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Bursting the bubble

On Sunday evening, North Oakland cafe The Well hosted an open mic that revealed how community members are responding to the Bay Area’s shifting culture.

Open mics at The Well are a microcosm of how community members can continue their city’s cultural legacy even when surrounded by displacement and gentrification. The host, Jada Imani, an artist and community leader, welcomes artists at The Well to share their talent and support each other.

According to Imani, the cafe “could easily be a product and symbol of gentrification.”

The Well shares a building with the East Bay Community Space (EBCS). Imani talked about the building’s history and said the EBCS went from “a hip hop venue named Leo’s, which held numerous underground hip-hop events, to the EBCS, where they now offer trap yoga, and other events dominated by White folks. … The Well could literally be the epitome of gentrification.”

But it isn’t.

In the East Bay Express, Darwin BondGraham revealed that “By 2030, if trends of the last 15 years continue, Oakland’s Black population could fall to as few as 70,000 people from 140,000 in 2000, declining from roughly 35 percent of the city’s total population to a mere 16 percent.”

“This rapid de-Blackening of the East Bay’s urban core has far-reaching consequences for the region’s future political, cultural and economic identity” Imani said. As gentrification continues to push out communities of color, furthering the loss of the Bay Area’s culture, Imani’s open mics hopes to combat these struggles.

While The Well could be the epitome of gentrification, Imani is committed to encouraging artists of color and Bay Area natives to take up this space with her. The Well can be a leading example for new businesses in the area.

“What if I wasn’t here? What if I didn’t bring all these people to be unapologetically Black, and shake these fragile bubbles and boxes?” Imani said. “What if we didn’t involve young hip hop heads and older white folks who are musicians, to know what it looks like to genuinely be in circle, to know what it looks like to not be the dominant culture, but to humbly take part in this circle?” 

If she wasn’t here, neither would artist and Bay Area native Moses Weener. Weener witnesses the shifts happening around him involving gentrification.

“I kinda feel like I’m not supposed to be here,” Weener said, even though he’s lived in the Bay his whole life. “Imani is breaking through the bubble of uncomfortable White tension. She’s creating small little balls of love. Places where if you feel alienated, you can be with your little alien people.” Through her open mics at The Well, Imani gives artists an opportunity to be recognized in the shifting Bay Area community. Weener praises Imani for her work at The Well.

She provides a safe and revolutionary space for people whose homes and culture are being taken away and drastically changed due to gentrification. Imani invites everyone to give respect to Bay Area natives and artists, ultimately resisting the threat of and continuing the legacy of art and community that Oakland has.