by Wanda Sabir
One way to fight gentrification is to show up yearly in the places once called home. It is as if the ghosts of Christmas past Charles Dickens writes about have really returned and everyone can see them, not just the person haunted. When a neighbor loses his or her home, the very space echoes the loss as memories disperse lost histories, these moments just a few of the tragedies associated with systemic dislocation and displacement.
Black people are genetic experts at dislocation and assimilation; what with centuries of practice, we come to this place with authority and grief. However, Saturday, July 30, at the fifth OG or Original Good Community Barbecue, children, youth and adults had a chance to mingle, eat and enjoy the chance to introduce Gen X to those elders who made this city situated between Silicon Valley giants – Palo Alto and Menlo Park – what it was, if not what it is now.
The Original Good Community Barbecue, year five, located at the Cesar Chavez Elementary School not far from the Dumbarton Bridge, was full of laughter and fun as multiple generations ate the delicious barbecued links, chicken and beef patties, potato salad, chips, cake and drank soda as they admired the classic cars and walked the impressive track while kids climbed on the play structure or played soccer and other games.
Organizers – 21 strong – wore yellow shirts with a heart in the logo. Most of the men, who are formerly incarcerated or convicted persons (FICP), said their goal with the family barbecue was to reunite the community, which has been losing touch with one another. Food, sunshine and pleasant company is a winning combination for success.
Saturday, July 30, at the fifth OG or Original Good Community Barbecue, children, youth and adults had a chance to mingle, eat and enjoy the chance to introduce Gen X to those elders who made this city what it was, if not what it is now.
Game changers all their lives, the older and wiser founding members – Vernis James, Dorsey Nunn, Robert L. Hamel, Dan Rougeaux, “Original Good,” not “Original Gangsters” – wanted to model through activities like the barbecue how “good deeds” can transform community. The barbecues are also an opportunity for East Palo Alto residents, who are majority Black and Latino, to support community development, which is interpersonal.
The large numbers at the first barbecue in 2009 at Flood Park in Menlo Park meant the OGs had to find a bigger venue for the next event. The men did not ask for donations; instead, they dug deeply into their pockets to make sure there was enough food so everyone could eat his or her fill while having a relaxing time at the park. The 21 men spend thousands of personal dollars collectively to make this event a highlight of the summer. Last year, the OGs fed 2,000 people. This year, they might have topped that.
All are South Bay residents. Henry Lopez, an OG member, said his family emigrated from Mexico to East Palo Alto in 1969. In 1954, Mr. Bailey’s family was the first Black family to move into the all-white subdivision called the East Palo Alto Gardens. Prior to that, Blacks lived in another part of EPA called Midtown. There is a section in EPA where all the streets are named after these Black pioneering families. I hadn’t known about the early Black homeowners who moved from San Francisco projects down the peninsula to Menlo Park and East Palo Alto, which at that time was unincorporated. Dorsey Nunn, one of the OG hosts, says that when his parents bought their house, it was $20,000. Now it has appreciated to $800,000. Facebook is just down the street from him, and the corporation is buying up property then leveling blocks of homes to build apartments for its 5,000 employees.
Most of the men, who are formerly incarcerated or convicted persons (FICP), said their goal with the family barbecue was to reunite the community, which has been losing touch with one another. Food, sunshine and pleasant company is a winning combination for success.
Lisa Yarbrough-Gauthier, former mayor of East Palo Alto (2014-2015), now a Council member in 2016, walked through the event greeting everyone with humor and a smile. It was evident that she was the kind of civic leader and native daughter the community both knew and trusted. She asked Dorsey for information to hand out to formerly incarcerated or convicted persons (FICP) who wanted to register to vote. Other information handed out at the Live Scan booth was a pamphlet with information on Prop 47, a list of convictions which could be erased from eligible FICPs’ records.
As I was talking to OG Dorsey Nunn, who invited me to the barbecue, people started moving towards us from another direction in a hurry. I didn’t hear anything but it looked as if the people moving were afraid. We learned that two youth had an altercation, and one youth pulled up his shirt to show a gun in his pocket and then ran. This was the first time in five years this had ever happened. Dorsey and other OGs did not allow the disturbance to interrupt or dismiss the day’s success as they mingled and greeted their guests who, at 5:30 p.m., had already begun to pack tents, chairs and tables.
Mr. Roosevelt Jordan, the organization’s secretary, said this is the reason why the men host these community barbecues, to promote peace. Just by word of mouth, the OG party in the ‘hood attracts more people than the annual Juneteenth. People attend who no longer live in East Palo Alto, because East Palo Alto (“Little Nairobi”) is still home. The OGs are family. Dorsey Nunn, a White House Champion of Change for his work in the Ban the Box Campaign (2016), says the OGs might not have been the perfect son or grandson; however, they are doing the honorable thing now. Dan Rougeaux, retired longshoreman, and other OG members agree.
Nunn, executive director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and a founding member of All of Us or None, was greeted like a celebrity as he introduced me to childhood friends and to his older sister, Joyce. Respected and admired, Nunn, like the other OGs are loved because they love their community back. Nunn is also steering committee member of the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted Peoples and Families Movement, which is having its first national conference at the Oakland Hilton Sept. 9-10. Friday, Sept. 9, is a solidarity work stoppage and fast to end prison slavery.
Respected and admired, Nunn, like the other OGs are loved because they love their community back.
Once the police were called and then arrived, what I noticed in the men was a resoluteness to continue. The OGs were not discouraged nor deterred from their vision. One OG shook his head and said, “This is the first time the police have ever been at one of our events. You’re not going to print this in your story, are you?” I smiled noncommittedly.
Just by word of mouth, the OG party in the ‘hood attracts more people than the annual Juneteenth. People attend who no longer live in East Palo Alto, because East Palo Alto (“Little Nairobi”) is still home. The OGs are family.
The shimmering oasis did not dissipate. A little turbulence might have rippled the serenity of the moment, but the joy people experienced did not go away. I am sure next year the Original Good Barbecue will be bigger and better than the previous five. Stay tuned. To find out about other OG activities, fundraisers, family holiday party and the Community Toy Giveaway this fall, visit http://www.epaemporiginalgood.com.
Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website at www.wandaspicks.com throughout the month for updates to Wanda’s Picks, her blog, photos and Wanda’s Picks Radio. Her shows are streamed live Wednesdays at 7 a.m. and Fridays at 8 a.m., can be heard by phone at 347-237-4610 and are archived at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks.