This past weekend, the Community Rejuvenation Project (CRP) was honored to be a part of the Chestnut Green Corridor Project, a community initiative of the People’s Grocery. The project symbolizes what can happen when sustainable, healthy living meets food justice, and is emblematic of the positive community spirit happening in West Oakland these days – which is too often overshadowed by negative perceptions.
Situated at 35th and Chestnut streets, the Chestnut Green Corridor Project includes a series of sidewalk planters, intended to “green up” the block, raise residents’ self-esteem, and deter illegal dumping which often results in blight. Alongside the planters, CRP was commissioned to paint a series of portraits of sevenhistoric, inspirational civil rights leaders: Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., Huey P. Newton, Mother Wright, C.L. Dellums, Paul Robeson, Ella Baker, and Harriet Tubman.
The Chestnut Green Corridor is adjacent to the California Hotel, a historic building home to many African American and Latino residents, which has also been the site of Peoples Grocery’s Urban Farm and gardens for the last three years. Community residents, together with housing-rights organization Causa Justa/Just Cause, fought and won the battle to keep the building’s doors open and prevent the displacement of its residents.
On Sunday, April 29, People’s Grocery hosted a community block party and spring plant sale which made full use of the Chestnut Green Corridor. Deejay Lady Ryan played sweet tunes all afternoon, as healthy food was provided by local vendors. Community organizations, including City Slicker Farms, Revolution Foods, and the Stop the Injunction Coalition, set up tables with demos and info. There were clowns, a bouncy castle, masseurs complete with tables, and live performers. It was a festive, fresh event – the type of happening one almost never hears about in media representations of Oakland in general and West Oakland in particular.
Jumoke Hinton of People’s Grocery brought CRP founder Desi WOME to the front to say a few words to the crowd. After his benediction, Mike 360 blessed the crowd with his signature flute/beatbox. There was also a sadly poignant moment, illustrating the cycle of death and rebirth. As his family looked on, silent tribute was made in honor of Coty Luster, a neighborhood youth and Mother Wright's grandson, who recently lost his life.
While the block party was happening, CRP was doing what CRP does best: painting a mural on the wall of the California Hotel Urban Farm, operated by People’s Grocery. CRP artists Release, Desi, Mike 360, Pancho Pescador, Tidus and Dora all collaborated on the done-in-a-day project.
Appropriately, the mural depicts a pastoral garden scene, with a ladybug, an ear of corn, a rooster, a butterfly, a caterpillar, and a farmworker. Four colors—white, red, black, and yellow—comprise the farmworker’s aura, symbolizing the four types of corn, four nations, and also four directions. To the right of the farmworker, a butterfly begins to hatch from a cocoon, suggesting the metamorphosis of consciousness which begins with choosing sustainable, healthy food. Adding a point of emphasis, the words “food” and “sovereignty” are spoken by the ladybug and rooster, sending a message that taking control of one’s diet is an act of empowerment.
The CRP crew, which also included Director of Communications Eric Arnold and Communications intern Kimberly Kim, was treated to homemade tamales wrapped in banana leaves and an incredible meal of black-eyed peas, rice, and mango salad by People’s Grocery cooks. During a break in the mural creation process, we wandered over to a nearby yard, where we were serenaded by a spirited version of “Summertime” sung by an African American elder, accompanied by a wheelchair-bound electric guitarist. Returning to the mural location, Dora, with her and 360’s son Mixtli in tow, added an Azteka glyph to “seal” the deal.
The mural completed, there was just one more task to accomplish: to present an RIP tribute to Coty Luster, which Desi had painted, to his family. The piece was presented, blessings were said, and yet another CRP community partnership collaboration was history. Big ups to Nikki, Max, and Jumoke at People’s Grocery for inviting CRP to be a part of this project. And to the people of West Oakland, and Chestnut Green Corridor residents, this one’s for you!