This past Saturday, something truly special happened at a small, community park in the heart of Oakland, California. For the third year in a row, local group Grind for the Green — headed by Green For All Academy Fellow Zakiya Harris — produced "Fresh Fest," a youth-led, solar-powered hip-hop concert and eco-fest. The first two were in San Francisco, but this year Fresh Fest moved to Oakland, and local groups and artists really made it a day to remember.
It all started at noon. A solar-powered stage looked out on a few people scattered across the grass under heavy gray skies. DJ Twlevs put on some old school tunes, as more people started to trickle in. David Roach, founder of Mo Betta Foods, spoke to the crowd about his vision of everyone in Oakland having access to healthy food. Then AshEL Eldridge (aka Seasunz) — another Green For All Fellow — performed songs from his new album, Earth Amplified, including a track called Sunshine. What a fitting song; by 2pm, the sun indeed emerged, bright blue skies opened up, and the usually quiet park was jumping. Uplifting music set the mood as more than 100 people enjoyed organic food (including delicious fruit smoothies that youth made by hand-cranking a blender —no electricity!), explored the booths of local social justice organizations, danced, and built community for a vibrant healthy Oakland.
Boots Riley from The Coup helped emcee the show, which featured youth performers from the Oakland Green Youth Arts and Media Center, including Ozone, JMillion, A1, Virtuous, and many others. Boots's bandmate Pam the Funkstress, the pioneer female DJ, ripped it for the crowd. Conscious rappers from across Oakland traded verses in a freestyle cipher. Then the show closed with an unforgettable freestyle by homegrown hip-hop star Mr. FAB. FAB brought it back to the heart of the matter as he closed it out, sharing stories about some of the painful things he’s lived through as a young person in Oakland, and celebrating the hope that young people offer to his hometown. He made it clear where his heart lies as he repeated, "I love you, Oakland!"
And it all comes down to love. You could see it in what the local organizations shared at their booths. Mandela Foods, Planting Justice, The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Farm Fresh Choice, The Environmental Service Learning Project, Kijiji Grows Aquaponics, and many other groups let people know about the incredible things they are doing to lift up our most vulnerable communities.
The Fresh Fest was good medicine, providing a sort of revival for the community and shining a spotlight on all that is positive and hopeful. Green For All was proud to sponsor such an uplifting and visionary event. As I was leaving, I looked back at the park and was struck by what I saw: the green wave is here, and its new, young leaders have arrived.