by People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey
Donald Lacy is a legendary community worker and founder of the LoveLife Foundation who for over the last quarter of a century has been making waves on the anti-violence front in Oakland after the murder of his teenage daughter in West Oakland in 1997.
On Nov. 11 and 12, the LoveLife Foundation is gearing up for an anti-police violence and anti-community violence town hall meeting, as well as a gala to celebrate the work of local community leaders. I wanted to talk to Donald Lacy, one of the main organizers of these two events, about what is happening.
JR Valrey: What is the Lovelife Foundation? How did it begin?
Donald Lacy: First of all, I want to thank you, JR, for all your work over all these years of covering the Black community. Big salute to you. And a special thank you for covering me as an artist and my non profit agency the LoveLife Foundation.
The LoveLife Foundation was the vision of my 16-year-old daughter LoEshe’ Lacy. I gave her the name LoEshe’ because I delivered her on 580 freeway while on my way to the hospital. I figured she loved life so much she couldn’t wait till we got to the hospital. On her birth certificate it says: Place of birth: 580 freeway. Attending physician: Donald Lacy (BD) for baby’s daddy.
LoEshe’ was full of love and everybody loved her. She was always doing things for other people her whole brief life. In the summer of 1997, a friend of hers, James Valery, was murdered. She was saddened and hurt by the murder of her friend. She asked me to help her write a play to honor her friend and to speak out against all the violence she was seeing in West Oakland.
LoEshe’ was a successful Conflict Resolution Mediator at McClymonds High School, where she was a student. I told her how proud I was of her for wanting to honor her 16-year-old friend. Before the play was completed, LoEshe’ was murdered on Oct. 20, 1997, an innocent victim to a shooting.
I was in Los Angeles the night she was killed. I was devastated and I’m still traumatized by her killing. The worse night of my life. I didn’t sleep the whole night. I was at my friend Laura Hayes’s home that night and her and her husband watched over me. That night in LA I was getting paged by a lot of people in Oakland.
At first all I wanted was revenge. I talked to my family and friends. The last person I talked to early that morning was my grandmother, Mother Pearl Franklin, who at that time still lived in Canton, Ohio. After we had prayer she told me, “What the devil meant for evil, God was going to turn to good.” When she said that, I remembered what my daughter had taught me a few months earlier, that she wanted to honor her friend by making something good happen from tragedy.
I put the word out that I didn’t want any revenge. I wanted to create a lasting legacy of good from LoEshe’s horrible death. After her celebration of life service a week later on Nov. 1, 1997, I had a press conference at Oakland City Hall and announced that I was starting the LoveLife Foundation in memory of my 16-year-old daughter LoEshe’. Her name is Ibo Nigerian and means Love Life in English.
I stopped my show business career and worked tirelessly to make sure the LoveLife Foundation became an institution in Oakland and now this year marks our 25th anniversary. The motto of the LoveLife Foundation is: “LoveLife, Don’t Take Life.”
JR Valrey: What have been some of the milestones of the LoveLife Foundation over the last 2 decades plus?
Donald Lacy: There have been so many milestones in the past 25 years. Congresswoman Barbara Lee proclaimed the work of the LoveLife Foundation from the floor of Congress. We have received awards from the Red Cross, the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, the Take Wings Foundation and many others.
On April 5, 2016, the Oakland City Council by a 5-3 vote adopted:”LoveLife” as the official motto of the City of Oakland. But for me, JR, the biggest milestone for me is to see all the wonderful Black youth we have been able to touch in 25 years of operation. We don’t have any full time paid staff. We are mostly volunteers.
The majority of the money we raise annually goes to direct services for the youth and the families we serve. In 25 years I have been blessed to get to know some of our best and brightest. Our youth are the solution and not the problem. I tell people all the time I learn almost as much as I teach.
You know this from the brilliant young people you train in media at EOYDC. You brought two different groups of youth to KPOO and man, the phones lit up after your last visit. My listening audience was blown away by the brilliance of our youth.
The milestone that got the most worldwide attention was on May 12, 2018. On that day CNN aired The Redemption Project with Van Jones. On that show I met for the first time the one man convicted of murdering my 16-year-old daughter. I did it to set an example for forgiveness and I have received emails from people all over the world. I did it because that is what LoEshe’ would have wanted me to do.
JR Valrey: Why is the Lovelife Foundation organizing a Police Violence and Community Violence Townhall Meeting? When and where is it? What do you want to come out of it?
Donald Lacy: The Police and Community Town Hall meeting was an idea to bring youth and adults together who are concerned about both. Uncle Bobby and Sister Beatrice have been on the front lines of helping families who have lost loved ones to police violence. LoveLife and other community organizations have been working with families like mine who have lost loved ones to violence.
On that show I met for the first time the one man convicted of murdering my 16-year-old daughter.
Let’s come together and support each other’s efforts to stop police violence and community violence. The Town Hall will take place Friday, Nov. 11, at 6:00 p.m. at Everett and Jones restaurant on Second and Broadway in Oakland. It is free and open to the public. I want us to stand together against all violence and I am hoping we can all work together to make our community safer for us all.
JR Valrey: What do you think that the recent uptick in violence is coming from?
Donald Lacy: I was at a meeting with the DVP (Department of Violence Prevention) Coalition and one of my good brothers who is on the front line said it’s like a gumbo of factors causing the uptick in violence. People from out of town coming to Oakland causing mayhem. I know that the downturn in the economy has a lot to do with it as well. There has been an uptick around the country after the pandemic so there are a lot of factors – in addition, the over-saturation of firearms. They got a 3D printer that can make a gun. Say what? I still can’t wrap my brain around how that works?
There was a study that came out over 20 years ago by an organization in D.C called Fight Crime, Invest in Kids. This was the result of a long study where they showed the long term solution to crime and violence is to invest in the communities that have been historically economically deprived over long periods of time.
It showed that you start with prenatal care and early child development, provide economic investment into good education, businesses and jobs where folks can support their families, then they are less likely to be involved in criminal activity that can lead to violence and murder.
The study also showed that the money for this – instead of being used to build a constructive thriving society – is put into the prison industrial complex, where billions of dollars are made for the wealthy. At some point if we are serious about reducing murder and violence, we need to address the wealth gap so prevalent in America. The rich in this country get richer while the poor get poorer.
There can be no lasting change under a corrupt system that is primarily concerned with making more money for the 1% who are already wealthy, while neglecting the masses who are struggling to survive. People are going to survive by any means necessary.
JR Valrey: Can you tell us about the upcoming LoveLife gala, and the reason why you give awards?
Donald Lacy: The Oakland’s Finest Black Tie Gala and Toy Drive is an event we started in 2018 and 2019. We had to suspend it during the pandemic. The proceeds from the Gala go toward college scholarships for students who are achieving academic excellence.
At this year’s gala, we will be giving out money to nine students who participated in our 2022 College Prep program. This program was a six-week course we did over the summer taught by college graduates who have graduated in the last 10 years.
We also give out awards to people we call “Oakland’s Finest” Awards. People like you, JR. We give out awards to say to our community Heroes and Sheroes, we appreciate all the good work you been doing to make our community a better place.
A lot of times the mainstream media only covers all the bad things that go down in Oakland, but we give out awards to say, “It’s a lot of good news in Oakland and other communities.” The problem is we don’t give flowers to people who have been doing good work ‘til after they pass.
I say let’s celebrate each other while we still alive and breathing. We give out awards as our way of saying thank you. We see you, and keep up the great work.
JR Valrey: Who are some of the awardees?
Donald Lacy: JR Valrey, let me start with you and all the great work you do. You have been covering the Black community for over 20 years. You are always spotlighting people like me, artists, community organizers. Plus the work you are doing with youth at EOYDC is amazing.
Like I said earlier, those youth you brought to KPOO were incredible. So big ups to you for all you’ve been doing. Other awardees include Dave Stewart, the former Oakland A’s pitcher. Dave has been giving back to Oakland for years and does it without media or any fanfare.
A lot of the people we are awarding have been supportive of the LoveLife Foundation as well. Pam Moore from KRON has always pushed for media coverage for us doing the good things with our youth. Pam has also donated to the LoveLife Foundation out of her own pocket for years.
On LoEshe’s birthday, Jan. 24, 1998, we marched with over a thousand people through West Oakland calling for peace and an end to violence.
Former Mayor of Oakland Elihu Harris is also being honored. Elihu is like my godfather; I talk to him almost every day. He helped us get the LoveLife Foundation started in 1997. December 18, 1997, a week before Christmas, he gave us the Oakland City Council Chambers. I think it was the first time a community group got to sit on the dais where the Council members sit. The chambers were packed; we had a line of folks going down the steps. So many people were touched by the murder of my daughter.
Then on LoEshe’s birthday, Jan. 24, 1998, he provided a stage and we marched with over a thousand people through West Oakland calling for peace and an end to violence. Barbara Lee was there, all the City Council members, gang members, faith community. All different cultures and ages from babies to seniors. Traffic and street blocking got a big assist from the East Bay Dragons.
These are some great people we are honoring this year, including civil rights attorney Eva Paterson, who did the nonprofit incorporation for the LoveLife Foundation – and didn’t charge us a dime. It’s gonna be a great night.
JR Valrey: What else happens at the gala?
Donald Lacy: In addition to the awards presentation, there will be entertainment provided by jazz bassist Marcus Shelby, who will be accompanied by a dynamic female vocalist. There will be a great dinner with a choice of chicken, salmon or vegetarian. There will be a silent and live auction featuring artwork and sports memorabilia. In 2019 I bid on and got a great framed autographed photo of Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the anthem when he played for the 49ers.
After the awards, there will be a concert with the Best Intentions, who are a fabulous singing group backed by a great band. After the Best Intentions, Davey D from KPFA will provide music to dance to. Rumor has it that a surprise celebrity comedian who has worked with Eddie Murphy, Jamie Foxx, D.L Hughley, Luenell and others will be doing some stand up comedy. All of that and a video of LoEshe’ in her own words, and video of some of the LoveLife Foundation’s youth spanning 25 years of service. It’s gonna be a great night of food, laughs, dancing and celebration.
JR Valrey: LoveLife a few years back got their motto put on all the “Welcome to Oakland” signs. How did that happen, and why was that important?
Donald Lacy: Thank you for that question. It was 13 years of petitioning the Oakland City Council to adopt LoveLife as the official motto of Oakland. There was some opposition, so that is why it took so long. But I got to shout out Dwain Butler, who really took it on as a personal mission.
Over the years we would gather supporters and go to City Council meetings to advocate for LoveLife as the city motto. I was in and out of town a lot because I had to work and feed my family. But almost every week when I wasn’t at the City Council, Dwain would go and keep reminding them about it. He is also one of our awardees at our Gala.
The momentum for the LoveLife motto began to build in 2012. We started taking more people to City Council meetings, and the motto got more community support. Despite the opposition, on April 5, 2016, by a 5-3 vote the Oakland City Council adopted “LoveLife” as the official motto of the City of Oakland.
But the story didn’t end there. Even after the legislation was passed, it took over a year for the City of Oakland to move on the legislation. I had to be ever vigilant. There was someone who worked in the city administrator’s office who had the legislation buried under a stack of papers on her desk. I was going to City Hall almost every week, knocking on doors to make sure the legislation was put in place.
Then in October 2017 the first sign was unveiled. Every Entering Oakland sign says “LoveLife” to honor my daughter and all victims of violence. The sign is also a reminder to all of us to love, respect and cherish the gift of life. This was very important to me that the meaning of my daughter’s name, LoveLife, is now on every Entering Oakland sign.
When LoEshe’ was killed, I told her mother that I promise you her legacy will live on. Even though my daughter was killed 25 years ago, I kept my promise to her mother. And my grandmother was right: What the devil meant for evil, God turned to good.
JR Valrey: What can people do to aid the LoveLife Foundation?
Donald Lacy: Thank you again, JR, for all your support of putting the word out about the LoveLife Foundation. I greatly appreciate you.
Folks can make a tax deductible donation to the LoveLife Foundation by going on our website At Risk Youth | Lovelife. You can also get tickets to the Gala Nov. 12 at 5:00 p.m. at the Oakland Marriott in downtown Oakland. We can be reached at 510-663-5683. That’s 510-ONE-LOVE. Peace and love to everyone reading this. Let’s come together and stop the violence.
JR Valrey: How can people keep in touch with you online?
Donald Lacy: Folks can hit me up in IG @donaldlacyjr or on Facebook Donald Lacy. Peace and blessings to all! LoveLife, Don’t take Life.
JR Valrey, journalist, author, filmmaker and founder of Black New World Media, heads the SF Bay View’s Oakland Bureau. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook. Visit www.BlackNewWorldMedia.com to read more.