Oakland’s Prosperity Movement fights gentrification by supporting local culture

by Aziza Jackson

Prosperity Movement, an Oakland-based group of artists and activists, is using its platform to promote peace and prosperity in a changing Oakland landscape.

At last November’s Maafa Film Festival, Elilta Tewelde, Eliciana Nascimento and Kele Ntoto listen to fellow panelist Adimu Madyun, who is an award-winning filmmaker. – Photo: Wanda Sabir
At last November’s Maafa Film Festival, Elilta Tewelde, Eliciana Nascimento and Kele Ntoto listen to fellow panelist Adimu Madyun, who is an award-winning filmmaker. – Photo: Wanda Sabir

The group’s founder and front man, Adimu Madyun, makes it his mission to use art as a way of educating local youth and adults, who he says are bearing the brunt of gentrification in their native city.

“I don’t know if there’s a gentrification handbook or something, but it’s like it’s the same formula every time,” said Madyun.

Madyun said that Oakland’s depletion of jobs and resources and its failing education system have made the city ripe for the picking, a blueprint that stretches across the country where African American and Latino neighborhoods have been gentrified.

“These new economies are being developed, but the African American population and the Latino population and immigrant population are all being locked out of this new economy, and people are coming in because they see that they can make money off of Oakland. So there’s a whole other population that says, ‘We can make money in Oakland, we can suck Oakland dry, we can pimp Oakland.’ They say, ‘We can make money off that hoe called Oakland,’ which makes it very different from someone who says, ‘I love Oakland! Man, I want to go in there and start a business,’” said Madyun.

“When you come in with that mentality, you’re not going to be afraid of the people; you’re going to try and work with the people and help them. But when you just see Oakland as a hoe that you can pimp and the local government allows that to happen, it lets you know that the real pimps are coming to Oakland. They’re pimping the hell out of Oakland, and they’re getting rid of what doesn’t make them money.”

Adimu Madyun is also an acclaimed actor, who often stars in Lower Bottom Playaz’ productions. Here, he’s playing Stool Pidgeon in “King Hedley II” by August Wilson. – Photo: Malaika H Kambon
Adimu Madyun is also an acclaimed actor, who often stars in Lower Bottom Playaz’ productions. Here, he’s playing Stool Pidgeon in “King Hedley II” by August Wilson. – Photo: Malaika H Kambon

Madyun also serves as a lead facilitator for DetermiNation Black Men’s Group, a program aimed at supporting the success and development of young black men in Oakland. The program meets as a weekly support group from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Wednesdays at United Roots, located on Telegraph Avenue.

Although the DetermiNation group is a step in the right direction, Madyun believes that local youth and adults deserve much more, but are met with little to no funding for urban community development and enrichment programs.

“We tried to establish a Black cultural arts district on Pine Street with a young man from out here and an organization called The Black Dot,” said Madyun.

“They were able to buy up a lot of property. We had a community garden, we had an art gallery, a juju shop, a coffee shop. We literally had the whole block, but we weren’t receiving support from the city.”

Madyun said that the project eventually fell through due to a lack of support from local leaders.

“A Black cultural district benefits everybody, not just Black people, especially in a town that was one of the last great chocolate cities,” said Madyun.

“Let’s support that just like we’re going to support Chinatown, just like we’re going to support Fruitvale, just like we’re going to support all the other communities that are here. Why not support an African American community and allow that to thrive? And that’s what wasn’t done.”

The city, however, is currently green lighting a surge of real estate redevelopments, new ordinances, policy changes and pilot programs that seem to be catalysts for economic growth and job creation.

“A Black cultural district benefits everybody, not just Black people,” said Madyun.

But Madyun said that after being barred from entrepreneurship opportunities for so long, many young Black males resort to an underground economy of drug dealing and trafficking that ultimately results in violence.

And even with the boom of the tech industry and start-up companies in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, African American and Latino youth graduating from schools just across the Bay fail to compete for most tech jobs due to a lack of training.

Adimu Madyun, right, facilitates a DetermiNation meeting of young Black men in Oakland.
Adimu Madyun, right, facilitates a DetermiNation meeting of young Black men in Oakland.

“A lot of these jobs are specialized jobs, and we’re talking about the tech industry, so when the education isn’t up to par and you aren’t training the younger generation to fit into this new economy, then what’s going to happen is you’re going to have this new generation resort to operating in the underground economy,” said Madyun.

“Then you ask yourself what’s the benefit of that? Well, then we have to study the school-to-prison pipeline and how much each of these little kids are worth in prison. We find that they’re worth about $60,000 a year. That costs more than it does to send them to college.

“And that’s what we’re seeing. We’re seeing a direct school-to prison pipeline coming from Oakland. There is no other economy that is being developed for the younger Black and Brown generation.”

Madyun is a former teacher and wrestling coach who has worked in both Compton Unified and Oakland Unified school districts, most recently teaching at Hoover Elementary in West Oakland.

He said that a great deal of his work in Prosperity Movement still involves teaching his former students and other local youth through the group’s music and art projects.

“We’re seeing a direct school-to prison pipeline coming from Oakland. There is no other economy that is being developed for the younger Black and Brown generation.”

“That’s been my way of fighting back,” said Madyun. “My music and films show another side of this young Black population. They are determined, they have dreams, they have families, they love their children, they’re struggling with having to go to jail at a young age because mom was on crack and the schools didn’t teach them anything.”

Although Oakland has been getting favorable coverage lately as a tourism hotspot due to its vibrant arts and music scene, Madyun said that those key ingredients of Oakland’s culture are currently being stripped away.

Events that played a major role in shaping Oakland were held constantly at the Black Dot Café. Here some of the audience for an Aug. 21, 2009, stop on former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney’s Triumph Tour gather around her for a photo by legendary Oakland photographer Kamau Amen-Ra, who recently made his transition.
Events that played a major role in shaping Oakland were held constantly at the Black Dot Café. Here some of the audience for an Aug. 21, 2009, stop on former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney’s Triumph Tour gather around her for a photo by legendary Oakland photographer Kamau Amen-Ra, who recently made his transition.

“I don’t know if it’s fair to throw everything on the new population coming in because a lot of these people that are coming like Oakland too,” said Madyun.

“But unfortunately what people loved about Oakland is being pushed out. The culture, the music, the artists – all that is being pushed out.”

Madyun said that neighborhood policing websites such as Nextdoor.com have become a breeding ground for racial prejudice against native Oaklanders who are constantly having the police called on them for something as simple as walking down the street.

“You get some people that come in and they’re like ‘I can’t afford San Francisco so I’m moving here’ and they think they like it but there’s this fear of these young Black men whose pants might be sagging, who might smell like a blunt, who have a hoodie on, because they’re not used to seeing that,” said Madyun.

“But unfortunately what people loved about Oakland is being pushed out. The culture, the music, the artists – all that is being pushed out.”

Instead of placing blame on Oakland newcomers, Madyun would like for people to share in Oakland’s rich culture together, all with the understanding that the ebb and flow of gentrification is only history’s attempt to repeat itself.

“The best way to fight gentrification is to support the local culture,” said Madyun.

“There’s so much culture here in Oakland, and if you’re really against gentrification, go out to these different cultural festivals and music scenes. Go support these Black-owned businesses, go out to these African restaurants, and when an injustice happens, stand up for justice.

“The best way to fight gentrification is to support the local culture,” said Madyun.

“If you’re coming to Oakland, love Oakland. Oakland is not a hoe; don’t come here and try to pimp Oakland. Befriend Oakland and you’ll see that those dudes that you thought were so scary actually aren’t violent at all.”

Aziza Jackson is a native Californian born in Los Angeles and raised in Los Angeles and Oakland. She currently writes for The Oakland Tribune and in her spare time helps Bay Area organizations define their digital media presence through a series of special projects and assignments. She can be reached at Jackson.aziza@gmail.com.