The rising sun cuts deep contrasting shadows across the face of each civil rights leader, etched in dark, rugged steel, staring down onto each onlooker gazing up to the metal monuments in Henry J. Kaiser memorial park in downtown Oakland. This park, only half a city block long, is more than a casual area for dog walkers, pot smokers and office workers on lunch break. For many, this park is a reminder of the influential individuals, predominantly leaders of color, who have shaped our national and global discourse.
“This statue right here is a history of people who fought for human rights,” says Jonas Espagaber, as he plays soccer with his young son, Jatan. “It’s a history, it teaches us a lot.”
“It’s a nice area compared to other parts of Oakland,” he continued. “It’s a nice place to raise a kid.”
By midday the park remains fairly quiet. Only a few people come and go through the area with the occasional passerby stopping to take a photo or selfie. But two people, an engaged couple, walk slowly around the perimeter of the park, closely examining the quotes on the busts of each of monument’s icons. “It’s about black history,” says Davina Byrd, a born and raised Oaklander, when asked about the significance of this park. “It’s all about who fought the fight for us.”
It’s this acknowledgement of leaders of color that help keep Byrd’s fiancé, Mark Turner, continue despite the day-to-day hardships of living in a city with surging gentrification caused by incoming industry. “It’s like fighting a losing battle,” he says. “You can be there for years and years, and a person can just push you out for something, for racism, or whatever, and no one can say anything about it.”