Lothario Lotho, a blues impresario, said that Oakland was a Blues City, because in Oakland there is no hope. But despite the crime rate, the failing schools, the ambitious politicians who use the city like a woman for a one-night stand only to forget about her the next day, I have tried to show in this book that a certain class and dignity - even majesty- emerges from Oakland's history. For every crack thug and every selfish regentrifier there are people like Esther's Orbit Room founder, the late Bill Mabry. He died shortly after posing for our blues photo; he'd bought a new suit especially for the photo session. While Oakland has been beset by taxpayer-subsidized developers who are so ruthless that they make the landlords in the old New Masses cartoons seem like Salvation Army volunteers, Mabry offered rooms to people who had no place to live and gave a break to people who couldn't come up with the rent. Yes, there is the violent side of Oakland, the uncivil types who have little regard for the feelings of their fellow citizens and neighbors, but Bill Mabry represents the true spirit of Oakland. So did my late neighbor David McClure, the man they called "the Gum Man." David used to buy chewing gum wholesale and give it away to the crowds of children who would amass at his front door every morning. A year after his death, children would still come around, looking for the Gum Man. As I said in the eulogy I delivered at his funeral, he didn't wear his Christianity like a fur coat, he practiced it. The same could be said of Mother Wright, Mary Wright, Sisters Maureen and Caroline, and the many volunteers who spend every day repairing wrecked lives. Who refute the upscale social Darwinists by showing that there is as much cooperation in life as there is competition. Indeed, there is evidence that in nature animals look out for other animals who aren't even members of their species. What does that say about us? What does that say about Berkeley and San Francisco, where you can witness people dying in the street?
Thursday, April 23, 2009
from Blues City:A Walk In Oakland by Ishmael Reed: