Where student was killed, hope and song fill the street
on October 11, 2009
In early September, a small memorial formed at the intersection of 54th and Gaskill Streets in North Oakland, marking the site where bullets cut short the life of Desiree Davis.
On Saturday, that subtle shrine turned into a soaring tribute to the 17-year-old’s life at a street fair held by members of Humanity Baptist Church. Voices lifted from a stage just across the street, filling the air with songs of hope, and speakers made impassioned calls for an end to street violence as the sound reverberated through the neighborhood’s rows of Victorian homes and aging industrial buildings.
Dru Ann and Taiisha Davis, Desiree’s mother and sister, were among those in attendance. Dru Ann Davis said it was difficult to return to the site of her daughter’s Labor Day murder, but that the large crowd gave her hope that Desiree’s death might inspire change.
“The fact that Des motivated the church to get out into the community is great,” said Davis. “I just want people to work to get the kids saved.”
Many of those who attended Saturday’s event were church friends and neighbors, and they greeted one another with embraces along Gaskill Street, where volunteers had decorated walls, fences and signposts with posters denouncing Oakland’s frequent gun battles.
Despite the seriousness of the occasion, an atmosphere of joy drew many passersby. Barbecue smoke and cold drinks enticed snackers–the food was free–and children and adults alike enjoyed basketball games, arts and crafts and horseback rides provided by the Oakland Black Cowboy Association. Kursed, a hip hop duo from East Oakland, also took to the fair’s stage, which was set up on a truck brought in by International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 70.
Hayward resident Tom Gomes, who drove the truck, said he was happy to help with the event.
“I couldn’t even fathom losing a child to such a senseless thing,” said Gomes, who teaches truck driving courses at the Port of Oakland.
Dancers and mimes also performed routines on the street next to informational booths offering brochures on health issues, environmental causes and community services. One dance troupe, Holy Boldness, danced in white dresses wrapped in yellow caution tape—similar to the kind used at crime scenes—creating a scene that was both mournful and celebratory. Correna Jones, one of the dancers, said the troupe wanted to send a message to young people by incorporating the caution tape into their outfits.
“I just felt like the police use it to bring attention to a problem, and we should too,” said Jones, 22, a resident of East Oakland.
Leaders at Humanity Baptist Church, which stands just across the street from the site of Desiree’s death, called the large turnout a small, yet important step toward wiping out a youth culture in which people use killing to garner respect.
“I really look at it as being successful, and I hope it put a mark on the city and the neighborhood,” said the Rev. George Anderson.
Minister Lorenzo Franklin, who was with Davis at the time of her death, said he hopes the street fair will become an annual or bi-annual event that will unite the neighborhood.
“We feel really good about this being the beginning of something fresh, something new and something exciting,” Franklin said.
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