Oakland’s 2nd annual Black Joy Parade celebrates energy, creativity, excellence

Photo of Oakland’s 2nd annual Black Joy Parade celebrates energy, creativity, excellence
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OAKLAND — Now in its second year, the Black Joy Parade brought its infectious energy to the streets of downtown Oakland Sunday where thousands gathered to celebrate the black experience.

The free day-long, family-friendly parade showcased a diverse range of groups, from dance troupes to motorcycle crews, book clubs to social service organizations, and luxury corvettes to local politicians. It culminated in a community festival complete with dozens of vendors, a kids’ zone, spoken word and dance performances and a concert featuring T-Pain, The Onyx, Leikeli47 and more.

It also coincided with a separate, but related event: the city’s first month-long celebration of black arts, which was was organized by Lower Bottom Playaz executive producer Ayodele Nzinga. The Black Arts Movement Business District Festival, which has daily events throughout the month, features performances by theater groups and dancers, musicians, poets, comics and youth groups. Though not directly related to the Black Joy Parade, Nzinga said they subsumed the parade in their festival lineup because the goals were so closely aligned.

“It’s all about appreciating how much beautiful black artistry already exists here,” Nzinga said. “We want people to walk away not feeling hopeless. There is a battle for Oakland’s soul going on, and it’s possible to win.”

It was in much the same vein that Oakland resident Elisha Greenwell founded the Black Joy Parade in 2018. Inspired by San Francisco’s Pride Parade, Greenwell wanted a hyper-positive event to celebrate black artists and organizations, parade spokeswoman Shavonne Graham said. Oakland has a rich history of African-American contributions to art, culture and politics not only locally, but nationally and internationally, but, it’s losing many of its black residents as land values and housing prices rise, Graham said.

Between 2000 and 2017, Oakland’s black population fell from more than a third, at 35.7 percent, to less than a quarter, at 24.3 percent, according to the U.S. Census. Greenwell, a Roseville native, had lived in Oakland for around a decade before moving to Los Angeles. When she returned, the impacts of that exodus were widespread.

“Oakland was where (Greenwell) found her roots as an African-American woman,” Graham said. “And, she saw the essence of that culture leaving Oakland.”

It was also a time when many of the causes bringing black people together were out of sadness and anger, Graham said.

Over-aggressive policing, the impacts of gentrification, even the recent teacher strikes, were all about resisting, she said. And, Greenwell wanted to get people together to remind them of the positive aspects of black culture, too. And, the Black Joy Parade was born.

“The goal is for us to be able to celebrate our joy,” Graham said. “It’s not always about resisting and protesting.”

It’s a theme that resonated with many of the attendees.

Too often, said Oakland resident David Adams, black people are only portrayed in relation to violence and drugs, which can lead to feelings of shame within the black community.

“Black people have a full range of realities, and this is a healthy way of showcasing that,” Adams said. “Celebrations like this are at the root of the cure for shame.”

Those feelings have been highlighted through the divisiveness coming from the Trump Administration’s focus on white nationalism, said Mo Wright, a long-time Oakland resident who recently moved to Berkeley. That makes it all the more important to participate in these types of events, he said.

“This is us putting the foot down saying that is not acceptable; racist politics, positions and white nationalism isn’t something that will fly everywhere,” Wright said. “It’s about saying, ‘This is what we represent in Oakland.’ On one hand, it’s about uplifting people of African-American descent, but on the other it’s also inclusive of everyone else. It’s not about saying one is better, but that we’re going to stick together.”

view The Mercury News
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