Hundreds Defend ‘Afrika Town’ Community Garden

Apr 16, 2015

Posted in Arts and CultureCommunityHealth

The Afrika Town community garden and mural are located at 23rd Street and San Pablo Avenue in West Oakland. Photo by Rasheed Shabazz.

By Rasheed Shabazz

Over 300 community members in support of a community garden in West Oakland recently participated in a performance event to protect the garden from destruction.

The “Afrika Town” Garden sits on a lot on San Pablo Ave., at 23rd and Brush streets in West Oakland, just blocks from the “Uptown” district in downtown Oakland.

A year ago, the vacant lot reeked of urine and was littered with trash and syringes. Today, more than a dozen garden beds filled with fruits and vegetables provide fresh food to anyone who asks within an impoverished food desert.

On April 3, a day billed as ‘Liberation Day,’ the Afrika Town garden lot featured live poetry and musical performances, a “Know Your Rights” workshop by Oakland’s Copwatch, and a children’s jumper. Hundreds attended throughout the day in solidarity with the vision for an Afrika Town in Oakland.

Last fall, volunteers at Qilombo–a social center adjacent to the lot–cleaned up the lot and collaborated with Planting Justice and college students to plant vegetables to feed the community.

Back in February, organizers painted blocks on the sidewalk red, black and green, and hoisted banners on San Pablo Ave. that read, “Karibu, Afrika Town,” Swahili for welcome. Afrika, spelled with a k, is also a Swahili term.

On March 7, hundreds came to the garden and painted a large “Afrika Town” mural on the side of Qilombo’s building. It features Black Panthers, Kwame Nkrumah, and other artwork inspired by the liberation movement. The colorful mural not only attracted the approving eye of residents, activists say, but also the attention of developers.

On March 26, the current property owner, Noel Yi, along with his realtor Gary Robinson, came with Oakland Police and demolition equipment with an intent to destroy the garden. Afrika Town volunteers stood between bulldozers and the lot’s fence to prevent the uprooting of the garden.

After negotiations, the owner agreed to give volunteers one week to dig up the beds before the bulldozers would return.

Instead of removing the fruits and vegetables, lead volunteer Linda Grant and others organized to defend the garden.

“We want this to be a resource for the community,” said Danae Martinez, a community college professor of African American Studies at Laney and Merritt Colleges. Her students helped plant the garden and paint the mural. “We want it to be for Black people and about Black people.”

The garden is just a seed for Afrika Town, envisioned as an autonomous zone for Black people.

“A lot of other races and cultures have a designated space, like Chinatown, or Fruitvale, or Hills for the White folks,” said Emani Alyce, a volunteer at Qilombo. “Afrika Town is a space where Black folks can come and feel comfortable with.”

After lobbying from activists and supporters, and a call from Oakland City Councilwoman Lynette Gibson, Yi and Robinson agreed to work with Afrika Town’s gardeners.

Despite the small victory, volunteers are still concerned with gentrification, particularly the West Oakland Specific Plan. Abiola said, “We had a small victory today. It’s nowhere near over.”