Ask 10 of my friends at random to tell you something unique about me and I'm sure each will say: "He's from Oakland." I can't help it, I love Oakland and it shows.
I grew up there when the city was a hotbed of activism, music, sports, and rebels. The Black Panther Party was founded about the time of my birth, not too far away at Merritt Community College. One of the musicians from Tower of Power lived on our block. Our teams were all champions in the 1970s: the Athletics, the Warriors, and the Raiders. And on the next street over, the leader of Hells Angels was a neighbor. My friends and I were all children of parents born in the South. My maternal grandmother and paternal grandfather both came during the Great Migration to work at Moore's Dry Dock to make ships seaworthy against submarine attacks in World War II. They were proud people and passed it on to us.
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Pride is something that is always in abundance in Oakland. And though we might not know it, we do have our own language. Philly may have coined the word jawn, but Oaklanders have created the word hecka. You know, like, "It's hecka cold out here!"
Visitors to our sister city, San Francisco, are often warned to steer clear of "dangerous" Oakland. It's always reminded me of how Camden is treated in proximity to Philadelphia. When I served as a pastor in Camden for almost five years, I never had a problem or an issue that I didn't have anywhere else. I found a wonderful community that happened to be living through tough times. What people don't tell you about Camden and Oakland is how beautiful the people are beyond the stereotypes. For Bay Area tourists who brave to venture beyond the fear campaign, they find in Oakland a city that is vibrant with trendsetting culture, people who know how to pour on Southern hospitality, good food, black consciousness, and a music scene diverse enough to give the world Walter Hawkins, En Vogue, Tony! Toni! Tone!, and Too Short. And the hits keep coming with the likes of Ryan Coogler's Black Panther turning the film world upside down.
Like Philly, Oakland is tough, and the people are resilient. We rise and fall on every Raiders win or loss as if it were a matter of life and death. Oakland today is being tested greatly: a homelessness crisis from gentrification and a lack of affordable housing, wages that can't keep up with the cost of living, and far too many homicides. But with all of the challenges, it is still a place of great strength and optimism. Maybe it stems from our migrant past. You had to be tough to make the journey to California in the first place. It wasn't a trip for the faint of heart. Those who made it passed that tenacious and hopeful spirit on to us. And it's that spirit that makes Oakland hecka dope! Did I mention — I'm from Oakland?
The Rev. Mark Tyler is senior pastor at Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church at Sixth and Lombard Streets.