Throughout the East Bay, in the neighborhoods of Oakland, the mood, geography and economic distribution changes rapidly.
There is a feeling in the air in West Oakland that is confirmed with my interviews, and that is of fear and distrust. As I interviewed Brendan Martin in front of the Cypress Grocery and Liquor store on Mandela Parkway his first question was if I was a cop. After a brief interview, I learned he had lived in West Oakland for only a month and was already concerned with the number of shootings and robberies.
Tony “Juice” Lambert, at the Bayside Washland on 2550 Martin Luther King Jr. Way was also hesitant to talk to me. He, like Martin, was also concerned about the number of shootings and robberies and had been looking for a way out for all of his 43 years. At one point I asked if he had a family to which he replied, “no.” However, I noticed him folding women’s clothing. This could have meant nothing; they could be a friends' or relatives' but it tied in with the reaction of suspicion I was getting out of people in West Oakland.
Several people I interviewed said that there are no grocery stores in the area yet plenty of liquor stores, (53 to be exact). The Mandela Food Cooperative is a store I had heard about and was dying to check out. The Mandela Food Cooperative is a tiny, organic grocer located at 1430 Seventh St. in West Oakland’s lower bottoms neighborhood. It is a part of the recently renovated Mandela Parkway.
I spoke with a few of the clerks on what were their concerns for the neighborhood. “I just wish that the kids in this neighborhood would take advantage of the opportunities they have,” said James Bell. Bell, a long time resident of West Oakland, enjoys writing hip hop music in his spare time and loves the neighborhood because of how close it is to other parts of the Bay Area.
Gentrification is running rampant in the neighborhoods of West Oakland from poverty, cheap real estate and its proximity to San Francisco. I had heard of the “middle class, arty hipsters” who occupy the Victorian houses and other cheap houses in West Oakland. Every time I saw someone fitting that description they were either on a bike or slipping into a house too far for me to get their attention without scaring them.
The clerks at Mandela Foods and I also talked about the subject of gentrification. Jamal Mitchell said, “I enjoy new people but it took them coming here for us to get a new Mandela Parkway!” I can see what he is talking about in another part of West Oakland Martin Luther King Jr. Way, where the new buildings stick out so much I’d be embarrassed to live in them.
I have been constantly told to watch myself while I’m in West Oakland by friend; however nothing reaffirmed this more than my interview with Brenda Martin. As I turned to leave down Mandela Parkway to continue my interviews he shouted, “Have a good day, and be careful!”