The first time Pendarvis Harshaw ever cruised through the 23rd St. train yard in Oakland, he was just a kid from the Dubbs riding his bike with friends around the neighborhood. “And we had no idea that that was the legendary 23rd St. yard,” Harshaw tells me of the famed graffiti spot. “We'd hang out in that area all the time, but we never knew the magnitude of it.”
That magnitude is the subject of Harshaw's documentary The Dream Kontinues, a short film about late Bay Area graffiti pioneer Mike “Dream” Francisco, who was shot in an attempted robbery in 2000. The king of the train yard in the '80s and '90s, Dream's influence presides over the spot, which today still serves as a hub of Bay Area graffiti writers.
A scholar of graffiti history, a creative stylist with an aerosol can, a Filipino embraced by the black community and a mentor to dozens, Dream is an icon of East Oakland. Tribute events honoring his influence are held annually. His remaining murals are strictly off-limits to tagging and throw-ups by other graffiti writers. And finally, with Harshaw's film, the result of a thesis at UC Berkeley, a documentary collects archival footage of Dream with current-day interviews with those from his TDK crew.
The tragedy of Dream's death is underscored by the maturation of his outlook over time. His artwork became more political and community-minded in nature. He taught young aspiring upstarts line and shadow skills at his tattoo shop. He even changed the meaning of the acronym “TDK,” which initially stood for “Those Damn Kids” due to the crew's hooliganism, to “Tax Dollars Kill,” and then, “Teach Dem Kulture.”
Even Harshaw says he was surprised at the depth of Dream's story.
“When I started, I thought I was gonna tell a story that bumped up against how police couldn't control certain aspects of graffiti, or how there's no art in schools,” Harshaw says. “I ended up having a documentary that really questions, 'What is art?' That's an urban philosophical debate, of sorts, but with Dream and TDK, their story, there's so many layers of it.”