Member Spotlight: East Oakland Black Cultural Zone

June 24, 2020 | East Oakland Black Cultural Zone Spotlight | By Amanda Elliott, Senior Program Officer and Director of California Programs, NMSC

Oakland_Blog_Header.jpgCommunity members participate in a meeting in East Oakland. Photo courtesy of East Oakland Black Cultural Zone Collaborative

We are excited to have the East Oakland Black Cultural Zone Collaborative (the “Collaborative”) join the UrbanMain network and become the newest member of the California Main Street Alliance (CAMSA). The Collaborative brings a unique perspective to the CAMSA membership as one of the few urban districts located in a low-income, predominately African American community. Keep reading to learn more about the Collaborative.

Since its formation in 2014, the Collaborative has worked with residents, government agencies, churches, and grassroots organizing groups to innovate, incubate, inform, and elevate community-driven projects that uplift and celebrate Black cultural traditions and innovations in East Oakland. Their core values are arts and cultural preservation and innovation, centering on three strategic initiative areas:

  • Place Keeping: Anti-Displacement programs, activities and advocacy, activation of vacant and underutilized Space Activation, Pop-up to Permanent hubs and villages, Black Cultural Zone Cultural Hub(s) and Neighborhood Development
  • A Strong Economy: A robust and cooperative production and distribution which supports collective sufficiency. Wealth Building and Workforce Development programs, activities and advocacy.
  • Quality of Life: Creating and maintaining an environment where we all thrive -- mentally, spiritually, emotionally and physically. Health and Wellness, Education, Welfare and Safety, and Environmental programs, activities and advocacy.

“We believe when Black people are free, all are free,” said the Collaborative about their core beliefs. “Our vision of freedom is grounded in our collective self-determination and the creation of political, social, cultural and economic liberation. These principles are informed by the ideals and platforms of our historic Black consciousness movements.”

Since the onset of the pandemic, the Collaborative’s focus on supporting East Oakland’s Black Businesses “has deepened and accelerated,” said Carolyn Johnson, Executive Director of the Collaborative. “We are hosting a virtual phone bank to reach businesses weekly to share resources and to connect them with support. We are also sponsoring a Food and Safety Kit via drive-through distribution at our Outdoor Hub."

The pandemic is not the largest challenge facing the small businesses in the Collaborative’s community. When asked, Ms. Johnson pointed to the impact of government policies and programs, such as a Bus Rapid Transit that is negatively impacting the commercial corridor. “Our community has [traditionally] lacked a clear and navigable path to robust financial and technical assistance resources,” she stated, adding that these factors are, “necessary to really have a thriving business.”

As a collaborative project, the Black Cultural Zone Collaborative has many members supporting their organization and mission. In fact, Ms. Johnson shared that their biggest success to date has been expanding that collaboration by more than 200%. Their partners are Black-led organizations and businesses that are funded, or are seeking funding, to work with the Collaborative in one or more workgroups. Their allies are organizations and businesses that are funded to work with the Collaborative in one or more strategic disciplines. Their supporters and friends are entities and individuals that support their mission and values, and invest time, treasure, and expertise to keep culture and place for Black folks in East Oakland.

In April, Carolyn Johnson and Amanda Elliott were panelists for a Main Street America and UrbanMain webinar: COVID-19: Responses from the Frontline. They shared some of the challenges facing small businesses in urban districts that were already experiencing disinvestment, displacement, and undercapitalization. View their webinar here.

Please join us in welcoming East Oakland Black Cultural Zone Collaborative to the network!

Meet the Author

Amanda_State_of_Main_Headshot__1_.jpgAmanda Elliott, Senior Program Officer and Director of California Programs:

At NMSC, Amanda is responsible for delivering comprehensive commercial district revitalization technical services to partner communities and coordinating programs across the country and acting as Director of the California Main Street program administered by the NMSC. She is the former Executive Director of the Richmond Main Street Initiative in Richmond, California, where she was responsible for managing and supervising the activities, operations and services of the organization; developing strategies for enhancing the downtown economy; establishing working relationships with the community, city and county government; and maintaining ongoing collaborative relationships with community agencies.  

Read Amanda's full bio.