Oakland non-profit awards community service

The New Parish team

Kahlil Karn (third from right), the executive director of Oakland Underground Film Festival, poses with his team at The New Parish on Thursday night. The Film Festival is one of the 2010 recipients of Oaklandish's Innovator Awards.

Each year, Oaklandish, a non-profit organization that focuses on arts promotion and community building, gives out eight grants known as Innovator Awards. The recipients are Oakland-based groups and individuals working to improve city residents’ quality of life. Though this year’s honorees were named earlier in the year, Oaklandish celebrated the winners on Thursday night at The New Parish on San Pablo Avenue with a reception and concert.

This 2010 recipients are The Bikery, which gives middle school students the opportunity to earn a customized bike they help build; Planting Justice, an organization that promotes healthy, sustainable eating through energy-efficient gardens and landscaping; Dimond’s Hidden Jewels Mural, a huge canvas on which Sequoia Elementary school students are painting a timeline of the Dimond neighborhood’s history; Oakland Urban Paths, which maintains Oakland’s city paths and stairways; the Oakland Underground Film Festival, an annual September film fest that promotes local moviemakers; Oakland Leaf, a group focusing on art and youth development; the Children’s Fairyland amusement park; and Walk Oakland Bike Oakland, a group that aims to improve livability in Oakland through improving walking and biking trails.

“We think this year’s group is really exciting,” said Natalia Nadmi, who handles operations management and communications for Oaklandish. “We’re really hoping this event is a good way for everyone to network and meet each other and start collaborating.”

Though Oaklandish is probably best known to the public for its tree-emblazoned apparel, it’s been a staple of humanitarian and arts work in the Bay Area for years. Founded in 2000, Oaklandish was started as an arts group to encourage civic pride, and has since organized countless events, including the annual Lake Merritt Radio Regatta, capture the flag games throughout the downtown, and “Liberation Drive-In” movie screenings that project films onto the walls of Oakland buildings. The group ultimately moved into the posters and apparel business, and can be found selling them at farmers markets and other community events around the area.

This is the fourth year that Oaklandish has given out the Innovator Awards, which add up to around $25,000. The winners can use the money as they see fit—to pay employees, start new projects, or maintain business as usual. Non-profits are encouraged to apply, and the Oaklandish staff selects winners they believe represent a diverse group of pioneers who touch different parts of the community with their work.

On Thursday night, arriving at the dimly lit venue an hour before the concert started, people affiliated with the winning organizations enjoyed cocktails, listened to mellow, jazzy tunes by the Markstep Trio, ate food catered by Youth Uprising, and exchanged ideas. The 2010 recipients, as well as Innovators from past years, chatted with each other about Oakland’s central challenges and the potential for future collaboration.

Past winner Carey Fay-Horowitz, who was there Thursday night to mingle with the new prize recipients, says that support from Oaklandish goes beyond the financial. Fay-Horowitz is the executive director of 2009 recipient Bay Area Girls Rock Camp, whose mission is to empower girls and young women through an introduction to music. While Fay-Horowitz noted that the money is beneficial to seedling operations like hers, the perks extend far just money. “Oaklandish has been really supportive of us,” said Fay-Horowitz. “They keep inviting us to stuff, introducing us to people. They’re really focused on community building.”

2010 winner Kahlil Karn, executive director of the Oakland Underground Film Festival, which last took place in September, sees the grants as a stepping-stone to becoming a local institution, rather than a passing craze. “It’s nice to have a labor of love,” said Karn. “But what Oakland needs is sustainable organizations that locals can depend on, not stuff that comes and goes.”

Heleh Zandi, co-founder of Planting Justice, an organization that creates energy and water-efficient gardens to feed the community sustainably, points to another perk of the win. Planting Justice has already collaborated with Walk Oakland Bike Oakland as a result of the Oaklandish grant—the two non-profits put on a Food Justice Bike Tour earlier in the year. The event, which took place in October, took participants on a bike tour of Oakland’s most eco-friendly food, followed by an afternoon of landscaping.

Before the night’s concert began—which included performances by The Get Back, Dave Smallen, Dynamic & Club Crasherz, and DJ Platurn—Oaklandish’s director, Angela Tsay, took to the stage and thanked the recipients for their dedication and work. “The quality of life here in Oakland has very little to do with the work that we do,” said Tsay. “But it has everything to do with yours.”

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