwhelmed me. It was the one of my cousin and another dude taken during lunchtime. We were seniors and the photograph depicts my cousin being his normal goofy self with his braided leather belt hanging down in between his legs touching the concrete like an elongated penis. Behind him is a row of our potnas standing on a bench. Everything was so chill. Everyone was so oblivious, and life was so fresh.

This was about a year or so before my cousin had his first child, and before he caught his first case. It was before he lost his first athletic scholarship and his second. It was before schizophrenia and before the penitentiary. It was, in essence, before we were old enough to truly fail.

When I saw the photograph I turned by computer off and I let a few tears flow. He was such a kid back then. We were children. He was a star athlete, a goofy dude, and one of the realist, most genuine people I have ever known.

His father used to get drunk and tell stories about when he himself was little and some of his other siblings were mean to him and kicked him out in the cold because he used to pee in the bed and my mother would come pick him up out of the snow and put him in the bed with her.

He is my cousin therefore I cannot recall the first time we met. For all intents and purposes he has been around since the beginning of time, as I know it. But now he’s become unraveled and it hurts. It hurts him and it hurts me as well.

That picture brought something back that is gone forever. Even though it’s lost I guess I’m glad someone took the time to capture it. It’s such a powerful photograph.

-YB