Red Shoulder Hawk

Red Shoulder Hawk

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Growing up in Oakland

Gettin' Hyphy in Oakland

Caitlan and the junior class made a movie about the Oakland youth experience, as an exploration or perhaps an antidote to the negative information that floods the media. It premiered at the La Peña Cultural Center tonight.

I found myself really moved by a couple of things: my introduction to Hyphy (hi-phee) and the realization that in Oakland the bad really does go hand in hand with the good. We heard music from a local turf group. It wasn't too polished, but it was awfully darn energetic. They made us all stand up and got us moving, and I suddenly saw the ancient connection to dance-trance rituals from the dawn of civilization.

Drugs aren't needed, and in fact get in the way, of getting truly Hyphy. If you're tired after shakin' and dancing and throwin' your dreads around, it's because you haven't plugged in to the raw energy of the entire mob. Get out and run around the block and come back in and DANCE!!!
Caitlan and this boy introduced the video. Honestly? It was well interviewed, brilliantly edited, and the sound track was too pumped on beats and my old ears couldn't hear what people were saying. In all, with a couple of small tweaks, it could hit some sort of national circuit. Great subject matter making a great story.

About half her classmates live in areas such as if you walk from 54th street down to 30th street, you are identified as an outsider, and could get chased, beaten, or even killed. Yep, you can get killed just because of what number street you "belong" on. And everyone seems to know this, and everyone comments on it and knows it's awful, yet it continues.

A youth project like this video, in which they went out onto those streets and interviewed passersby, pointed out very plainly that the "us versus them" mentality is operating at every level: It's Oakland against the California and the world, and East Oakland against West Oakland, 90th street verus 60th street, neighbor against neighbor, like nesting Rusian dolls. All of them saying the same thing: "It's tough, everyone's looking at you like you're a criminal."

I also noticed the immense, intense creativity that is seething in these people. Walls covered in art. Outlandish personal expressions. A culture that is starting to wake up to how devastating drug abuse is to a community. A culture in which for some, strength comes from external things, such as guns and cars, and they are mystified when someone with true inner strength shows up.

So if everyone is looking at each other as criminals, isn't that a self-fulfilling prophecy? I've been in situations on which I could palpably feel the type of reaction another person was projecting me to have, even though it might be severely out of character for me... and I've had years of training helping me to stay true to my nature. What of a population of young people? If you have kids, you know how powerful your expectations are, in molding them.

I saw an Oakland with incredible creative potential, raging to be unleashed, if only people would stop suspecting that their neighbor is about to wrongfully accuse them.

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