John Jones III

“Do you want anything? I’m feeling a little sick so I am getting tea for myself.”

I politely declined and I situate myself in the dark wooden chairs at Tierra Mia coffee shop across the street from the Ella Baker Center. The authentic smells of coffee and freshly baked bread filled my lungs and reminded me of my roots and my culture.

After a few minutes, he comes back and sits down, “Before we start I just want to get a clear idea of what it was you want to do again, not that I oppose or anything.”

The Meeting

When I first met John Jones III, he was at a special hearing held at the Oakland City Hall regarding the housing crisis. The meeting was open to the public, which meant that anyone who wanted to speak in front of the council had a right to do so. But two hours into the meeting, the public still have not had their chance to speak. Finally, 10 minutes after that, the public started to line up only getting two minutes each to voice their opinions.

Patiently awaiting his turn to speak, his calm demeanor as he approached the council, no one had any idea the man in front of them was about to give them exactly what they wanted to hear.

“Good evening, my name is John Jones III, I am on staff at the Ella Baker Center, as well as an OCO leader, as well as a member of Revive Oakland, as well as a member of Oakland United Coalition.”

Heads quickly looked up and turned to John, all eyes were on him.

He spoke about the the many measures he was involved in within the past year and the dozens of buildings he once went too that are no longer standing. He spoke the truth, but most importantly he spoke with his heart.

He looked at the panel of counselors, urging them to make a decision that night to help end the housing crisis, but before his two minutes ended, he left the panel with plenty to think of for themselves.

“I submit to you, you also have a dog in this fight, you know why, because these people who are coming in, lets keep it 100, they are not going to have the need for you. You don’t look like these people coming in, they have a different value system, so I submit, we must work together!”

The look of approval was seen throughout everyone’s faces.

The room filled with cheers and applauded him.

First Offense

Jones is the oldest of five children who were raised by his single mother from Louisiana. He began reading at the age of four, and by the time he got to elementary school, he was so advanced he skipped two grades. Educators in his school suggested that he go to private school because he was so advance but his mother couldn’t afford for him to go.

At the age of 11 in 1986, he vividly remembers a moment of Oakland history that changed his life forever.

“There was a funeral. Felix Wayne Mitchell Jr. The biggest drug kingpin to come out of Oakland. His body was in a clear casket being pulled by these beautiful white horses, he had 39 of his private vehicles all being driven by FBI agents. Looking back on it, they intentionally glamorized him, because impressional people such as myself would have seen that and said ‘that’s my ticket out of poverty,’” said Jones.

Soon after that he noticed that there was weaknesses and flaws in the educational system and at the age of 12, he started selling drugs. Though he wanted to fit in with everyone else and not be labeled as a nerd, he always felt that there was an internal fight within him selling drugs.

That same year, he encountered a life threatening situation that prompted him to make a decision about how he was going to handle himself from now on.

“If I am going to survive these streets of East Oakland, I have to be willing to be as cold and callous to survive,” said Jones.

For four years he periodically sold drugs, and in July 1990 at the age of 16, he caught his first offense. An altercation between himself and three people over a bicycle which turned horribly wrong and took eight years of out Jones’ life.

Second Offense

December 8th 1998, three months shy of his 25th birthday, Jones became a free man after serving eight years at N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility in Stockton. Finding a job was easy for him. He worked two jobs and quickly got back on his feet.

In October 2005, he became a license Airplane Mechanic in Oakland and in November that same year he was recruited to work in Seattle, Washington.

For almost two years Jones was working for different contractors in Seattle and in June 5th, 2007 he was arrested for assault 2.

He was sentenced 10 years but served five years after he won his appeal. It was difficult when the trial first started.

“All white jury, my first lawyer was a white woman, and she believed me but she told me, you are black and she is white, they aren’t going to give you a fair trail, so you should take this plea deal for seven years and go to prison,” said Jones about his lawyer.

He quickly fired her and he was in county 15 months before they could start his trail.

He lost his first appeal, but after appealing for a second time, he was a free man on July 6th, 2012.

No light at the end of the Tunnel

For 18 months he could not find a job anywhere. Since every job now required to have all applications filled out online, face to face first impressions were a thing of the past. Jones also struggled with checking the felony box on every application, he knew that was the reason he was not receiving any phone calls back.

After not landing any jobs, Jones went back to selling drugs.

“I was at a low point in my life, I decided to join Center Street Missionary Baptist Church, and they were part of a group called Oakland Community Organizations, and the first thing I did was do Friday Night’s Walk for Peace,” said Jones.

January 2014, he landed his first job as security guard at Burger King and that was the beginning of the most magical ride he’s ever had in his life.

People of Movement

Having faced injustice in another state, and coming back home to see how much change Oakland has gone through, it was time to make some changes for himself.

Starting at $10 an hour as a security guard, he got involved with Measure FF and from there started to get involved in more measures and propositions. Measure N, Measure Z, and Proposition 47, which all passed.

In November 2014, he became part of Youth Alive and became an Intervention Specialist. He dealt with trauma victims and his job was to build relationships with the youth to break of the cycle of retaliatory violence.

2014 was his year. He started off the year being homeless with no job and ended the year with a home, a car, a job, and his family.

Things were looking up for Jones.

Warrior

In February 2015, after attending a Warriors game, Jones was pulled over and was sent back to the state of Washington, after an arrest warrant was out for him.

He was in county jail for 30 days and found out the prosecutor had appealed his appeal and won.

Going up to the same judge that was in his previous trail, the judge recognized the man standing in front of him was a different man than before, and therefore did not sentence Jones to jail again.

But in that time he was gone, Jones lost everything once again and came back to the Bay Area the first week of June.

On June 23rd, 2015, he held an event called Freedom for our Families and the Ella Baker Center was able to see Jones in Action. They had an opened position for an Outreach Coordinator around Prop 47 work.

Jones applied and he got the job.

Councilmember Jones

His tea is gone, the wall that he put up is gone as well, and John Jones was present.

In front of me sat a man that has endured what many people fear and still kept going.

Oakland was written all over him; the diversity, the culture, and the love he has for his city and people.

His roots are Oakland and that is what he wants to continue to nurture and grow for future generations to come.

“John has an amazing way of speaking his story, I admired him immediately,” said Lauren Mateo, who is an Outreach and Organizing Intern at Ella Baker Center, and met Jones over the summer.

“He lays a fire under us and gives us that tough love, because he wants to see you fulfill your purpose. He is a great mentor and he helps me feel empowered, valued, and comfortable being an organizer,” said Mateo about Jones.

Long time friend Askari Amin, who grew up with Jones, is also part of OCO and attends meetings with Jones.

“John has a gift, he is motivational and has sincerity inside of his heart. It’s not a script, it is all genuine,” said Amin “his path took a terrible turn to the left but with his endurance he’s on the right path.”

I asked Jones about his future and what he plans to do next and he jokingly said “be alive.”

At first he didn’t know how to answer the question, then he said he wants to be in office.

“I expect to be in a political office, for me it’s more of the idea, the most impressional thing I saw in my youth was the funeral of a drug dealer. I want to in turn have that impact on people that are coming up.”

Jones also plans on opening a Transitional Home with Amin. They have both been incarcerated and knows what it feels like to struggle coming back into society.

“There was always a part of me that wanted to do good. I never saw myself in the positions I am now but I was groomed for the work I was meant to do,” said Jones.

Oakland City Council approves plan to create Affordable Housing

Oakland City Council unanimously approved the “Oakland Housing Equity Roadmap” as a start to address the housing crisis.

The meeting was held on Tuesday Sept. 30th which was open to the public, as a special hearing to discuss the data, analysis, and proposed solutions for the increasing crisis.

Crowds of people joined in as the courtroom filled both levels of seating with people anxiously awaiting their turn to speak. Groups from Causa Justa and Occupy Oakland where among the many people filling the seats and held signs throughout the meeting that said “Give tenant rights”.

City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan started off the meeting with a statement that received shouts and applause throughout the courtroom, “Oakland does face a real housing crisis, it is significant, it is now and it requires us to take real action.”

Kaplan then continued saying that this has been an issue for a long time, action needs to be taken now to prevent further displacements and evictions all over Oakland.

City Councilmember Abel Guillen, was also concerned how long this process has taken and that immediate decisions need to be made. “For the last seven years, the city of Oakland did not meet its regional housing needs… it’s clear in the next seven years we need to build 15,000 units, both affordable and market rate housing.”

Before the presentation of the Oakland Housing Equity Roadmap was presented to the public, Alma Blackwell, Oakland Housing Rights Organizer from Causa Justa, spoke out how it would take the average person to work three fulltime jobs at minimum wage to be able to afford the $2500 median rent in Oakland. She also said that the average price for a home is now $550,0000 which is an outrageous price for a person on minimum wage.

“The person would not be able to enjoy the home that they are so desperately trying to pay,” said Blackwell.

She also mentioned that in 2014 there have been 10,300 notices of evictions, and the numbers continue to grow.

The roadmap, which first came to the city committee in June, was presented by Edward Del Beccaro from Transwestern, it included detailed information on the the magnitude of the crisis, job growth rates, and median monthly rent from different counties.

Job growth rates have risen in the San Francisco and San Jose areas with their numbers being at least 3 percent increase over Oakland, which in August 2015 was only at 2 percent. Another significant number was the increase of incomes that would need to rise 150 percent in order for homes to be affordable.

The presentation left many with questions, as most of the numbers provided did not match the incomes of the people who are being evicted or people who are getting help from the government in Oakland.

Kit Vak, who represents ACE and Block by Block Organizing Network from District 5, called on the council to take a courageous and historic first step to approve the policy immediately.

“I’m a long time resident, I have been here for 31 years, I’m a renter, I’ve never owned a home and I don’t think I’ll ever own a house… I want to retire here and I am afraid, ever since this issue has raised, I’m afraid about the future.”

After hearing the public speak, the council unanimously approved the Oakland Housing Equity Roadmap but agreed that more policies need to be added in order for it to work.

Comfort Women Memorial passed Unanimously

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A historic day in San Francisco City Hall, as the Board of Supervisors unanimously pass the establishment of the Comfort Women Memorial.

A resolution that was introduced by Supervisor Eric Mar on July 14, 2015 and again on September 17, 2015, for an establishment of a memorial for hundreds of thousands of women and young girls who were victims of Japanese war crimes during WWII, better known as The Comfort Women. This resolution was brought before the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee which brought controversy and emotions in many people.

“Today’s hearing is about a history of breaking silences. It’s about a fight for empathy, for hundreds of thousands women and girls,” Supervisor Eric Mar stated on September 17.

Julie Tang, retired San Francisco Superior Court Judge, started off the debate on September 17, 2015 by stating, “Comfort women victims deserve to be remembered not by word of mouth but a dignified memorial to remind them and remind all of us of the evils that happened to women and girls during war.”

Shortly after Tang’s speech, Grandma Lee, one of the 47 survivors left of the Comfort Women said, “I am living evidence of history…One thing I want to tell you clearly, we hate the crimes, not the people.”

She continued to state, “I want to tell the leaders of Japan to change their mind, we are nearly at the end of our lives, we are old people, only 47 survivors, dying off everyday, but I want to tell you the Japanese government, if you are waiting for us to pass away, please change your minds.”

On September 22,2015 the halls and rooms at City Hall were full of people who were anxiously awaiting the verdict, many who favored the memorial and some that were against.

As the Supervisors all went around with comments from what they heard of the meeting on September 17, which turned out to be four hours long, they were sympathetic for what the Comfort Women went through and heard the read stories of more.

It was the unanimous decision that set the packed rooms to a loud cheer, as victory was finally on their side. Many rushed out the rooms to greet and celebrate the accomplishment that was achieved.

Vice Mayor of Cupertino Barry Chang, attended the meeting on September 17 to voice his opinions on the matter.

“I drove an hour and a half to come here and talk for not even two minutes, this is historical and significant. Japan never apologized and have changed their history books several times. Last Thursday people were accusing that it was all a lie.”

He said that it is important for everyone to know what happened and what the Japanese government did and how they tried to cover up their tracks.

“History has a tendency to repeat itself if we don’t learn it. Two wrongs cannot make it right,” said Chang.

Jane Yu, a supporter of the Comfort Women was also very happy and emotional that the Comfort Women Memorial was passed.

“They cannot cover up the truth… brave women will continue to stand up to share [their] very painful past,” said Yu.

She also stated that she was surprised to know that not many people have heard about comfort women and urges everyone to find out what really happened to uncover the truth.

For the many other people who celebrated at City Hall, this is a victory that can be celebrated all over the world, not only for women rights but for human rights as well.

“Human beings must be truthful…I want to give them hope,” said Grandma Lee on September 17, and hope and strength she has given to all the young girls and women who have suffered and want their true story to be told.

Free Outdoor Concerts at the Oakland City Center Plaza

Every Wednesday at noon, in the months of September and October, the Oakland City Center Plaza holds free outdoor concerts to celebrate the art of Oakland.

From Acapela to Hawaiian Ukulele, every week there are new groups with different genres to entertain the lunch crowds that come by and watch.

This week, Blue’s powerhouse Big Cat Tolefree took center stage.

The group is composed of five soulful gentlemen; Big Cat, Paquettez, Jefrey James, Sugar G, and Aldwin London.

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“We have been together for nine years, we were all in different bands and occasionally played together and eventually we came together as one,” said Paquettez, who plays drums for the band.

Big Cat, lead singer, started the group in Oakland, but has had his own success for decades. He has opened for The Temptations, BB King, and Jimmy McCracklin, to mention a few.

“It’s pretty awesome to get a bunch of guys together and be able to chill after the show,” said Big Cat.

“Wherever they hire us, we go,” Paquettez said jokingly, “If the check clears, it’s a done deal.”

This will be their fifth free show they have done for Oakland, and plan on continuing to perform for their home city.

“We want to support the city, Oakland went down on the music scene and whenever we get a chance we want to participate and make it happen, our hometown needs it,” said Paquettez, “Music is that universal thing, brings everybody together.”

Ruby Brown, a local spectator had her seat and was ready for the concert before the crowds started to come in. She said she comes often but it has never been as many people as there were today.

All the restaurants where thriving with people before the show started, and as the music filled the plaza, more and more people joined in on the fun.

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Phyllis Stoudemire, who was with a friend on her lunch break said, “It brings the community together and creates positive feels, it’s a nice break in the day.”

She said she was having a stressful day at work and coming out to enjoy the band has made her relieve some stress.

“We need more of this, makes it more human; the music, smiling, dancing, life use to be like this,” said Stoudemire.

The last event will be held on Oct. 28th with Mucical Art Quintet playing Improvisational Jazz.

Frank H. Ogawa Plaza

The Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, located at the heart of Oakland and right in front of City Hall, is a great place for many individuals and groups to get together to enjoy themselves and be heard.

Wedged between 14th Street, Broadway, and San Pablo Avenue, Ogawa Plaza is conveniently located in the middle of Uptown and on top of 12th Street BART entrance.

Originally named “City Hall Park” in 1896 according to San Francisco Chronicle, the Oakland City Council decided to rename the park in 1998 to honor Frank H. Ogawa. He served the city council for almost 30 years and was the first Japanese-American to serve on the Oakland City Council and the first Asian city councilmember.

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With an amplified theatre and plenty of green grass to lay out or house big crowds, Frank H. Ogawa Plaza is also a starting point for many organizations and group events, such as Occupy Oakland and Causa Justa.

Maria Avalos, who is a member of Causa Justa said, “The plaza represents a place where we can have our voices heard to whoever wants to listen and to get the attention of City Hall.”

The starting point of the plaza grew more attention after the shooting of Oscar Grant, which then Occupy Oakland unofficially renamed to Oscar Grant Plaza.

There is also a remarkable and symbolic piece that is at the center of the plaza; a single Coast Live Oak, which is the symbol of the city. This single tree alone is a reminder of who Oakland is and unifies the city.

Today, the park is used several ways. Many people come and enjoy their lunch at the surrounding restaurants, go buy books at Laurel Bookstore at the corner of 14th and Broadway, or many just like to enjoy the openness of the park and chat with their friends.

Janice Smith who has lived in Oakland most of her life and frequently visits the plaza says that you can find people at the plaza at any hour reading, exercising or enjoying their lunch break. Smith said, “It’s a nice place to sit and talk with my friends or just relax and have a smoke or two.”

Oakland Sears being Renovated into High-Tech Modern Building

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The historic Sears building in Uptown Oakland is receiving a high-tech, modern renovation which will continue the spark of a new market in Uptown Oakland.

Boarded up windows and an empty building will no longer be the case for the old Sears building in the near future. Word about what the building would be has ranged from another major retail store to a large food bank.

It is now revealed what the building will be in three simple words; Uptown Station Oakland.

“A place for doers and dreamers, a perfect place to foster creativity,” according to UptownstationOakland.com.

The renovated building will have 330K square feet of workspace in the top three floors, with 50K square feet of retail and food space in the first floor, with a person capacity of 3K.

Although Lane Partners has not yet finalized their final drawings, Rachel Flynn, the Oakland Planning and Building Supervisor said “[It’s] transformative at a large magnitude. It’s the biggest building in the Uptown area which will include floor plates, which many tech businesses prefer.”

Lane Partners is hopeful the building will be done by the end of the first quarter of 2016. There has been no leasing yet according to Flynn, but Lane Partners has also bought another building in the area.

Across the way, at Angel Beauty Supply, Kim Chang hoped for another major retail store so it can be convenient for people living around the area.

“I heard they sold it but I don’t know what they are doing,” said Chang, “Our building was bought as well to make Uptown better.”

Lane Partners did indeed buy the one story building across the way and plan on making the building into housing for the area according to Flynn.

Next to the new Uptown Station is The Uptown apartments that have been in the area since 2008.  Cameron Mansanarez, a tenant in the Uptown apartments, has recently moved to Oakland from Denver and had no idea what the building was going to be.

“It’s interesting and exciting to have those amenities close, but the local perception may not be positive. Because of [Uptown Station] there may be repercussions and an increase to rent all over the area,” said Mansanarez.

There has been concern from tenants in the apartments and other small business around the area of what Uptown Station Oakland means to their business.

Tre Buh, front desk at the Great Western Power Company, has heard several ideas of what may be happening to the building.

“I heard Google bought it, but there are always pros and cons for large business companies here in Oakland,” said Buh, “it will profit Oakland as a whole but locals are going to be affected negatively with those business bringing in outside people and no locals.”

Buh believes that locals will be affected tremendously with the new Uptown Station but will wait and see what really happens with the building and the companies that will be coming in.

With tenants, locals, and the city of Oakland waiting to see what Uptown Station will bring for them, the next seven months should be exciting times for Oakland to see what changes will come.

“In 15 years, Uptown hasn’t had new office construction, so this will be great for Uptown,” said Flynn, “Lane Partners has done a very smart job… the street and the corner will soon be very different.”

The Lowdown

Uptown Oakland is a lively part of the city which has a lot to offer, and so much to tell for anyone that listens. At the heart of Oakland, Uptown and City Center is one of the most culturally diverse parts of the city with so much life, there is the reason why it is full of life.

Walking up and down Broadway, you can see plenty of businessmen and women, children coming and going to school and working professionals that make up the city of Oakland.  Oakland City Hall is situated right in the center of Oakland, and is one of the most important landmarks in the area.

Luan Stauss, owner of Laurel Bookstore which is located right in the center of Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, home of Oakland City Hall, says, “The crime stats have been down a lot in the past year that I have been here. Nothing bad has happened to myself or the business. I used to be by Mills College but after 13 years it was time to move to a bigger space and a better location.”

Her business has been open for 13 years, but it wasn’t until 2011 when she decided to reach a bigger following and move to a more convenient location in town, and what better spot than right next to Oakland City Hall.

Oakland City Hall is a beautiful building that holds great speeches from activists all over town, to help spread the word on a growing Oakland that needs more good attention than bad.

Around the corner and walking up Broadway, you can see a small store by the name of Oaklandish, and in there you can see the love and pride people have for Oakland. Andrew Thompkins, a resident of Oakland and an associate at Oaklandish says that Oakland has seen big changes in the past five years.

“Oakland is made up of a lot of different cultures which is what makes it what it is today. It’s hard now trying to keep Oakland’s culture. If you talk with someone that has lived here for over 50 years, they will tell you that Oakland has always been a place of diversity. Now with the new business and new condos being built with high prices, it seems like they want to push the original Oakland out, and make it like San Francisco.”

“If you can’t hang, you shouldn’t be here”, continued Thompkins, who feels that the new buildings and condos that are not affordable for locals, are pushing the heart of Oakland out and bringing in people who are not from Oakland at all.

“I want to be able to keep the culture and diversity, that is what makes Oakland, Oakland,” said Thompkins.

A great thing that you can rely on in a city with so much diversity is the amount of help you are able to find. The California Association of Food Banks has one of its largest food banks in Alameda County,which is estimated to feed about one in five residents in the Alameda County Community Food Bank. Kenneth Tang, a manager at the Alameda County said that, “programs have been expanding and numbers have been increasing, we don’t only help the homeless but we also feed seniors, students and clients with low income”.  He believes that the cost of living is a factor with the increasing numbers and with the new programs starting. Within the past year he has seen many changes and hopes with the end year report they will see a positive change for the Alameda County and the city of Oakland.

Another great help that is in town is Oakland Business Assistance Center that is located right across the street from the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building. Juno Thomas, who is a business advisor, said they receive about 400-500 calls a month about inquiring bout opening a new business. His job is to help them get set up and prepare them to have a successful business plan to present. In the past six months the percentage of people have increased for inquires but as far as opening businesses he does not know how many of those becomes successful.

Walking around town, you can feel the good vibes and the rich art, culture, food and politics that surround you. Oakland is home to many people who love and cherish it that are welcoming most of the changes that are happening. Oscar Hinojosa, a resident who grew up in Oakland said, “ Oakland has turned around a lot due to Oakland teams and Warriors funding parks and school, it’s starting to be known as a friendly environment where people can enjoy festivals, sport games, Jack London Square and Lake Merritt,” he continued, “Oakland will always be my home and im glad other people are starting to see the beauty of it”.