Oaktown Tech: Who Will Live & Who Will Work

IMG_1536Rain and cold did not stop folks from flocking to Preservation Park where Kapor Center for Social Impact and Oakland Local hosted Oaktown Tech: Who’s Who and Who’s Here. The event was co-hosted by 2.Oakland and Impact HubOakland. The location seemed apropos given the need to preserve some of the old Oakland as it quickly turns into the new Oakland. Question here is, who will survive in this new Oakland?

The evening was dedicated to the unveiling of the new LiveWorkOakland.com site, designed to be a go-to resource about growing local innovation economy in Oakland, a tech ecosystem map and database.

My interest in attending was exactly the title…I wanted to visually see who’s who and who’s here specifically in terms of race and if in fact Oakland would buck the trend of my real and virtual experiences of the innovation and technology gathering world. I set out to play this weeks round of Find The Black People, in person.

Even with the hyper racial gentrification of Oakland, the Oakland that showed up last night appeared multi dimensional. Would I have preferred to see more youth (middle and high school) in attendance? Yes. Was I surprised when one speaker thanked the steering committee and from what I could see, it was full of only white people? No.

And at the same time, the crowd that gathered was delightfully more colorful than tech related events I have encountered in San Francisco. And that color wasn’t just limited to Asians. It was difficult for my eyes to rove the room and not find visually Black folks in attendance, a few of whom I approached and found out, unlike  me, they are not on the periphery of the innovation and tech scene but at the center as web designers, engineers, and even a brother who is a CFO for a local tech start up.

So for the first time, Find the Black People game does not end in dismal disappointment. Not completely anyway.

If you have been reading other posts, you know my focus is starting to hone in specifically on Black women in leadership and executive level roles in innovation and tech circles in silicon alley and valley. I don’t really know how many of the Black women I saw in attendance were or were not members of that too fair skinned and male circle. Unfortunately, the likely answer is not many.

Will events such as this lead to a higher number of Black women in executive and leadership level roles? At least in Oakland? And perhaps, as Oakland goes, do goes the bay? It definitely will take more than just words and wishes. It’s not even just about technology fields. Innovation is found in every sector and industry.

Lets not forget about the dancers, the writers, the poets, the teachers – whose professions have not been given the respect deserved but from which innovation and invention can spur and change the world.

Offering Black and Brown children the visual, as well as hands on access, to the different possibilities this world offers, and to see ideas of what can be, can produce change and decrease the ability and desire to accept the status quo.

Mitch Kapor spoke of a hack-a-thon event they held this week in Oakland with Level Playing Field institute in which a young 6th grader about to represent his teams creation said, “ I am the lead developer.” Beautiful.  And at the same time lets not forget about the kids who don’t want to code but who may want to fly among the stars, develop new ways of moving their bodies to never before heard music. Kids from McClymonds HS and Castlement HS deserve as much innovation eye candy as the kids at Bishop O’Dowd and Head-Royce.

There was definitely an Oakland like feeling in the room at least what my non-native, only 15 years in Oakland self can define as an Oakland like vibe, when the races mix anyway. It was nice. And at the same time, as a Black person who is suspect of just words and not actions, I tried to make sure my ears remained keen and not biased. This is what I heard in so many words by the speakers who took the mic:

  • How diverse and therefore beautiful and right the room was.
  • How community is key to Oakland and therefore should be key to its tech development.
  • How all those involved are committed to a vibrant tech ecosystem.
  • How they are building a tech & business community we deserve.
  • Of wanting jobs in Oakland for the people who live in Oakland.

These are nice and thoughtful. I appreciate the Oakland love and promise of access and equity.

When we say jobs in Oakland for people who live in Oakland, does this mean those who are educationally and economically being left behind or for those who are driving out those left behind out?

How do we make sure the promises made on a night like this, full of beautiful and inspiriting thoughts, become promises kept creating a night like this for the many 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th generation Black and Brown Oaklanders?

I do not ask these questions to diminish this amazing night and the ideas being championed but to remind those running the process, we’ve heard this before and when the big economic boom arrives, it’s often we, the people who are darker than blue who get dismissed and forgotten.

Case in point…San Francisco.

In any event, I left the event (Oakland-mixed-race-party-vibe) happy. I met some pretty cool people, as is the usual at Oakland events. That’s why we are The Town and not the city. Thankfully so.

I left feeling hopeful that this time, the promises made will be promises kept.

5 thoughts on “Oaktown Tech: Who Will Live & Who Will Work

  1. Diedra, thanks for such a great and thoughtful piece about the launch of LiveWorkOakland. I wanted to address a couple of points:

    A) The 2.Oak steering committee has an African-American gentleman, Felix Stuckey, as one of the leaders, who was in attendance the night of the event.

    B) From my perspective, we need to be sure to have good jobs for people who already are here in Oakland. While Live Work Oakland is a new project, we are committing to supporting projects that offer training and skills in tech to youth of color including Hack the Hood (which I co founded), The Hidden Genius Project, Black Girls Code, and The Level Playing Field Institute. We also want to tell a story that reflects Oakland and supports all of us who are here.

    But I agree with you, the challenges can’t be forgotten–and can’t be just lip service.
    Sincerely, Susan Mernit

  2. Susan,

    Thank your for taking the time to read and comment. I appreciate your time and thoughtful response. Also thanks for the clarification regarding the 2.0 steering committee. It spurred me to check out the website in more detail. They (you) seem to be doing good work and for Oakland’s sake I wish it much success.

    I particularly looked at the the Steering committee page and appreciate the varied professional backgrounds of those involved. They say innovation is better achieved via diversity. For a chocolate city and rich African American history that is Oakland I do hope of the ten names listed, the Black representation is a bit more than 10%.

    But that is just me and speaks to my larger point of:

    1) it’s great to do youth empowerment work, Oakland has a LONG history of amazing youth programs in various areas and adding tech related programming is awesome!! … and at the same time the power of Black and Brown youth being able to SEE themselves via adults in their community (not just one off) but often and repeatedly in leadership positions (such as something like 2.0akand) cannot be underestimated. I am not saying it doesn’t exist. I am saying it needs to exists more. We can teach them the skills and should but if they are not able to internalize and see taking those jobs and positions as real and possible, it might be all for not.

    2) We have a great deal to work with and from here in Oakland that other cities and regions should be very jealous of. You can feel it whenever you are out and about in inclusive and diverse settings in The Town. And hopefully those with the power and privilege, whether that is of race and/or class, will not forget those without and or less power and privilege as Oakland’s tech boom comes of age.

    Again, I will believe it when I see it and while hopeful, will continue to work with Oakland youth to know that they deserve to live, work and prosper in the town just as much if not more than the new guys arriving and gentrifying their city.

  3. i don’t know…i am of the simultaneous oppression school of thought, and from the evidence of things seen, hearing/seeing those sentiments you bulleted, doesn’t make me feel hopeful…there is a lot going on right now

    +disproportionately high unemployment rate among oakland’s black population–the kind of +desperation that follows,
    +toppled with school to prison pipelines,
    +oakland at the top of the list of towns trafficking young girls,
    +housing and food becoming high-end necessities,
    +and the impact of budget cuts to women, children families,
    +our local and even state political leadership is seriously flawed–

    evidence of their failure is right before our eyes…should i go on?

    quite honestly, those words appear to me to be empty…like you said, we’ve heard it all before….i believe those words are hollow, that gentrification is on a very fast track and long-tme (or short-time) oakland residents, esp. black & brown folk are being foreclosed on, bought out, priced out, shut out, kicked out (girl, why you got me all fired up!)…and any relief to this population of folk is either stalled or on a slow track to nowhere.

    evidence of things seen…i want to see it…i hope like hell i’ll have to eat these words one day in my lifetime, but right now, i don’t know…

    • Rochelle – We are on the exact same page. this post was only a short time ago but still enough time has passed and i have still seen a continued influx of disconnected white folks in my lower bottoms west Oakland neighborhood. People who never say hello and act as if I don’t belong there. These are the same folks building the “new-oakland”. It’s sad. And i too hope I am wrong but history is history – Oakland flatlands will soon be predominantly affluent (self-perceived or real) & white – matching that of the Oakland Hills, pushing out Brown, Black and/or economically poor and then wherever it is we go— I fear they will follow and push us out of there as well. It’s what mass american culture does, devours and deletes. The trick is, continuing the work within our own communities to combat internalized hatred and create healing so that we significantly push back financially, psychologically and geographically. At least this is what i tell myself so as not to be completely depressed about what my eyes are seeing on a daily basis.

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