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RoShamBo event space creates a place for Oaklanders to play

on November 20, 2019

“RoShamBo!” shouted the crowd as pair after pair battled for the title of champion. Roshambo, also known as “Rock, Paper, Scissors,” is a game in which people compete using hand signs: a fist representing rock, two fingers spread apart for scissors, and a flat palm out signifying paper.

More than 30 pairs of people of all ages moved throughout the large room seeking out their next opponent, starting with the person closest to them. Some jumped at the opportunity to compete, while others took their time, giggling as they stood in small groups. Whenever someone won, the victor would move on to play again. Those who lost, invested in the match, began to cheer on the people who beat them.

The intense screaming and shouting accompanied the opening of the new RoShamBo on 4th event space last Thursday on 4th Street in downtown Oakland, as residents came to explore the facilities, celebrate and play games. The space is owned by Playworks, previously known as Sports4Kids, an Oakland nonprofit that collaborates with schools to create play opportunities during lunchtime and through after-school programs. The Playworks school program teaches kids social, problem-solving and conflict resolution skills, and offers coaches who facilitate these activities.

This new Oakland 6,500-square-foot space features rental spaces for activities including Dodgeball, kickball and Four Square, and is available for conferences, parties and workshops. “Whether a small board meeting, a team-building activity, or a celebration, we opened this newly renovated location to promote play, innovation, and design-based thinking,” wrote Fayne Cohen, Playworks’ operations and events manager, by email.

Unlike the Playworks school program, this space will probably mainly be used by adults, Cohen wrote, including nonprofits that will rent out spaces there. She wrote that non-profits receive a 20 percent discount, and the group may also provide some pro bono rentals.

Earlier in the day, those who attended had been given the opportunity to see the new facility in its entirety, where the theme of “play” was apparent throughout. Entering on 4th Street, guests were thrust into a large gathering space: two projectors played promotional imagery, event sponsors set up their desks, catered food heated under burners. A stage was positioned against the wall in between the two projectors, and two Four Square spaces were neatly marked out in the center of the room. Continuing on their tour through the building, the central space gave way to another gathering area filled with tables with decorative flowers and candles placed on top, leading to a small outside courtyard containing a table, cornhole boards, and a version of Connect Four that was as big as a lounge chair. A ping-pong table sat across from the kitchen, and the meeting rooms were lined with the names of popular games such as “Hopscotch.”

“I think this space was built to really embody one of our core values, which is inclusion,” said Danyel Crutcher, a program director for Playworks in Atlanta who has been with the company for eight years. Crutcher was one of many Playworks employees who traveled to celebrate the opening of the new space.

Crutcher says that at Playworks, the staff works to teach kids to use their language skills to settle disagreement and to compromise with one another, and that they encourage parents who visit their facilities to reinforce those skills. “Those practices, for our families, helps with that consistency,” she said. “The same message they’re getting at school and with our services, they’re getting at home.”

According to their website, Playworks currently serves more than 1,300 schools across 23 cities, reaching more than 700,000 students. According to an FAQ on the website, the average cost for a Playworks coach is between $60,000 and $65,000 at each school, but through donations, many public elementary schools pay less than this amount. Schools where at least 50 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced-cost lunches are eligible for a subsidy that cuts the cost in half.

“I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Kitty Keller, who had come to support two of her friends—Playworks CEO and founder Jill Vialet and company president Elizabeth Cushing. “I think it’s wonderful.”

Towards the middle of the event, attendees gathered in the large space facing the stage where members of the Playworks organization went up to speak. Richard Daniels, the chair of the group’s board of directors, spoke about the potential that the space has to assist Oakland by providing resources to other non-profit organizations. “The opening of this collaborative space will allow us to not only provide a model for other organizations, but will also allow us to further interact with those in the community,” said Daniels.

Vialet also spoke about her excitement over the completion of the project, thanked the Playworks staff, and explained the reasoning behind choosing November 14 as their opening day. “Seven years ago, on November 14, 2012, Playworks launched what we call ‘Gratitude Day.’ We wanted to do it the week before Thanksgiving as a way of highlighting our workers and the community. To make an organization like ours function, hundreds of people have to show up. We launched Gratitude Day to say thank you to everyone that makes it possible,” Vialet said.

Vialet ended her speech by kicking off the game of RoShamBo. She said that each pair of participants was to play until someone won. Following that victory, the winner was to walk around, their hands in the air, looking for their next opponent.

Without missing a beat, everyone turned to the person closest to them without hesitation and began to play. The room erupted in mayhem as attendees battled one another, with more and more dropping from the competition as the game progressed.

Over time, a potential champion began to appear. His blue hoodie was easily visible through the crowd as others began rallying behind him. A crowd of supporters began to amass, eventually creating a large circle in the middle of the room, as he defeated every challenger who came his way. Those on the outer edges of the room could only see the top of his loose black beanie as everyone in his path continued to lose. 

His last challenger was an adolescent in a green hoodie, who had seemingly swept his challengers on the other side of the room, and joined him for the climatic face-off in the center.

The man in the blue hoodie chose rock.

The teen in the green hoodie chose paper.

All of the sudden, the teen was the winner.

People began to clap and cheer as Vialet invited him on stage to close out the festivities. Following his victory, the energy in the room remained high as people went back to playing games, eating food, and having fun.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
Oakland North

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