100 Strong was a potluck style community gathering of 100 participants in the Bushrod neighborhood in Oakland, CA that took place at the end of the 58th Street block at Telegraph Avenue. On October 24, 2015 from 3-6PM, the meal was a chance for neighbors to build relationships in an effort to cultivate a deeper sense of community. The neighbors shared one large table to shape with their presence a monument to the community.
Organized by neighborhood artist and chef Maggie Lawson, 100 Strong facilitated a conversation concerning the changing landscape of North Oakland, the neighborhood’s rich history, and the creativity and resourcefulness of its local residents. The Bushrod neighborhood, once home to the native Ohlone people, European immigrants, and the birthplace of the Black Panthers, is representative of the many waves of residents you can find in various Oakland neighborhoods. Redlining practices meant that the neighborhood was predominately African American until the late 1990’s when the landscape of the neighborhood began to change once again.
The events organizers relied heavily on the online platform Nextdoor.com to recruit volunteers and invite neighbors to attend. Also an invaluable partnership with Memorial Tabernacle Church a historic African-American church in the neighborhood made the event possible. MTC donated use of their facilities in an effort to better serve the changing demographic in their neighborhood. Maggie Lawson sees using both of these venues, the church and Nextdoor.com, as a pragmatic and symbolic gesture towards building the types of relationships needed to mitigate the ordeal of a skyrocketing housing market that does not respect the basic human needs for shelter, connection, for understanding, and for inclusion.
In collaboration with local artists and community members, the event brought together people for an honest discussion of the issues facing the neighborhood. Participants included city council member Dan Kalb, local business owners, and residents of the area who were interested in building stronger relationships with their community.
Excerpt from speech for “100 Strong”
“A lot of people have asked me why I want to do this. I have this vision of us using our mere presences, just our seat at the table to create a monument to community, to a common space. I see the dinner as an exercise in us having a more meaningful connection than we can have on the internet or the quick passing on the street. And believe it or not, I’m shy, I don’t always know how to reach out to you in our neighborhood streets. I’m also doing this because I’m a chef, I make my living feeding people, creating celebrations. This is how I know how to connect, with food, with a table, with music, with beauty. I’m curious to hear what you think our challenge is. I think our challenge is to find common ground. I think our challenge is to ask each other and ourselves difficult questions about belonging, ownership, and displacement. I think our challenge is to have radical empathy for each other, that that are just arriving, those that have been here for awhile, those that have deep roots in the community that go back generations.
A few nights ago I went to the annual neighborhood crime prevention council for north Oakland. In my sector there was an elder, Mr Prickett, who has organized a welcome committee on his 63rd street block where he has been for many years and reminded us that the newcomers needed to feel welcome too. This is what I mean by radical empathy.
For me this dinner is about feeling my connection to something bigger than myself. To all of you. Just because we live next to each other doesn’t mean we’re a community. I hope today you walk away feeling more connected to those that live right next to you, to the neighborhoods’ past, present, and to each other. I hope you walk away beginning to envision what it could be and how it could best support all of our well-being.”
Question posed to the table: What do you think our challenge is as a community?