Oakland celebrates National Night Out with 559 block parties
on August 3, 2011
As darkness set in Tuesday night, about a dozen people were gathered in front of Memorial Tabernacle Church on Racine Street for a barbecue. Gospel music played on small portable stereo and cars sped by down Telegraph Avenue as hot dogs sizzled on the grill and people passing by stopped to fill up a plate.
“Just good music, good food and good conversation,” said Tiffany E. Grant, a church member, as she carried a bowl of watermelon inside to the kitchen.
All over Oakland, a similar scene played out Tuesday for National Night Out, a nationwide block party that encourages neighbors to throw an outdoor party and get to know one another in an effort to reduce crime. The event is sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch, which has been organizing it since 1984. Last year, 37 million people across the United States and Canada participated.
This year, a record 559 people signed up to host parties in Oakland—over 100 more parties than last year. The get-togethers ranged in size from a few people to a several hundred. Police officers, firefighters and other city employees were divided into teams to attend each of the parties and deliver pairs of the 1,110 tickets to an upcoming game donated by the Oakland A’s baseball team that they handed out to party hosts.
An important theme for year’s event was public safety, Quan told a group of city employees and police officers gathered in front of City Hall at a kickoff event before the parties began. “It’s one of the most beautiful cities in the country, but we have some real problems and in some neighborhoods it’s really, really tough,” Quan said.
The night is a great chance to meet people from around the neighborhood, and talk about what residents can do to improve the area where they live, said Temescal resident Francynea Thomas as she ate a hot dog with mustard in front of Memorial Tabernacle Church. “It’s very important just to get to know your neighbors,” she said. “If something happens, I want to be close enough where I can give them my phone number.”
At Arlington and Lowell in the Golden Gate district, kids and adults, their faces painted with mermaids and dragons, walked by people standing in line for burgers and hotdogs fresh off the grill. Parents talked with one another as they watched their children dancing to the blues band playing on the corner.
“It’s the only event that we do all year where the kids come out and can safely be on the street,” said Angela Gennino, co-organizer for the Arlington and Lowell party. With a pet parrot perched on her shoulder, Gennino encouraged neighbors to pick up pamphlets about neighborhood watch groups and public works efforts aimed at preventing blight.
About 60 people gathered at Garnet and Arlington in the Golden Gate, as kids played in a yellow, red and blue bounce house, jazz music played on speakers, and hot dogs, cup cakes and baked potatoes were served. The party was organized by Beverly Lovejoy and Cathy Leonard, both of whom have been living in the neighborhood since the 1950s. Lovejoy and Leonard are also leaders of the local neighborhood crime watch group. Lovejoy said the neighborhood is improving because people are looking out for one another. ”It is going back to the way [it was] when we first moved in,” Lovejoy said.
Organizers also made an increased effort this year to promote parties in Oakland’s roughest neighborhoods, placing bus shelter ads in Spanish and English in East Oakland, and door-to-door canvassing. Mayor Quan said the number of parties in the International corridor, from High Street to 98th Avenue, doubled from last year.
Oakland Chief of Police Anthony Batts said the night is an important opportunity for officers to meet residents. “What’s really nice is to get out with people, real people, and talk with them, listen to them, share with them what we’re doing, how we’re responding to things and listen to what they want from us,” he said.
At Fairmount Avenue and Frisbie Street in the Pill Hill area, new residents met their neighbors for the first time, as they gathered in front of Marla Leech’s house to grill burgers and dine on a spread that included carrots and green beans from a neighbor’s yard and a pineapple upside down cake.
This is the third year in a row of the party, and Leech said the first year, she didn’t know anyone. Since then, a neighborhood watch group has formed and neighbors are working together to try to shut down a problem liquor store in the area. Now Leech said she knows just about everyone at the party. “We all look out for each other big time over here,” she said.
Oakland North reporters Nicole Jones, Ryan Phillips and Ye Tian contributed to this report, and thanks to readers Brian Toy, Ellen Kim, Tim Anderson, Robert Limon, Alexis Daniel, Liz McFarland and Lizz Milota for sharing their pictures with us. You can click on “captions” beneath the photo slideshow if you’d like more info about who is in each photo.
You can check out how the evening was celebrated in nearby Richmond at our sister site, Richmond Confidential.
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