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Orange streamers and mobiles with drawings of pumpkins and ghosts and Happy Halloween dangle from a wire in a street, with trees in the background.

Residents work to bring trick or treat back to an Oakland neighborhood

on November 1, 2023

For the past five years, many residents in East Oakland’s San Antonio neighborhood have been unable to enjoy trick-or-treating because they don’t feel safe going out at night with their children.

Issues such as sex trafficking, gunfire, illegal dumping, and one of the largest encampments in Oakland have made life challenging for this community.

Katie Schwarz, who lives on East 15th Street and co-chairs the San Antonio Neighborhood Council, said that during the past two years, the community has worked to provide a safe space for children during Halloween.

“I think that a lot of people take that for granted, that they live in a neighborhood where kids and families feel safe to trick or treat,” said  Schwarz.

This year, the community held its second consecutive celebration by organizing a trick-or-treat event stretching from East 15th to 23rd Streets, culminating in a block party on 22nd Street. The festivities included two bouncy houses, a piñata and a dance competition.

About 20 kids crowd on the street, some in costume with an adult in a bladk T-shirt and black knit cap in the middle. The front boy has a red T-shirt, cropped dark hear and is carrying a backpack. The kid to the right is jumping, in jeans, black shows, a gray hoodie and a backback.
Trick-or-treaters in Oakland’s San Antonio neighborhood cross the street with the assistance of Trybe’s volunteers. (Liliana Cortés)

Raymond Pizano, a retired public health nurse and a community leader who helped organize the event. said now families don’t have to go to Alameda or other areas of Oakland for trick-or-treating.

As part of their community-building strategy, residents have organized block parties on East 15th Street, Christmas events, and town nights hosted by Trybe, a nonprofit that aims to break cycles of violence.

Both Pizano and Schwarz agree the Halloween celebration represents an important chance to build community, especially for kids.

“It’s a way to reclaim the streets and establish: This is our neighborhood,” Pizano said. 

The first community-based trick-or-treating event took place in 2022, when 400 children participated. 

Before that it was unusual for kids to go trick-or-treating. The average number of trick-or-treaters was around 10 children, and the celebration didn’t last more than an hour. “Kids would come over and I knew them because they would be the kids kind of directly surrounding me,” said Schwarz.  

This year was different.  About 500 children walked the streets of San Antonio from 4 to 7 p.m. The most popular costumes were Minions, Wednesday Addams, and Spider Man. Along the route, they encountered drawings and decorations of ghosts, skeletons, and pumpkins made by local school children.

“It is really important to bring out the community and kind of revitalize those connections between everyone who lives here. Because for a long time people weren’t leaving their house unless they were going to their car or they were going to the bus. It was such a scary time in the neighborhood,” Schwarz said.

In the street, outside a garage, about 20 people are in motion, dancing the "Cha Cha Slide." The person in the front is wearing a yellow neon vest, black cap and brown pants, his head turned back toward the crowd. People are looking at each other and laughing.
Dancing the “Cha Cha Slide” at the block party on East 22nd street. (Liliana Cortés)

Trybe volunteers played a crucial role in ensuring the safety of kids and their families. Trybe members wearing distinctive vests were present from 15th Street to 23rd Street. and hosted a block party on 22nd Street.

For Lisa Cruz, a mother of three who has lived her whole life on East 15 Street and is also CEO of Trybe, the event was therapeutic.

“It’s a healing process. These areas have been hit by drugs or by prostitution, these areas also deserve the joy and some beauty,” Cruz  said.

Eder Castellanos, an 11-year-old sixth-grade student at Community School for Creative Education, feels safer now, as there are more people on the streets. His 14-year-old sister, Ashley Castellanos, agreed with him: “Before, I was scared to go out by myself because there were no decorations or neighbors outside. Now my parents feel more comfortable letting me go out and celebrate Halloween.”

The San Antonio community plans to keep working to support the younger generations.

“Let’s get this energy from all of these children who are adorable in their costumes to refocus on how we can make the neighborhood better,” Schwarz said.

Halloween show on Greenwood Avenue has enthralled kids since 2007


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