Last week, the MLK Day Celebration hosted by PADC and the City of Piedmont drew more than 300 people from Piedmont, Oakland and beyond. They heard talented student performers and our city and state leaders beautifully express themselves on the challenges of continuing the civil rights work of Dr. King. We at PADC are grateful to be part of a community that creates a space every year to celebrate and reflect upon the transformative work of Dr. King, reminding us that his work – and our work – is not yet done.
Unfortunately, an incident occurred at this event that made some of our invited guest feel very unwelcome in our community. A few minutes before the OSA Chamber Choir took the stage, Choir Director Cava Menzies and her students suffered a verbal assault from two audience members. (You can read more about this here on our website.) We at PADC know that many in the Piedmont community, like us, were mortified by this poor treatment of guests at our event, but what’s worse is that it’s not the first time visitors have felt unwelcome – even unwanted - in our city.
You may have read in in this newspaper about teenage students of color stopped and questioned because a resident thinks they looked “suspicious,” and the calls to the police from those feeling threatened by a gardener’s truck parked on their street. But you may not be aware of what PADC hears all too often: an African-American resident afraid to go running at night because of how his neighbors might react, or the black family celebrating their child’s birthday in one of our parks that elicits a call to the police. There is also the sentiment – even among visitors who don’t experience such treatment - that Piedmont is intolerant of “outsiders,” especially outsiders of color. Or the feeling voiced by colleagues in Oakland that "Piedmont definitely has diversity, race, and privilege issues."
We have work to do. We need to ask ourselves questions: Who lives and works in our community and how do they experience Piedmont? What causes people visiting our city to feel unwelcome? What are the qualities that drew us to Piedmont and are they extended to all? And how exactly how do we want to be perceived in the larger community (Oakland and beyond)?
There are many ways to address these questions. Community organizations from parent clubs to houses of worship can add such discussions to their agenda. School district leadership, teachers and parents can reflect on how and whether diversity and inclusion are taught in their classrooms and in their homes. Oakland is a source of diversity and leadership in social justice; we can make a conscious effort to build broader ties between cities and host joint events. Finally, we can ask ourselves how well we know those in our own community, and reach out to our neighbors.
PADC is committed to spurring our community as a whole to discuss and reflect upon questions that the MLK incident and many others like it have raised. We hope you will join the conversation.
Kobi Eshun and Alison Feldman
Co-Presidents, Piedmont Appreciating Diversity Committee