Some people have lost hope in Oakland. The city is dealing with a number of issues, from police brutality to homelessness. The city has been listed more than once on the “Most Dangerous City in America” list.
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And it is the city’s African-American community that seems to suffer the most. According to HUD’s “2018 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress,” “African Americans, who make up about 13 percent of the general population, were 39.8 percent of homeless people…or triple their percentage of the population.” And, 30 percent of all unsheltered people in the U.S. are in California.
A 2018 article in the East Bay Express reported that roughly 68 percent of unsheltered people in Oakland are African American, while African Americans only account for 28 percent of the population in Oakland.
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But there are some people looking to make a change in Oakland. Blake Simons and Delency Parham co-founded The People’s Breakfast Oakland that helps feed the homeless as well as provide hygienic products.
Here are 10 things to know about The People’s Breakfast Oakland.
The duo has looked to special media not only to get the word out about their organization but to also raise funds to buy supplies for food and sanitary kits, and fed over 200 folks in West Oakland.
“Twitter has been a way to raise money,” Simons told PBS. “Using Twitter and podcasts as a tool for liberation plays a big role in spreading the model. It allows us to get the message out about our politics. In the Civil Rights Movement, it was the radio. In this new wave, it’s the podcast and Twitter.”
Simons and Delency were inspired by the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, which first started the idea of a free breakfast program in Oakland in 1969 and it ran until 1980.
“Like the Black Panther Party, Simons and Parham’s efforts are community funded and focused. Not only do they feed people, they advocate for social justice and push for abolition of the prison system—all in an effort to show people alternatives to being dependent on a government that has oppressed low-income people and people of color,” PBS reported.
For Simons and Parham—two African American men with Oakland roots, and who have day jobs in the world of education— it’s important for them to serve Oakland’s homeless population. Parham told PBS, “If we don’t take care of ourselves, no one will. Look at the history of this country, we can’t expect anyone to take care of Black folks, except Black folks.”
Simons added that the group prides itself on “being in the field” with their politics, and “engaging with those who’ve been the most impacted by the white supremacist capitalist state.” He notes that the majority of people they serve are African American and most are elders.
The duo produces and host The Hella Black Podcast that discusses political education, mental health, masculinity, among other things. They launched the podcast in 2015. They have listeners in more than 50 countries.
They have done live podcast shows at Loyola Marymount University, UC Santa Barbara and, of course, in Oakland.
“We’re having conversations just like how we would talk, we just got a microphone. You feel me? Breaking it down the same way we would be speaking to each other,” Simons told Playboy.
The podcast “has garnered more than 187,000 plays on SoundCloud over the span of 20 episodes. Homegrown initiatives like this help Oakland to still feel like it’s Oakland and combat the isolating effects of ‘urban renewal,’” Playboy reported.
We want to empower the people that are listening to go out and do something,” Simons said. “We are giving an authentic Black experience — a real free Black expression,” Parham told The East Bay Express.
When asked about The People’s Breakfast’s overall goal, Parham answered, “It’s hard to not get into utopian stuff, I’m trying to be real,” with a laugh. And then Parham gets serious and says, “I would like to see Oakland get into a place where [the] Black population is increasing and thriving. A lot of Black folks are struggling and people come to the Bay Area for Black culture.”
Simons added, “I want to see Oakland ‘hella Black,’ and I want to make this a model for revolution. Oakland has always been a radical hub for Black folks, I want to carry on that tradition.”
Simons concluded, “People have a classist view of revolution. Revolution really comes from the bottom up, centering Black poor folks, Black queer folks, etc. [It] comes from the people, not from the institutions. That’s why we pride ourselves in being with the people.”
“The two met at a protest demanding the name change of Le Conte Hall at UC Berkeley, and the implementation of institutional changes to address the Black student population at the university. At the time, Simons was a student organizer with the Black Student Union at Cal and Parham was reporting for Berkeleyside. With similar backgrounds and political views — Parham and Simons both have family members who were Black Panthers, and both share Bay Area roots — their friendship developed organically, and they decided to put their ideas together and spread them to the Black community,” The East Bay Express reported.
“We were two young people passionate about Black people and Black liberation,” Parham said during a chat in Oakland.
Simons, 24, and Parham, 25, seem to be born organizers. They have family members who were in the Black Panther Party.
“We both have organized before, mainly black student organizing, but we wanted to make more impact in the community,” the organizers told Shadow Proof. “We wanted to make sure our organizing centered the masses. We both spend the majority of our time working with the youth of our community. We wanted a way to get involved with those became before us.”
People’s Breakfast Oakland has fed at least 300 people in Oakland, serving up a warm breakfast: eggs, sausage, toast, and water.
In addition to food, The People’s Breakfast has given out hundreds of menstruation products, deodorant, and other hygiene products, and handed out hundreds of water bottles.
Looking ahead, the organizers told Shadow Proof they hope the breakfast program “will eventually transform into something that allows us to be a resource in every way for the people of our community.”
The pair want to see social changes made in Oakland and they want to be part of the change.
“We need to dismantle the system,” Parham told The East Bay Express. “Oakland needs a complete revolution. People want to blame Donald Trump for everything going on, when in reality, Democrats out here in Oakland have been proven enemies and have caused the situation that Oakland is in right now.”