Friday Night Comes Alive in West Oakland

Despite funding issues that have forced the West Oakland Youth Center to remain closed for now, last week the center’s staff kicked off Friday Night Live, a new series of community events that will run through August.

Approximately 150 people attended the event. Some danced to the tunes of a DJ spinning popular music while others enjoyed the food. Most of the kids either got their face painted, rode their bikes or joined in the basketball tournament.

“I just heard the music and wanted to know what was going on,” said sixteen-year-old Edna Miller, who lives nearby.

Sponsored by the City of Oakland, the County of Alameda, Healthy Oakland, YMCA, and District 3 Councilwoman Lynette McElhaney, organizers hope the new weekly event will give residents of the crime-ridden West Oakland community something to look forward to.

The Neighborhood Services Division decided on 33rd and Market streets as the event venue in hopes of bringing energy and enthusiasm to the area, Community Building Coordinator Dylan Hamilton said, citing the neighborhood as a “target area” in the Neighborhood Services Division.

“It’s a message to the neighborhood that we’re going to use this as a positive space,” Hamilton said, adding they he also wants to drum up excitement for the youth center’s opening.

The $7.6 million West Oakland Youth Center began construction in 2008 under former District 3 Councilwoman Nancy Nadel. The grand opening was set to happen July 19 with the kickoff event, but according to Hamilton it was delayed by issues with permits, licenses, and safety requirements.

Other reports in local media suggest that the center is ready to open but that the City of Oakland does not have the $340,000 needed to operate the facility.  Mayor Jean Quan’s budget proposal released in June stated that the “City cannot absorb” the cost of running the center. Oakland North attempted to reach Mayor Quan, but she did not respond for comment.

McElhaney disagrees with the notion that the city can’t afford to operate the center, noting that the City Council recently adopted an all-in budget providing the needed funding to support the Youth Center, and that taxpayers made it possible last election, passing “Measures Y and A that fund the City-County Neighborhood Initiative,” she said.

The Neighborhood Services Division is still working to inspire residents in the community to come out and enjoy this family event. Some residents employed through the Mayor’s Summer Job program are tasked with canvasing the area to increase the community’s awareness about the event.

“We look forward to working with Supervisor Keith Carson and Alameda County on an ongoing collaboration to provide a safe place for youth in one of the most impoverished but culturally rich corridors in the City,” McElhaney said.

At last week’s event, local teen Miller gave her approval. “I am enjoying it and I’m going to come out again next week,” Miller said.

Friday Night Live will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. every Friday until Aug. 23. For more information, call Dylan Hamilton at (510) 238-2164 or email at dhamilton@oaklandnet.com

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