'Nothing stops a bullet like a job'

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Shawn Gaynor's picture
cover art of "forgotten voices"
New foto-novella calls for a "youth empowerment zone" in Oakland.

By Shawn Gaynor

A group of Oakland youth from Fruitvale, targeted by the city's gang injunction, have put out a creative tool for expanding their idea of a self-declared Youth Empowerment Zone, an area for investment in youth opportunities, that overlaps one of Oakland's gang injunction areas. Forgotten Voices, a foto-novella published with the support of the Pacific Institute and Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice is a creative tool for youth empowerment and gives voice to the hopes and dilemmas faced by youth of color in Oakland's transforming neighborhoods.

The foto-novella explains, “the youth empowerment zone is framed from the youth's perspective, who organize around their vision of community.” The booklet mixes statistics and facts about the pressures of violence, law enforcement, and gentrification with the real world street experiences of the young adults who authored it.

“Until now, there hasn’t been a story behind the faces and the root cause of violence in Oakland,” said George Galvis, co-founder and director of CURYJ. “We believe that neighborhoods affected by ‘turf violence’ can be transformed by the young people most impacted by that violence. Using participatory research tools like hand-drawn mapping, picture-taking, and peer-to-peer interviews, we have called on some of East Oakland’s street leaders to help develop a comprehensive peace-development strategy.”

To explore the root causes of gang violence and the criminalization of youth the booklet goes strait to the source, the youth themselves, who lay out a restorative justice approach for fixing the neighborhoods problems. They call for a mix of job opportunities, neighborhood beautification, community gardens, leadership training and community outreach to turn local youth away from violence.

“Gentrification and the increasing housing costs are destabilizing communities,” said Catalina Garzón of the Pacific Institute. “Increased policing has been counterproductive by criminalizing our youth. It’s about healing – not about punishment – because what’s valued is sustaining community and family ties.”

Can the approach work? The San Francisco Chronicle reported May 19 that so far this year violent crime in Oakland has plummeted so far with shootings down 35 percent. Oakland mayor Jean Quan, facing re-election is quick to credit herself for the drop in violent crime, but perhaps its the youth of Oakland themselves that should be given some credit.

Throughout its pages Forgotten Voices shows how the intersection of gentrification and criminalization of youth is effecting the Fruitvale community. The true inspiration of the booklet is the well reasoned proposals the youth give to solving the linked problems of gang violence and lagging social opportunities. Perhaps their strongest proposal is a call for spending the now well over one million dollars of city and police budget used to enforce the gang injunction on creating job opportunities for those named and targeted by the injunction. “Nothing stops a bullet like a job,” the booklet reads.

The work is creative, powerful and artfully assembled. It demonstrates in its high quality composition the enormous well of untapped youth talent waiting to be discovered, developed and supported in Oakland's roughest neighborhoods.

“Forgotten Voices is compelling documentation of how to build healthy communities and bottom-up power. These aren’t top-down ordinances, but solutions from the ground up that reflect the patterns in youths’ shared experiences,” said Ruben Leal, a community organizer with CURYJ.

You can download Forgotten Voices in both English and Spanish.

Download the foto-novela Forgotten Voices in English (PDF).

Descarga el foto-novela Voces Olvidadas en Español (PDF).

Download the foto-novela Forgotten Voices in English and Spanish (PDF).

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