All of this mystique about the park made it all the more attractive to us. The day before ALD in 1985, and each of the years to come, we boldly marched into that park with numbers. We engaged the multitude of people assembled in the park. We talked to those gang members, drug dealers, etc., about Pan-Africanism and revolution. We worked very hard to build relationships with as many of those people as we could and that process evolved over those first years into some of the local Oak Park Bloods set agreeing to help us secure ALD. To them that meant keeping Crips out of the park, but we knew being able to have dialogue with them was the first step to working to dismantle these tribalistic attitudes that plagued our communities. Those first few years were grinding. And part of the reason was many people absolutely refused to enter that park, but over time that all began to break down. By 1990, the A-APRP's presence in Sacramento and ALD had grown to the point where thousands of people were attending ALD in that park each year. In 1990, the day before ALD when we set up the stage, there were about 50 Africans surrounding us while we worked. They asked us countless questions. Some of them even helped us. Then, when the police came into the park to challenge our right to set up early, the people respected the bold way in which we stood up defiantly to the police. We continued our work. In 1991, Tupac Shakur performed at ALD in that park in front of at least 5000 people. We continued to organize ALD in that park, doing intensive organizing work in the surrounding Oak Park community up through 2007 which is the year I moved to Oregon.
Fast forward to 2018. The A-APRP is still doing ALD in California, just not at McClatchy Park or Sacramento. Now, we are doing it in Oakland, California for our Western regional ALD commemoration. Since returning to Sacramento a year and a half ago, I have come through Oak Park several times. I hardly recognize the neighborhood now. The local tire shops and small businesses have been replaced by yuppie bars and brew draft houses. The Nation of Islam Mosque on Broadway is still there where I had lunch with Geronimo Ji Jaga (Pratt) in 1997 shortly after he was finally released from prison, but across the street from the Mosque is a huge new Christian Church. There are high rise apartment buildings everywhere, including on the corner of Broadway and MLK where my favorite taco place used to be. And the "Big Park?" Today when I drove by it I saw young European women walking their dogs there. Two European men where playing frisbee golf or whatever the hell that game is. There are still some Africans in the park, but you know how that gentrification thing goes. You can look at those Africans and tell that they know their time in that park, in that neighborhood...Well, those days are numbered. I parked and walked through the park. I walked in front of the stage that was built in 1993. We cleaned up that park and then the city decided the park was worth investing in to have big city events in so the place where we camped overnight to protect our little stage now has a huge stage that we used many years ourselves up through 2007. Today, a European woman sat under the canopy of the stage sunbathing in a bikini. As I stood there watching these people I received the usual "you don't belong here looks. All while standing in the place where I spent decades organizing. McGeorge Law School has expanded to controlling most of the area around the park now. And the always lit federal housing unit across the street from the park, where I once helped rescue a European law student from being stomped when he foolishly tried to break up an impromptu block party held by the Oak Park Bloods (OPB) is now quiet and gated up.
As I stood in that park today I thought of how the sunbathing bikini person, the frisbee golf people, and the dog walkers most likely have absolutely no idea what used to take place in that park. Or, maybe they do? But, even if they do, they certainly have no idea that a small Pan-African party did most of the initial work to make the park inhabitable and we did it with the full cooperation and support of the community. Since I was so intimately involved in that work, I couldn't help today, but to wonder what happened to all those folks who used to attend those block parties on the corner? All those people who used to gang bang and sell drugs in the park? Most importantly, all those community people who used to want and wish for a better community who used to come to ALD and other events we did in the neighborhood to express their hopes and desires. Every once in a while, when I step out over there, I see one of them here and there. Some even remember me. One African recently stopped riding his bike as I walked towards the coffee shop to tell me that he credited me with helping him get off crack and support his family. That African had a half gallon of milk in his hand and he proudly told me that it was my work on the microphone m/cing ALD, which I did most years in that park, that motivated him. He said the milk was for his grandchildren. He and I embraced. He cried. I cried. I cried today because the progress of a community can only be judged by the progress of the most downtrodden of that community. I asked rhetorically where all those people are, but I already know. Many of them are incarcerated, including many I knew. Many more dead, several who I know suffered this fate. More drugged out. More just scattered and displaced. Whatever it takes to make room for more frisbee golf and brew houses. The Oak Park community, the place where I lived and organized for many years in Sacramento. Where my daughter grew up and went to school is a shell of its former existence today. In one way, its frustrating as hell, but in another more expanded way its further motivation for me to keep working on our behalf. This is happening to us everywhere because we lack power as a people. The sooner we empower ourselves, the sooner we can stop being political footballs for someone else's economic agenda.