Blueprint for the Future of Oakland’s Black Community

When I first announced I was running for City Council At-Large, COVID-19 was the only story in the news—worldwide. The virus was hitting the communities where I grew up the hardest. As a son of Oakland who was raised in the Acorn Projects, started a successful small business that employs mainly formerly incarcerated people, and dedicates my time to improving our community, I had decided to run because I believed then, as I still believe now, that I have something different to offer our city at this unique moment.

And then, our city, our nation and our world were collectively horrified—and moved to action, by the public execution of George Floyd. We had cried and marched before for Oscar Grant, for Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, and so many countless others. But this time, this would be different.

This new uprising, led by young people of every race and ethnicity around the globe, has ignited the most sustained march against systemic racism in recent memory. And has inspired the world. This moment in the wake of George Floyd’s murder has become a movement. A movement for Black Lives. But also—and as a member of the Black LGBTQ community myself, I want to shout this from the rooftops—a movement for Black Lesbian Lives, Black Gay Lives, Black Bi Lives, Black Trans Lives, and Black Queer Lives.

I understand the anger, the horror, the pain, and yes, the hope and the necessity of this movement. George Floyd could have been me, a member of my family, someone I grew up with in the projects, or one of my employees.

Here in Oakland, we desperately need change. But to meet this moment, to take effective action and get us through it together, we will need new leadership. New courageous leadership that is rooted in this community, that speaks up for this community—and not just around election time. We need leadership that will tell uncomfortable truths, and tackle tough, thorny, powerful, and emotional issues.

I’m not a politician. I’m a third generation Oaklander and community leader who loves our city and is ready to help change it. Here’s my vision:

An Unwavering Commitment to Tearing Down Systems of Oppression

  1. We must engage in an honest discussion about systemic racism and how we dismantle those systems in government, in organizations, and in individual hearts and minds.
  2. We’ll bring everyone to the table to discuss topics that are outside of many people’s comfort zones. We have to keep an open mind, be respectful, and listen, if we are ever going to actually address these deeply rooted, systemic issues and create real change. 
  3. We need to tackle these issues here, locally, in a uniquely Oakland way. As a diverse and progressive city, we are uniquely positioned to show the nation how it’s done.

Finally Reforming and Redirecting Policing

  1. Redefine what we are asking of our police forces across America. Nonviolent people experiencing a mental health crisis, or folks who fell asleep in their car in a drive-thru restaurant, for example, do not necessitate a response from an officer with a gun, who may just unnecessarily escalate the situation.
  2. Reform police responsibilities by redirecting funding for these types of responses to mental health workers and trained, but unarmed City staff. Police officers in Oakland should be focused on the real threat, which is a rise in violent crime.
  3. Demilitarize the police and put those funds into deescalation and bias training.
  4. Remove officers who demonstrate bias, racism, and other dangerous behaviors that threaten the safety of Black people, and anyone in general, from our police force.
  5. Embrace and implement the 8 Can’t Wait movement: Oakland has embraced 5 of the 8 policies of this movement but still has progress to make when it comes to banning chokeholds and strangleholds, requiring a warning before shooting, and restricting shooting at moving vehicles.
  6. Increasing oversight and accountability of OPD. A good first step would be establishing regular audits of body cameras to track interactions involving bias, degrading behavior, and racial profiling.

Ensure Economic Justice for All Oaklanders

  1. Fight to increase housing security and strengthen renter protections and anti-predatory lending legislation beyond the current economic downturn, so Oaklanders can afford to live in their city.
  2. Support efforts to create more Black owned banks that serve the Black community with fair and generous banking and lending practices.
  3. Eliminate barriers to housing and commercial spaces in Black neighborhoods.
  4. Build partnerships between the City and local businesses to implement policies like I have at my restaurant, where we employ the formerly incarcerated, giving them a second chance to live productive lives.
  5. Make it easier for the formerly incarcerated to succeed with job training and mentorship programs for those about to leave prison.

Nurturing Black Businesses and Those Who Have Dreams of Starting One

  1. We need to do more to lift up our own community. Self determination and self empowerment are the key to our future.
  2. Ensure that funding and investments in the Black community stay in the Black community, to help build up our own neighborhoods.
  3. We need to have an honest conversation with our community about what happens when our own businesses are vandalized or destroyed. Many of those lighting fires in Oakland during the George Floyd protests were not Black and were not from Oakland. But we have to be honest with our community. If any one of us burns down a Black-owned business in Oakland, we set our entire community back.

Real Environmental and Health Justice

  1. Create stronger safeguards and recourse so our people can hold bad corporate neighbors and negligent public officials accountable for the impacts of environmental pollution on their neighborhoods.
  2. Eliminate food deserts and incentivize community-centered grocery stores in East and West Oakland.
  3. Increase access to healthy foods in public schools.
  4. Tackle the health disparities that have put Black Oakland at higher risk from COVID-19, including environmental pollution, access to care, and other known—and  solvable—health risks.
  5. Work with local health care providers and nonprofits to open more low-cost and free community health clinics in our neighborhoods, and advocate for universal healthcare at the state and federal levels.

 Increase Civic Engagement

  1. Cultivate the next generation of Black leaders by appointing Black community members to city, county, professional, and nonprofit boards.
  2. Hold our elected officials accountable—those who are Black and those who aren’t—and not just at election time.
  3. Voter registration drives to enfranchise those in our must underserved communities to choose their own political leaders and build their own power.