Social Activists Express Concerns About Changing Demographics of Oak Park

OAK PARK GENTRIFICATION

Sacramento Black Lives Matters leaders Dianna Tejada, right, and Tanya Faison, left, led the gentrification protest in front of the Guild Theater in Oak Park on Feb. 27, 2016. (OBSERVER photo by Antonio R. Harvey)

OAK PARK — While a summit was taking place in the Guild Theater in Oak Park hosting “house flippers,” wholesalers, and commercial-resident landlords, a diverse group of individuals on the outside of the facility were letting them know that predators who prey on their neighborhood are not welcome.

Led by the Sacramento Black Lives Movement (BLM) and a large group of people concerned about the gentrification the Oak Park has been experienced, were strapped with protest signs and voicing their displeasure of what was happening inside the theater.

The members of BLM, social activists, and a few residents of Oak Park say that the neighborhood has been under siege with people and upscale businesses from all over the Sacramento area moving in, causing home-rental prices to skyrocket.

“They are flipping the neighborhood,” said community activist Anita Earl at the BLM protest. “Since this redevelopment began we have lost about 10 Black-owned businesses along Broadway and Martin Luther King Boulevard. Since January, there has been three nail shops and a barbershop that has closed down. Kidd’s Sports Gym, off Broadway, and Broadway Soul Food, shut down too. Oak Park was once the center of Black commerce for many years.”

Many Black businesses in Oak Park have closed their doors over the years and long-time residents have left the area. However, protesters of of all colors shared their displeasure about the changes.

The protest brought out the likes of Sacramento Mayoral candidate Russell Rawlings, Twin Rivers Unified School District board member Rebecca Sandoval, and Rev. Ronald Bell who were in support of the activities outside the theater.

Al Williamson, a real estate investor who staged the “Summit at the Guild” event told The OBSERVER that the protest was not directly targeted at his venture that pulled in 200 attendees and focused on how landlords “can support neighborhoods through transitions,” he said.

Williamson also respected BLM’s actions and concerns of gentrification in Oak Park, which has been in progress for more than 25 years. Williamson charged $15 per person to attend the summit that had sponsors such as Cook Family Holdings, Huber Law Group, Modern Property Management, Pizza Bell, and SJ Morgan Private Lending Exchange.

“I’m doing something entirely separate and different,” Williamson said. “I’ve worked with these and have helped pick up trash in neighborhoods with the same people. There is truth to what they are saying and I am actually a supporter. I really love them,” he added.

Gentrification is an expression for the arrival of wealthier people in an existing urban center, which could cause related increase in rents and property values, and changes in the urban center’s physical makeup and culture.

The term, what BLM and other social activist are aware of, is often used negatively because it strongly suggests the displacement of poor communities by rich outsiders.

Redevelopment in Oak Park has expanded in Oak Park, particularly near 35th Street and Broadway. In some of the facilities in the area there were clothing boutiques, a soul food restaurant, a used tire shop, and barbershops.

Within the last couple of years, those stores, primarily owned by Blacks, are gone. A high-quality restaurant, a gardening shop, wholesale coffee distributors, and other non-Black entities are now the occupiers.

“This is a impact on Black commerce,” Ms. Earl said. “If money is given to rich people who already have the means to spread out and expand, why not give some to these would-be, Black, Small Business Administration businesses?”
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By Antonio R. Harvey
OBSERVER Staff Writer