The first week of Bay UP is complete and we have begun working at our sites. Orientation was quite the experience in itself, and I can see already that this summer is going to be full of lessons to be learned and experiences to be had. In just a week I have bonded with many different people in my Bay UP team and the whole Bay UP crew which includes many different schools such as Mills College and UC Santa Cruz. As I spoke and connected to these people, we all laughed and chatted about how grateful we were for the opportunity God has given us to serve this summer.
There was too much in orientation for me to explain but there were a couple days that really changed the way I see Oakland and people of different ethnicities.
The first day of orientation we dove right into Bay UP by being split into teams to go to areas of Oakland and ask residents “What does Oakland mean to you”? My group walked around Lake Merritt and although we were instructed to talk to multiple people, we ran into Bill, and Bill had a lot to say. We talked to Bill for around forty-five minutes. Bill was angry, and I think he was just waiting for someone to ask him about Oakland so he could explode.
He said, despite Lake Merritt’s beauty and the wealth that surrounds it, Oakland is dysfunctional. Lake Merritt deceives many, especially me, because the lake is simply gorgeous by itself (the perfect tourist attraction) and the buildings around it scream wealth but two or even one block back is full of “dysfunction” with poverty, violence and police neglect. Bill explained that he has called the police many times to ask that they tow cars sitting in his neighborhood for months but the police take weeks to respond to him.
Bill was so furious with OPD he went as far to say, a woman victim of rape would have a better chance of getting help if she called the local pizza parlor than if she called the police. This sickened me because if the city of Oakland can’t rely on their law enforcement to promote peace and keep order in the city, who can they count on? The sad stories of Oakland that have come to stereotype Oakland as a “dangerous place” are not going to cease if OPD can’t at least show the residents they are there to protect them and help the city. The conversation saddened me, but I left with the hope that this summer, I will have a hand in fixing some of the dysfunction with God and my team all working in this journey to make a difference in the lives we contact.
Race day was impactful as we ran around San Francisco and Oakland listening to and observing some of the challenges that minorities go through in this country. We went to Chinatown in San Francisco, 67 Suenos, an organization that informs about immigrants and helps immigrants, the intertribal friendship house of Native American tribes, and E-legal tag-team came and delivered rap and spoken word to represent a portion of the black community.
This day had the biggest impact on me because I have never been to Chinatown and while we were there, we visited the SRO’s (single room occupancy). These were incredibly small apartments ( 10 X10) that approximately three people live in and with three hundred people living in the building, they all share a few kitchens and bathrooms. I was speechless with I saw these because honestly, I had the wrong stereotype that Asian Americans were wealthier than other minorities but God broke that stereotype, and I realized we are all struggling to achieve the “American Dream” and it is wrong for me to make up their life without ever trying to understand it completely. I was shocked by the living conditions and my own previous stereotypes. By stepping into the SRO’s, I realized I was a person of privilege and I should not take what I have for granted and I was astonished that we allow people to pay $425 for a living space that is smaller than many people’s bedrooms. This is not the way it is supposed to be but I saw God move when a man living in the SRO ( with son and wife) cheerfully allowed each of us to walk in one by one and observe his home, he was not embarrassed because he is doing what he can for his family. This softened my heart but makes me ready and hungry to make a change so people don’t have to live in those positions.
Jesus did not stop pushing back my stereotypes because when we went to 67 Suenos, my preconceptions of immigrants were challenged. I was teary eyed when I heard the stories of real people depicted on the mural. They are all immigrants with dreams determined to make it in this world but are constantly being presented with the hurt of “illegal immigration”. The mural read, “No human being is illegal,” this bold statement made me stop and think of how hard it must be for my Latino brothers and sisters to hear their family being referred to as illegal. Many people come to this country as immigrants, including those who founded it, and it’s disgusting that I got caught up thinking of immigration as simply policy and not hearing the people. This experience forced me to mold my views on immigration to healthier thought s.
Lastly, E-legal tag team with poetry, spoken word and rap hit my heart because spoken word and poetry are a big part of my life as I walk with God through each struggle. I was inspired by their boldness to step out in Jesus name and preach through rap and mentor children by connecting to the black community in a way that is familiar but often hurtful. They changed the hurtful part of rap in the black community to something beautiful to worship God. These are my people who also share my talents. I was glad to take part in this experience.
Orientation, in one short word was supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! I loved minute of it, the people, the places and experiences, but I have to remember that orientation was just the beginning and I have to just stay prayed up and buckle my seatbelt because Bay UP is going to be quite the ride! Let’s Get It!!