This Holiday Season, Let’s Give Back To Oakland, CA

By: Nina Foushee, Communications and Policy Manager at Oakland Natives Give Back

It is a crisp night. Bundled-up children are running, jumping and throwing tiny spinning toys that flash neon as they lift into the air and then slowly float down. Parents are trying to get toddlers to stand still for pictures, and a crowd sways to the sound of a youth choir that periodically swells into an impassioned wave of sound. In the center of it all, there stands a 55-ft. fir tree, laden with orange, red and yellow bulbs.

It is Friday December 2nd, the night of a yearly tree-lighting ceremony in Oakland, CA’s Jack London Square. I’ve come to see the tree with my coworker, Nakeyma Randle, the External Affairs and Strategic Partnerships Manager at Oakland Natives Give Back non-profit 501©(3). We people-watch, we take in the choir music, and then we turn back to the tree, as if to remember where we are and what time of year it is. The tree is a symbol of community, celebration, joy, and hopes for the New Year. It is possible to stand at the base of it, look up, and forget everything else.

That morning, Nakeyma and I found out that the little shop down the street from our downtown office was robbed in broad daylight. The day before, we’d heard about a young man who was repeatedly shot in a parking lot two blocks from the Oakland Natives Give Back office. That same night, we learned of a warehouse fire that took the lives of dozens of Oakland residents.

The holidays are full of rituals like the yearly lighting of the Christmas tree. In times marked by fear and a feeling of helplessness, what can rituals do for us? Part of the power of rituals is that they give us a feeling of control: we know when they start, when they end, and exactly what they involve. In the next few weeks, there will be a temptation to go on holiday autopilot — to retreat into our separate spheres of comfort and security.

As we go to holiday parties, put up lights, attend religious services and buy presents, let’s remember not to trade helplessness for the kind of passive comfort that we can get from our holiday routines and traditions.

Let’s look for rituals and events that provide a physical and immediate way to focus on the best of what this city represents and what we, as Oakland residents, can do for one another. In the last several days, Oaklanders have organized gatherings all over the city to raise money for the families of those who passed away in the fire, and to celebrate the arts community that many Ghost Ship residents were a part of.

In a statement made Saturday, Oakland Unified School District Superintendent Antwan Wilson affirmed, “We as a City and District will support each other through this difficult time.” As we think about how we will spend the rest of the holiday season, let’s make good on that promise.

For more information about Oakland Natives Give Back, please visit: