A group of young women have united to collectively bring attention to change that’s threatening lives and livelihoods in a local Oak Park neighborhood.
Eliza Deed, Chevonne “Chevy” Neal and Sparkle Scott are part of Speak Out Oak Park and have come together to document the stories and experiences of Black people in Oak Park.
Each has her own passions and paths to activism and community work, but all say it’s time to step up and speak out about many of the ills plaguing residents, including gentrification, housing discrimination, violence, racial profiling and negative perceptions.
Eliza Deed is an outspoken opponent of the gentrification that’s happening in Oak Park and often takes to Facebook Live to chronicle her personal experiences in the historically Black neighborhood.
“It is important for me to attack gentrification because it is a consistent, systematic oppression,” she said. “We’re not going to move forward, we’re not going to be able to attack the issue if we don’t stand up together and realize that it is happening to people of color and certain people of color to be honest. Gentrification is a premeditated sin. It is extremely horrible for people of color who are trying to create families, trying to create stability in nice neighborhoods, still redlining areas illegally, which is another attack on Oak Park specifically. We were the red line,” she said.
She’s pushing back against efforts to push Black residents out.
“I know what’s going on within Oak Park,” she said. “I just want the community to really focus on gentrification and how rapid it is moving from Stockton Boulevard to Broadway. If we don’t pay attention, there’s going to be no Black lives here.”
Through the documentary, she’s giving people a chance to tell their own stories.
“Speak Out Oak Park is specifically about Black life within Oak Park starting from maybe the 40s to the 60s, wherever people want to go back in time. We talk about the timeline of how our lives were here. It focuses on gentrification, and focuses on the Black Panthers, it focuses on Black-on-Black crime, the mothers, we focus on baseball, T-ball, Mr. (Norman) Blackwell. We focus on everything that revolves around our history to break down the stereotype that we’re just gangs, we’re just violence, we’re just negative.”
Ms. Deed draws inspiration from the past, taking notes from the Black Panthers’ playbook.
“They educated first and then they allowed (people) to stand with power. That’s how I do with the community, we educate them on gentrification and housing displacement first before we have them sign any petition. I’m really big on the way that they created unity amongst the community,” she said.
Ms. Deed is addressing issues ranging from a rise in new White residents making false calls to landlords being incentivized to raise rents and evict Blacks. She also wants to see action at the legislative level and is currently working on an assembly bill related to housing policy reform.
“That’s how we change things, getting bills and laws changed. I plan to connect with assembly members and others in political positions. I plan to continue to charge their castle until I’m heard.”
Some, she admits, view her as “crazy” because of her “extreme” approaches, but she remains undaunted.
“That’s the way to get the message heard,” she said. “It’s when you don’t stop, when you keep banging on people’s heads in different kinds of ways and with different marketing strategies, where they’re like, ‘Man, she doesn’t give up. That is what 10th Avenue here in Oak Park has finally realized, I don’t give up.”
Chevonne “Chevy” Neal
Rodney King was savagely beaten by White police officers on March 3, 1991. Caught on videotape by a bystander, it prompted the L.A. riots. A White officer’s knee cut off George Floyd’s air supply on May 25, 2021. Cell phone footage goes viral and sparks international outrage.
The revolution is being televised.
Chevonne “Chevy” Neal doesn’t consider herself to be an activist, but she’s using her talent as a photographer and videographer to capture a critical moment in time.
In the wake of Floyd’s death Ms. Neal attended a number of local protests, taking pictures of all that transpired.
“I feel like this time was the right time to do that because there were times where a lot of things were happening to the community that were not documented and a lot of things were being unresolved; a lot of injustice has happened,” she said. “Now with technology and all that, we’re able to actually go out and document these things. I felt compelled to do that because I wanted to let everyone know and see that this is history happening right now. This is going to be in our history books if they want to put it in the history books.”
Ms. Neal says she experienced racism from law enforcement during the local demonstrations and was “tear-gassed just standing up for what is right for the Black and brown community.”
She was originally shooting photos for her own edification, but later linked with Eliza Deed, after hearing about her documentary. Ms. Neal moved to Sacramento from San Bernardino in 2008 and says she didn’t know much about Oak Park before working with Ms. Deed. Through Speak Out Oak Park, she’s seeing the neighborhood with a different perspective.
“People always hear a lot of negatives about Oak Park, the gang violence, the Black-on-Black crime and the gentrification, but there’s actually a much deeper side of Oak Park,” Ms. Neal said. “The origins of it, how it came about, the history behind it. It has so much more to it than just a lot of negative.”
In interviewing residents, Ms. Neal has learned more about the unity that exists in the area. Folks are also talking about the Black-owned businesses there and the need to support them, how many of the community-based organizations sprang from a lack of outside resources, the changing role of the Black church, and fears about the impending Aggie Square project.
Giving people a forum to talk, is important Ms. Neal says.
“I want the community to be empowered by it,” she said of the film. “To feel inspired to keep in the right direction with where they’re going and what they’re doing. This is just one step forward to creating equity within the community and providing more resources and trying to establish something where there’s going to be less and less negative happening and more positives.”
Aside from Speak Out Oak Park, Ms. Neal helps put on events in the Black and brown queer community, helping create safe spaces for locals to express themselves and their art. She says she’s simply standing in the gap to help her community, using the momentum of the moment to bring about lasting change. While she’s a part of a younger generation of people stepping up, she says, there’s a lot to learn from elders. As they talk through the documentary, she’s listening.
“They’re the ones who were here before us,” she said. “We need their voices, their strength, their power to help us with this. We can definitely do it, but we still need the help from the older generation.”
Sparkle Scott has been volunteering since she was in high school. She started pitching in with after-school programs and later at area community centers.
“I’m very community-oriented,” she said.
She started a non-profit organization, Sac’s Helping Hand, with a cousin in 2017. They’ve provided clothing and food assistance to area homeless people, hosted a Thanksgiving feast and a Pancakes with Santa event for local children. In 2019, the group organized a Black Community Fest in McClatchy Park. It was to be an annual event, but COVID-19 hit in 2020 and cancelled large gatherings.
The event, Ms. Scott said, was an effort to return to family-friendly events of the past.
“I remember back in the day when I was younger, they used to have a lot of festivals at the park,” she shared. “All the Black vendors would come out and there would be a lot of entertainment. We don’t have that any more, so we figured we can try to bring that back.”
Ms. Scott hopes that when people see the success of the event, they’ll see that they don’t have to be afraid of violence breaking out, that they can, in fact, have something positive in Oak Park.
“That’s exactly what we need right now,” she said. “ There’s so much divide amongst us.”
Like her fellow Speak Out Oak Park member Chevonne Neal, Ms. Scott says she doesn’t call herself an activist, per se.
“I consider myself to be more like a community liaison type person. I’m trying to bring everybody together and just get us all connected. That’s the ultimate goal; we need to unite.”
She’s also working to unite the various communities of Sacramento.
“At the end of the day we’re all the same,” Ms. Scott said. “We’re all Black people. It doesn’t matter what area you come from, we all come from the same place.”
People tend to think along neighborhood lines. If you don’t live in Oak Park, Del Paso Heights or South Sacramento, why care about what happens in Oak Park, Del Paso Heights for South Sacramento?
“I care because it affects our kids and that’s what it’s all about,” Ms. Scott said. “Our kids are coming up in these communities and the way things are going, our kids won’t be able to walk down the street. It’s real. There just needs to be more unity and more togetherness.”
Having grown up in Oak Park gives Ms. Scott an advantage with the documentary and those they’re asking to share their experiences.
“I know pretty much everybody in the community,” Ms. Scott says.
Having a level of trust is important and goes a long way in letting people know that they don’t have any malicious intent with what they’re recording and that they don’t want to bring any unwanted attention down on them.
“As a people, we’ve suffered a lot and a lot of people aren’t speaking out about it,” Ms. Scott shared. “People don’t want to talk about how the police are harassing us in the parks or how we get racially profiled or discriminated against when we apply for housing or anything like that. There’s a lot of systemic racism and all that within the schools and everything.”
In addition to her work with Speak Out Oak Park, Ms. Scott hopes to host a post-COVID-19 Black Community Fest in August. She’s also looking to use her talent as a poet to launch a program for children, like her daughter who was diagnosed with Turrets Syndrome.
“I want to bring awareness to mental health through poetry,” she said.
By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer
Sacramento OBSERVER introduces a special series, “Sistahs on the Frontlines,” acknowledging and highlighting the work that Black women are doing as “essential workers” on the frontlines, furthering the causes of the community. READ MORE