This is one of the most inspiring youth digital compositions I’ve ever encountered. By Oakland Leaf Youth Roots, shown tonight at the 10th Anniversary All Oakland Youth Talent Showcase. The youth call themselves artivists – using art for social change.
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On my way home tonight, along Lake Merritt in the very-cold-for-the-Bay-Area night chill, I came across a man who was sitting up against one of the barrier logs that line the asphalt walkway. He was slumped slightly backwards, at an awkward angle, and seemed to be in a daze. I asked him if he needed help. I thought I heard him say “ambulance,” though his voice was badly slurred. I called 911.
Meanwhile, several people stopped, too, most notably an African-American woman who began talking to the man and covered him with her coat. As I answered the questions of the dispatcher – “I would say he’s in his late 40’s.” “Yes, he’s conscious.” “I don’t know if he’s in pain.” – the woman disparaged others who had walked by the man, also African-American, without stopping.
Another woman did stop, bent low to stroke the man’s forehead, and talked to him soothingly. By this time, he had slid down so that he was completely prone. His eyes were glassy, his mouth slightly ajar. The woman, who wore a scarf, gently stroked his head and said quietly “This is my worst nightmare” to no one in particular. I could not get over the kindness of that very human gesture – touch, contact, in a time of need.
Eventually, the fire truck arrived. The walkway is slightly lower than street level, so another of the passersby who had stopped waved down the wailing vehicle. Pretty soon all of us were on our way home again, dismissed by the firefighters. I was the last to go since I was the one left to respond to the firefighters questions, being the first on the scene. But that didn’t take long, and soon I was walking not too far behind the woman with the scarf. The man who had flagged down the firetruck, I noticed, walked slightly behind me. He must have been waiting til the very end, too, unnoticed by me.
He got to his turnoff and at that moment, he said, “Thank you for stopping. You’re a good man.”
I didn’t know what to say. So I shrugged my shoulders.
On my walk to and from the BART station where I live, I experience amazing things.
Lake Merritt, as I think I’ve mentioned before, is a bird sanctuary. So I’ve witnessed snowy egrets, straight lined and angular, staring intently at prey as they stand in the shallows. I’ve also seen gulls pull mussels from the lake and drop them on the asphalt walk until the shell opens and they’re able to retrieve the fleshy interior.
There are the runners of course. But also the couples who walk every morning. One day, I saw an older Asian woman who stepped oh-so deliberately, punching the air as she went, for exercise, completely un-self-conscious. I envied her.
Each weekday morning, just outside the 19th Street BART station, there is the man in the straw hat who sings show tunes, completely off-key, and very loudly. He’s not seeking money, as far as I can tell. And, actually, he sings a show tune: Maria, from West Side Story.
There’s also the man who sells religious books from a duffel bag, as though he were peddling crack or meth. He wears a dark hoodie and he whispers to you as you pass: “Twenny-fi cents. Twenny-fi cents.”
But what I like most is the view of the lake itself. At 5:30 in the afternoon, in the gloaming, sunset glinting off downtown towers, the necklace of lights that ring the lake beginning their shift.
Gertrude Stein once said of Oakland, “There is no there there.”
Clearly, she never had the chance to walk the lake to and from work. Because the there is there.