West Oakland is the oldest neighborhood in the East Bay. It has streets lined by Victorian houses from the 1800s, artists lured by cheap rents and work spaces in abandoned manufacturing buildings, a nearby BART station just one stop away from San Francisco, and an old black neighborhood where extended families are close, people still call out greetings on the street, and play dominoes and chess in the parks.
The African-Americans who first settled here came up from the South during WWII to escape racism and work in the nearby shipyards and railroads. They made enough money to buy their own houses and create a strip of blues clubs that rivaled Harlem. They stayed to work in the local manufacturing businesses, whose skeletons are now scattered among the houses. In the l950s West Oakland's decline began when a Freeway cut through the middle of it and a regional Post Office took out 400 of its Victorian homes. In the 1970s BART destroyed what remained of the 7th Street strip of blues clubs.
I started photographing West Oakland on it's outer edges where, as one person put it, “The shit rolls down and stops here.” I photographed Christians who think they can "heal the poor, Street Art I found everywhere, billboardssignaling abandoned attempts at gentrification, addicts hustling each day for money. The black and white photos are the most recent. There'sa local guy making a video as a gangsta rapper – often the next step for Oakland drug dealers -- and a “Repast,” the party after a funeral, this one of a 21 year old man who was shot and killed in a drive-by murder. The drug wars in West Oakland start out as turf battles between small street corner gangs who are fighting over access to fast money, beautiful women, and babies. They end up with prison, fatherless children and death. This is the downside of growing up in West Oakland's poor black community. Life taken for no good reason. It happens all the time.