Helping people share their lived experience and engage with their communities is integral to our mission at Cityside, so we’re thrilled that American Press Institute is supporting our Oaklandside newsroom through its Civic Discourse and Community Voices Fund to enhance our “as-told-to” first-person storytelling series, Amplify Oakland. Amplify Oakland is an initiative born out of Oaklandside’s core values, and its one that could be replicated in any local newsroom.
One of the things that came through loud and clear when Oaklandside conducted extensive listening in the community before launching in June 2020, was that people wanted a news outlet that reflected the experiences of Oakland’s diverse communities. Oaklanders asked that we be willing to share the mic—so that residents would have opportunities to tell their personal stories themselves, and not just have them reported by others.
We heard the message and responded by launching Amplify Oakland, a first-person series of stories written by community members with support from The Oaklandside’s editors. In the ensuing months, we published a dozen of these stories, each one deeply personal but touching on important issues affecting communities in Oakland, and shedding light on how people experience life—for better and for worse—in Oakland.
Among the Amplify Oakland stories published by Oaklandside, we heard from José Martín Aguilar, a Fruitvale father of two and indigenous Mam immigrant from Guatemala, who shared his story of survival during the early days of the pandemic, when he lost his restaurant job and faced the fear of not being able to pay his rent or purchase food for his wife and kids, with little hope of a government safety net.
We heard from John Jones III, an Oakland community advocate and father, who shared his memories of growing up amidst a cycle of violence in East Oakland, which culminated with his own involvement in a tragic shooting. Jones weaved local history throughout his personal tale to contextualize and help explain the surge in gun violence and homicides that began to occur in Oakland and some other American cities during the pandemic.
And Mavin Carter Griffin, a resident and community leader at one of Oakland’s largest homeless settlements shared her story through Amplify Oakland. In her thought-provoking and provocative first-person account, Griffin explained why she can’t stand the word “encampment” and prefers to describe her experience as “curbsteading”—something more aligned with the ethos of self-sufficiency embodied by early settlers who came west with nothing but wagons and tents to build a new society. Her story challenges the reader to reimagine the future of our urban landscape—one where outdoor living, necessitated by unaffordable and scarce traditional housing, is allowed to evolve creatively and perhaps even thrive.
The API grant will allow Oaklandside to produce a new short series of Amplify stories surfacing the experiences and perspectives of a diverse group of Oakland residents. And we’ll be partnering with long-time collaborators Oakland Voices and El Tímpano to identify residents and produce those stories.
We can’t wait to get to work!