Life in Rhyme: Art, Literacy, and Survival
Police helicopters, ﬂying low and buzzing loud, are a common part of the aerial landscape of Oakland, California, punctuating many an evening sky and reminding residents of the city’s long experience with civil unrest and economic discontent. October 2012, for example, was the anniversary of the international Occupy Movement as it played out in Oakland, and on that date, police, activists, and the curious ﬁlled the streets, as searchlights and helicopters ﬁlled the air. Residents of Oakland, along with those of the surrounding Bay Area, have a history of activism and protest around social, political, economic, racial, and gender inequalities, and they are all too aware of living in a powder keg. Oakland is a medium-sized city, yet in 2010 it registered more than 500 separate shootings, 199 of whom were juveniles. In 2011, three children under the age of ﬁve were struck and killed by stray bullets, within a four and one-half month period, one in a baby stroller being pushed by his mother down the sidewalk of a busy street. Oakland is remembered as the home of the Black Panther movement from the 1960s, and as having had a prominent place at the table in the history of the US civil rights movement. Such history, a point of pride to many, has arguably faded of late in public perception, overwritten by stark statistics and the even harsher everyday life of too many residents in relation to crime, murders, gangs, drugs, unemployment, foreclosures, and police misconduct. To live in certain
parts of this city, to be young, and especially to be Black but also to be any young person of color, is right now to be embattled and to do battle, quite literally, and also as we shall see, symbolically, in a ﬁght to survive.