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Kenzie Smith Speaks Out

One of the men targeted by "BBQ Becky" reflects on the incident and what the aftermath means for Oakland.



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"It turned into this huge dance party," said Lee about 510 Day, whose family has lived in Oakland for four generations. "It had the vibe of a family reunion. People were literally having the time of their lives. This was so interesting because it was an act of resistance and reclaiming space in the face of someone's racist actions. But it happened in the most celebratory way possible. It was sort of poetic justice."

On May 20, the community came out in bigger force. Initially, a small group of friends decided to hold a barbecue called "BBQing While Black." The cookout ended up drawing a diverse crowd of more than 2,000 people, including activist Angela Davis, sprawled on the Lakeshore side across from Cleveland Cascades — the location where the initial incident took place. BBQing While Black organizer Logan Cortez said the idea was intended for her friends, and as a way to deal with her lack of shock around the incident.

"My intention was to have a barbecue with five to seven of my friends," Cortez said. One of the friends she invited was Jhamel Robinson, founder of The Real Oakland clothing line, who is also a graphic designer. He created a flyer for the event, and it started going viral. "Then, we realized we had to get the proper permits," Robinson said. "At the end of the day, if we don't do this, what are we really doing to celebrate our brothers and say, 'We're glad you're alive. We're glad it didn't go another way.'"

Early that morning of the event, people already began setting up — including Smith. "When I got to the lake, I cried," he recalled. "'Cause at 9:30 in the morning ... people were already up, settin' up, had their barbecue pits, everything."

As hundreds more people showed up, the crowd swelled to several thousand. "This was more than just Oakland residents sayin' this," said Smith. "It was Richmond residents, Berkeley residents. I had people come out here from Seattle, Washington. People from Compton actually drove out here and actually just wanted to shake my hand and take a picture. It was like the most weirdest thing ever, but at the same time, it was exciting."

"When I saw that many people, I was speechless," Abram said. "I saw friends I hadn't seen in years. I saw friends from elementary school. I was literally high for two days off the positive energy."

There were ribs, hot dogs, chicken, burgers, links, mac 'n' cheese, and potato salad. Everett & Jones and Kid Creole Soul Food set up areas and gave away free food. The barbecue ran all day, with folks hanging around until well after dark.

"Everyone was excited about having this barbecue," Cortez said. "It was a reminder and a rebirthing of who we are as a city. We're about love, light, fun, food, and we're all about family. It was full of Black people and our allies. We had elders, we had babies, we had moms nursing while they were eating ribs."

Make no mistake, while the barbecue was a joyous celebration centering the Black community and culture in Oakland, there is palpable anger.

Davey D notes that there's been a pattern of over-policing by the lake, including citing people for cruising or playing music too loudly — and mostly targeting Black people. "They have zero tolerance of large gatherings of Black people enjoying the lake," he said about some neighbors in online forums. "All this stems from a dislike of Black folks who have lived here. Like, 'we don't like you in our neighborhood.' I don't want it to be reduced to just folks going to a barbecue."

Lee also notes that the barbecue doesn't halt or reverse the tide of gentrification. But it provided hope.

"It's a moment where, in the face of gentrification and displacement, the people of Oakland are saying, this is who we are," said Lee, who is also a friend of Smith. "You can't erase us off the face of the map. We have the right to be here, and be who we really are, and to assert our integrity and culture as a city."

The organizers of BBQing While Black hope to organize another event but are well aware that large gatherings of that size are not sustainable and could disturb residents. The organizers and community members took pains to make sure they cleaned up the area after the event.

As for Smith, he has since been nominated by City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan to join the Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission, a position he is enthusiastic about. Late last week, he and Abram picked up metal cans — a safe way to dispose of hot coals — and distributed them along the lake, in anticipation of people barbecuing during Memorial Day weekend. "It's been surreal," he said. "I never would have dreamed it would have brought Oakland together. It's a unifying situation."

Perhaps most of all, he said, he wants to talk with Schulte.

"The only thing I want out of this whole situation is for the lady to start being educated," Smith said. "I think that she needs to actually understand what she's doing when she's calling the police on Blacks. You know what I'm sayin'? ... I will sit down and have a one-on-one conversation with her."


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