In November 2014, a hundred plus community volunteers took it upon themselves to begin transforming and beautifying an abandoned and polluted lot on the corner of West Grand and San Pablo Ave in West Oakland. For 14 years, the lot remained vacant and desecrated and was an overall public health concern for the community. “It was filled with needles, rats, trash, feces, and weeds as high as the building,” said Linda Grant, a volunteer at Qilombo Community Center.
With the help of many volunteers Danae Martinez-a local college professor- led a revitalization effort which transformed the polluted lot into a thriving community garden. With the assistance of Planting Justice, the Community Rejuvenation Project, and hundreds of student and community volunteers, they were able to unify with the purpose of restoring this neglected lot into a vibrant garden that’s free and open to all members of the community. Afrika Town was officially launched on March 7th 2015, and has been a source of inspiration and direct service for local residents during its short existence. “We’re able to feed our neighbors fresh fruits and vegetables from the garden at anytime of the day…we’ve even made medicines and salves for folks using the herbs from our garden” says Grant. Martinez adds ,”The people in this area are what society considers ‘throw away people’…and these same people have a place to feel proud of and engaged in.”
However not even a month after the lot’s restoration, the landlord is now attempting to evict the Afrika Town volunteers and bulldoze the land. Last Thursday they arrived with no warning and a bulldozer; but the volunteers were able to stand their ground and buy another week of time. When asked “Why now?” Linda Grant remarked “Who would care about a lot that’s been empty for 14 years? Someone who knows there’s money coming into this neighborhood. Why else would they care? They haven’t cared all of those years before.” The land is now worth $995,000. Martinez asserts that money shouldn’t be the bottom line. “We’re pushing back by saying you don’t have the right to shuffle us around and throw us away just because you have more money than us.”
Afrika Town organizers are responding quickly by organizing a Liberation Day which will take place this Friday April 3rd at 2313 San Pablo Ave. It will be an all day event from 7 am until the evening and it will include: a children’s jumper, live performances, and a community speak out. “We need people’s bodies to defend the garden and set up human barriers” says Grant. The organizers also expressed a need for people to bear witness by serving as “Cop Watchers” and filming the direct action so it can go viral. Outside of the Afrika Town Community Garden, there are many other events sponsored by Qilombo Community Center, which is an “African and Indigenous led radical community center which hosts daily events that advance: community healing, empowerment, self-determination, and collective liberation.” Some of its services include a: library, computer lab, bike shop, community breakfasts, needle exchange, yoga workshops, and free clothing giveaways. It is an organization that survives only from donations and is completely volunteer-led. Qilombo organizers have recently received news that there are further plans to redevelop the entire block of San Pablo, putting their community center at risk as well. When asked about their thoughts about the future, both Grant and Martinez are firmly committed to the fight. “We will rebuild Afrika Town. We have a right to exist, to survive and to thrive. Gentrification stops here.”
To get more information about Afrika Town Liberation Day, please contact Linda Grant at: 510-228-5915. Also to receive instant updates about Afrika Town demolition please text: 40404 and write Follow Afrika Town in the body of the text. For more information about the transformative work happening at Qilombo please visit: