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For People’s Breakfast, Black Liberation, Food Access and Bail Funds Intersect

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Oakland's People Breakfast crew has adapted their food and hygiene kit distribution under a pandemic and now an uprising.  (Courtesy of People's Breakfast)

The successive waves of a pandemic and a national uprising against police brutality have overwhelmed the capacity of community-based organizations. But for Oakland’s People’s Breakfast, these moments have galvanized their work. The organization first started as a food distribution program in 2017 that has since evolved to providing masks and hand sanitizer throughout the pandemic. Most recently, the Oakland founders Delency Parham and Blake Simons took action for their community by bailing out Black protesters who've been arrested in the uprisings against police brutality.

“I'm sure a lot of these other bail funds are bailing out Black folks because they make up a majority of the people getting arrested at these protests,” said Parham. “But ours just fully centers Black folks,” He voiced concerns for overcrowding in jails during a pandemic. “[It] was already a long and strenuous process so now you add all these elements to it where jails are overcrowded, you're getting 50 to a hundred people arrested a day. That takes super long to process,” he explained. “On top of that, you're pouring hella money into a system that you're hoping to eradicate. It just shows you how well-rounded capitalism is.”

Homelessness and Coronavirus

As of June 11, the People’s Breakfast crew has bailed out 19 Black protestors after raising an estimated couple hundred thousand dollars, says Parham. “It's a reflection of people already being familiar with the work that we do in the community,” he said of the fundraising efforts which were boosted on social media by local musicians with a massive reach like Kehlani, ALLBLACK and San Francisco record label Empire. 

Their work doesn’t stop at bail-out funds. Once bailed out, the People’s Breakfast crew connects protestors to the National Lawyer's Guild in San Francisco which take on pro-bono clients and provides them with food including fresh groceries sourced from their West Oakland community garden and Black Earth Farms’ Albany plot. “We believe that liberation comes in many forms and access to nutritious and healthy foods is part of that liberation,” said Yemi Belachew, a core member of the volunteer-led team who handles logistics on the feeding efforts as well as the bail fund side.

Since 2017, the People's Breakfast crew has distributed food and hygiene kits in West Oakland.
Since 2017, the People's Breakfast crew has distributed food and hygiene kits in West Oakland. (Courtesy of People's Breakfast)

Back in 2017, Parham and Simons created People’s Breakfast to meet the most immediate needs of unhoused folks in Oakland. “We're creating programs that would be essential to the survival and sustainability of Black people in America,” Parham explained. Soon after, the crew expanded their food and hygiene kit distribution to include clean clothes, tents and mental health tool kits assembled by San Francisco’s Freedom Health Clinic. Earlier this year, they also launched a community learning program that educates people on topics such as the mechanisms of gentrification. 


The People's Breakfast growing array of services is best contextualized by their agile response to community needs and by the legacy of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. The Black Panther Party had over sixty survival programs including senior escort programs, free rides to prison for families of incarcerated folks and their most well known, the free breakfast program. 

label='The Black Panther Party's Free Breakfast Program'

Back in March, in response to shelter-in-place, where homeless shelters all around Oakland paused or decreased their food service, People's Breakfast increased their food distribution from once-a-month to three times a week. “The days that the shelters are closed, we have to get out there,” Parham said.“The days that shelters have cut back on hours, we have to get out there. We know that a lot of the folks that are affected by houselessness in Oakland are all elderly black folks,” explained Belachew. “The healthcare system definitely did not acknowledge them [or] support them. We wanted to make sure that some material needs were being met.” 

The People's Breakfast crew has expanded their offerings to include a bail fund and access to mental health resources.
The People's Breakfast crew has expanded their offerings to include a bail fund and access to mental health resources. (Courtesy of People's Breakfast)

Prior to the pandemic, the volunteer group raised funds online and through Simons and Parham’s podcast, Hella Black,  that would be used to purchase food for distribution that they prepared themselves. Since the onset of the pandemic, People’s Breakfast’s feeding efforts have been supported by Luka’s Taproom and more recently, World Central Kitchen which contracts local restaurants to prepare food for distributions. Belachew explained that since late March, People’s Breakfast has been distributing 250 meals along with snack packs and hygiene kits including hand sanitizers and masks three times a week. 


Though these past few weeks have catalyzed the efforts of People’s Breakfast and the attention they’re receiving, Parham is reluctant about this spotlight. “It's hard to tell what people's intentions are. If people are doing something because it's popular, what happens when it's no longer popular?” he asked. For him, Belachew and the rest of the People’s Breakfast team, the fight for black liberation is not a current trend but a continuation of a centuries deep fight that doesn’t end with police brutality. 

“The same system that sends you back to work in the midst of a pandemic is the same system that allows an officer to put his knee on a Black man's neck for nine minutes,” he said. “I just hope that if we can recognize that, this moment can go from just a moment to a movement.”

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