Quite frequently this summer our crew has proudly asserted our refocused mission: one of faith in the local community and grassroots movement. Often these buzzwords can be dismissed as PR embellishments and can come with a certain stigma, yet our participation in Oakland’s Thrown Down for the Town epitomized our new stance and reminded me of the intrinsic meaning behind the terms. As many curious observers visit the bus, many can congregate around the abstract, or the vision, but we often struggle with how to connect with that demographic that chooses to live more tangibly, or presently. This is the void we firmly believe community action can powerfully fill.
What made Oakland’s Throw Down for the Town so authentic was that it struck a balance, that of concrete service and theoretical discussion, with a splash of musical celebration. The service festival was sponsored by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. Of course, Ella Baker was an integral member of the civil rights movement, focusing her efforts largely on mobilizing the underlying community action necessary, in contrast to the more loquacious activists of the time like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. As a result, the center organized the event by dividing up volunteers and sending them to nearly thirty West Oakland nonprofit sites. For instance, my particular subgroup participated at the People’s Grocery, a nonprofit focused on getting to the crux of local food justice. We built and prepared several beds for planting a new urban garden, tangibly contributing to a more accessible future food supply in the community. All the morning volunteer work culminated in a jovial gathering at Snow Park on Lake Merritt in Downtown Oakland, with all participating organizations opening up tables to share their story, whether it be one of backyard urban garden mentors (City Slickers) or one of solar energy gurus (Sungevity). To top it off, the crowd was treated to several different local, hip-hop acts, including female rapper Mystic. Ultimately, an event that echoed the inner soul of the city, Throw Down for the Town particularly paid special homage to the self-effacing essence of the late, great Ella Baker.