"You Don't Know Jack," Full Disclosure, 11/18
Where's the Evidence?
Firstly, I am a thirty-year resident of Oakland, the current project manager for the Black Dot Café, and I am the president of the Village Bottoms Neighborhood Association.
Robert Gammon's article is so obviously a hatchet job on a grassroots community cultural movement that I hesitate to dignify it with a response. But there are many people new to the community and they may be susceptible to believing this type of disinformation masquerading as journalism.
To begin with, what is the "strong evidence" that Gammon is talking about in this article? For years I've noticed that people sit outside cafes and other businesses to get Internet access, send, and receive e-mail. Anyone could have done the same on the Black Dot Café's wi-fi or Marcel's house wi-fi. Gammon has obviously spent little or no time on Pine Street or he could have observed that it is not "sparsely populated" but populated by a community of artists and dedicated volunteers who all know Marcel. In addition to that, all of us have been in the cafe at all hours of the night. I don't know who sent the e-mail, but nothing in this article convinces me that it wasn't Max Allstadt.
Robert Gammon not only doesn't have any knowledge of the Village Bottoms as a community but he refuses to be ethical enough to engage us to gather accurate information. Our neighborhood association meetings are open to the public and held at the Black Dot Café. He could easily have attended one of the meetings. We know that he doesn't want to do that because he would have to acknowledge that we are educated, dedicated, hardworking volunteers in the Village Bottoms that are working with little resources other than the strength of our convictions. As much as people like Gammon, Allstadt and the rest of their gentrification crew want to complain about how bad crime is in West Oakland, they attack people who are working very hard to beautify and uplift our community. Let's be honest that's what this piece is about. It is an attack on the right of Black folks to build and beautify our own cultural district in the same manner that North Beach does for Italians, Chinatown does for the Chinese, and the Fruitvale District does for Latinos.
People like Gammon have the unmitigated gall to criticize activists who are making positive change in our local communities by insinuating that it is just being "stubborn" to try to keep our homes and continue our work in the midst of one of the worst economic downturns in American history. Gammon takes a very insensitive position in these economic times, doesn't he? How about highlighting determination in the midst of economic adversity? Economic adversity that is increased by people like Max Allstadt, Sean Sullivan, and Richard Fuentes. These people who refused to engage the already-established longtime community workers and took over the board membership of organizations that control much-needed grant money such as the CDBG. I witnessed this disgusting display the night that Sean Sullivan, Richard Fuentes, and other folks, who comparatively speaking just showed up the day before yesterday, disrespect elders who have been working in this community for decades. Sean Sullivan, Richard Fuentes, Max Allstadt, and their constituency that I suspect includes the author of this article are attempting to monopolize grant money that could be used to bring projects such as the Village Bottoms Farm to full fruition. Instead of assisting us, writers like Gammon ridicule us.
To inaccurately call The Black New World a "... rusted, corrugated metal shack ..." and leave out the fact that its stage has hosted nationally and internationally recognized poets, musicians, and politicians is a blatant lie of omission.
If the East Bay Express is truly about unbiased community reporting then send a journalist to the Black Dot Café to experience the community firsthand. We're not hiding. We are welcoming everyone to experience the beauty of our community.
Duane Deterville, Oakland
Disparaging Good Work
I feel compelled to respond to Robert Gammon's article "You Don't Know Jack." I have several beefs, but I'll focus on the following:
I have met Marcel Diallo while working with a planning nonprofit that has consulted with him regarding a vision for the future of the Lower Bottoms in West Oakland. His vision is one of economic and cultural revitalization of a community that has been there for generations. The efforts to realize this vision have been genuinely grassroots. Money is scarce, accommodations are marginal, and work often stalls while funds are being raised. Gammon's article disparages this work with innuendo, implying that somehow because of these financial struggles and marginal structures the work is illegitimate or unworthy. Such innuendo is a cheap and convenient way to portray Max Allstadt, in comparison, as a rising star.
Mr. Diallo's vision places race front and center, which can make white folks uncomfortable. It's also rooted deeply in place, in efforts to reclaim a history that has been erased, and in efforts to create genuine grassroots economic opportunity. While I don't always feel comfortable with the rhetoric, I wholeheartedly support the efforts of the Village Bottoms neighborhood and the Black New World precisely because it is a heartfelt, genuinely grassroots effort to honor history, place, and people. No effort is made in the article to portray these aspects of the work of Mr. Diallo and the Village Bottoms community.