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Daps and Hugs: I'm Moving Out of Oakland

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East Bay Dragons' 60th anniversary event (Pendarvis Harshaw)

Labor Day weekend in Oakland was immaculately smackin’.

The reasons to love this city were on full display. The people, music, weather, food, creativity, history, pride, relationships, spirit, jokes, people… did I mention the people?

I swear, all of it will be forever memorable, especially for me. If for no other reason than the fact that I’m moving to Sacramento this weekend.

Yeah, I know. Crazy, right?

Actually, nah… not really. I’ll just be another one of the 17,000-plus workers making that 90-mile commute from the state capital to the Bay Area. Hell, last year alone an estimated 27,00 people relocated to Sacramento from the Bay Area. At this point, it’s normal.

For me, it’s no biggie. Gotta do it. Family reasons. And that’s all there is to it.

But I’m not going too far. And I’ll be here working all the time—Oakland is still my office. I’ll still be at KQED, writing a column and hosting Rightnowish. Really, there won’t be any major differences. Except… Imma miss ya’ll.

The East Bay Dragons turn 60, and bring all the bikes out.
The East Bay Dragons turned 60, and brought all the bikes out. (Pendarvis Harshaw)

All summer, the thought of moving away has been a subtle buzz in the background of the memories I’ve been creating. Motivation to see people, hit events and hold tighter to the indescribable elements that magically coagulate to make Oakland one of the greatest pieces of turf on this earth.

And this Labor Day weekend, the vibes were on full display.

Nearly all weekend long, motorcycles lined both sides of the intersection at 88th Avenue and E. 14th Street. Rows of two-wheeled choppers looked like lines of metallic candy, as the East Bay Dragons, Oakland’s oldest African American motorcycle club, ushered in their 60th year of existence—a marvelous feat for any organization.

On Saturday, the Oakland Roots, Oakland’s newest sports franchise, played their first soccer game. Ahead of kickoff, they held a well-attended block party, bringing out the Scraper Bike team, artists like Jennifer Johns and Ryan Nicole, as well as Mayor Libby Schaaf. The team played in front of a packed house, reportedly over capacity at Laney College’s stadium; the game ended up a 3-3 tie.


Mayor Libby Schaaf and the Oakland Roots soccer team
Mayor Libby Schaaf and the Oakland Roots soccer team. (Pendarvis Harshaw)

On Saturday night, rapper BossLife Big Spence celebrated the release of his anticipated new album, BOSSLIFE SUMMER: The Life Chose Me. The event brought out numerous other artists as Big Spence and the BOSSLIFE squad put on a hell of a show at Starline Social Club.

On Sunday afternoon the Pan-African Festival pulled people together from all reaches of the African Diaspora to the grassy center of Mosswood Park. There, an impromptu dance floor was flanked by people selling colorful clothing on one side of the park and folks vending food, including jollof rice and shaved ice, on the other. The whole event was a glimpse into a mini Afrocentric utopia.

Mistah FAB and Suga Free at Hiero Day in Oakland
Mistah FAB and Suga Free at Hiero Day in Oakland. (Pendarvis Harshaw)

And the conclusion of the weekend was Hiero Day, Oakland’s largest homegrown annual hip-hop festival. A valid reason for all the real hip-hop heads and culture junkies to come out, enjoy the vibes and exchange daps and hugs. Hella daps and hugs.

I hit all these events and then some. The end of an event celebrating R&B vocalist Astu’s latest single. A send-off party for a longtime friend, Mahasan. I had tacos with Babz and Lola of the MMHMM GIRL podcast, and also had sushi with rapper Ian Kelly. Even found time to eat some of my mother’s waffles with my family.

I ran around town socializing with artists, spending time with creative people and taking photos. Nothing different than what I’ve done for the past decade since moving back from my college stint in D.C. Except now, I’m leaving again.

Boss Life Big Spence and Su'lan performing in Oakland
Boss Life Big Spence and Su’lan performing in Oakland. (Pendarvis Harshaw)

And I wasn’t tripping off of it until Sunday, when the A’s got their green and gold asses handed to them by the Yankees. Two home runs in the bottom of the ninth by the guys in pinstripes, and every vulgar word in my vocabulary shot out of my mouth and echoed off the empty walls and brown packing boxes of my apartment.

I jokingly tweeted “I need a hug.” Except I didn’t add “LOL.” So, ya know, people didn’t know I was joking. Man, I got hella love. Unnecessary amounts of love, on Twitter, and a few text messages. Folks gave me extended hugs when I saw ’em in public. Extra strong handshakes and whatnot. And while it’s funny, the whole experience showed me two things:

  1. How seriously people take comments that allude to needing help.
  2. How much this community has my back.

And also, maybe through my anger around the A’s loss and joy in spending time in the town, I was subconsciously reaching out for one last batch of that good stuff: pure Oakland culture. After a decade of running around and taking photos of this town, you get addicted.

I mean, it’s not like that it’s going to stop—but it is going to change.

The Dance floor at Pan African Fest 2019 at Mosswood Park in Oakland
The Dance floor at Pan-African Fest 2019 at Mosswood Park in Oakland. (Pendarvis Harshaw)

In the coming months, I’ll be taking on a project that highlights the artists and culture keepers who’ve moved from the Bay Area to the central valley, including Sacramento, Stockton and beyond, with a specific focus on the African American population.

The project, which has been in the works since before my move to Sacramento, is fueled by the lack of reporting in those areas, especially for black folks. Also, Isabel Wilkerson’s book The Warmth of Other Suns played a major part.

I read Wilkerson’s book last year, while living on Apgar Street in a house that my friend’s grandmother bought after migrating from Louisiana. When I read that one of the characters had come from the deep south and visited 41st and Lusk Streets, five blocks over from where I sat reading the book, I realized that the story of black migration is literally on my doorstep.

Rooted. (Pendarvis Harshaw)

Now, there’s a new chapter waiting to be told—how folks got from the delta in the south to the delta in the central valley of Northern California.

Many of my people got off the train in West Oakland, the end of the line, and never turned back. I know that’s what my friend’s grandmother did.

Wild how I always heard that tale about folks coming here back in the day, looking for the roads that were paved in gold. I wonder if they knew they were the gold.

This past weekend showed that despite the crazy cost of living out here, that gold hasn’t decreased in value. Not one cent.

So I’ll end on this note: it doesn’t end. Keep it lit. Daps and hugs when I see you again. Until then, be safe out here.


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