There's an old saying in journalism, “If it bleeds, it leads”—meaning that if a news story contains death or violence, it leads off the broadcast or makes the front page. West Oakland knows this phenomena all too well. The media, ostensibly, serves as a mirror for the community, and yet the version reflected back to West Oakland's residents rarely includes the unity, hope, creativity and strong will of the area.
The Life is Living festival, on Oct. 11 in Little Bobby Hutton Park (a.k.a. DeFremery Park), exists to change that image. As a free community event with music, dance, art, spoken word, youth activities, skateboarding, health exhibits and more, the all-day festival encapsulates the spirit of the neighborhood, where everyone is a participant. In a nod to the Black Panther tradition of feeding people free of charge, the day starts with a free breakfast program, expected to feed approximately 500.
If we're talking about skewed reflections, we're also talking about beauty standards; 'The Naked Beauty Project' at the festival promotes natural beauty by the activist and artist Antique, with hair and skin demonstrations and other activities centered on a positive self-image. A health and wellness zone serves to keep residents inhabiting a healthy body, while a “STEMposium” of interactive art and science stimulates the mind. There's even a “Barter to the People” trading marketplace, an experiment in cash-free micro-economies.
Of course, live music is a huge part of the day. MADlines is a female hip-hop artist who's recently dabbled in reggae productions, while Young, Gifted & Black consists of approximately 20 teenagers performing poetry and music inspired by African-American history. Poet Amir Sulaiman, DJ Cavem and international turntable star DJ Rashida (pictured above) fill the afternoon before the big headliner: Shock G from Digital Underground. Yes, Humpty Hump will be on hand, too. (Unfortunately for Hump, the closest Burger King is a mile and a half away.)
Oakland has several of these annual day-long festivals, and they're an important part of the city's fabric. But what's more, they're always a damn good time. With nonstop entertainment and inspiration, Life is Living is the best free thing to do in Oakland this weekend.