[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LxG5bHKqpfo&w=560&h=315]

Our city functions through a million acts of service everyday. Some of these acts happen out in the open. Some get publicized and gain attention in a major way.

But most don’t. Most of the heroic acts of the city of Oakland are going largely unnoticed and unrecognized. Most of our heroes are unsung. But they’re out there, diligently fighting to make this city better, one good deed at a time. Aunti Francis, of the Aunti Francis LoveScreen Shot 2014-05-07 at 11.23.56 AM Mission, is one of those heroes.

Aunti Francis feeds people. Every Tuesday at 2 p.m. in Driver Park in North Oakland, she assembles her team of neighborhood angels and feeds anyone who cares to show up. The Self-Help Hunger Program was started three years ago with a mission: to help the folks who were living on the streets, give them a place to congregate, some good food to eat, and a sense that the community cared.

She’s motivated by personal experience. At the age of 17, she was adopted by the Black Panther Party. Later in life, she experienced homelessness. She has real empathy with the people that she feeds because she has walked in their shoes. “I know how it feels, so I know how to give. I know what kind of medicine they need,” she says about the success of her program.

Aunti Francis Love Mission is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, but they don’t apply for grants. None of the workers get paid. The funding for the program comes from Aunti Francis and the neighbors who support her. Each week, they contribute what they can to purchase the food that they serve. Auntie Francis drives around to the food bank and all the cheapest grocery stores to make sure that their money stretches. No matter how things look on Monday, by Tuesday there is always enough food to go around. Somehow, the community provides.

Recently, Aunti Fancis Love Mission has run into some challenges. A young man was shot at the bus stop in Driver Plaza about a year ago. Neighbors in a newly-constructed development across the street associated the shooting with the people who spent their days hanging out in the park, many of whom are patrons of the Tuesday meals. The fear of violence combined with complaints of public urination and public drunkenness triggered regular patrols of the park by the local beat officer, who has to cite people if they are drinking in the park. Some of the residents of the neighborhood drink in the park, some don’t. But they all have been enduring regular police visits.

To resolve this issue, Aunti Francis Love Mission partnered with Phat Beets Produce and Council Member Kalb’s office to undergo a restorative justice process with the neighbors. They came up with easy, low-cost solutions to some of the neighbors’ complaints. They planned a community party in the park so the neighbors could get to know each other better. They started implementing better systems for keeping the park clean. They currently plan to crowd-fund for a port-a-potty so that public urination becomes a thing of the past in the neighborhood.

There’s been some coming together, some misperceptions realized, some bridges built. The changes are gradual and slow, but Aunti Francis Love Mission and the Self-Help Hunger Program continue to feed the community, in every sense of the word.

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland.
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23 Responses

  1. Oakie

    Great work done by Auntie Francis.

    Why exactly should the executive director of Youth Uprising! be paid $250,000 to do not much more of an effort than her?

    What if we split that amount, gave half to the executive director at Youth Uprising! and half to Auntie Francis?

    Can you imagine how much good Auntie Francis could do with $125,000? I trust her with the money a whole lot more than Youth Uprising!

  2. max cadji

    The port-a-potty is being crowd sourced and is in the park serving the elders of our community. It costs $180 per month to have a ADA accessible port-a-potty in the park. This is a community driven solution and still needs support, so support it at http://tinyurl.com/ls9asp9.

    Also to make a note, we contacted numerous times Tony Wilson and numerous people at the Wilson Associates, the developers of luxury lofts around Driver Plaza and the developers of Market Hall. We were asking for a small donation for a Black History Month Celebration at the Plaza and for a contribution for the port-a-potty for our community elders at Driver Plaza. Two months, 4 phone calls and 8 emails letter we are still asking…

  3. Oakie


    If we took $125,000 out of the Executive Director’s compensation package at Youth Uprising! (leaving a very comfortable $125,000 for this person to live on – double the average household income in Oakland), there would be plenty of money for Porta Potties without begging from third unrelated parties you wish to shame/coerce into giving money.

  4. Robin

    This approach to solving the problem is refreshing. Clearly Aunti Frances knows Oakland and realizes the misperceptions between people who have stability and people who don’t. All positive change is a process and this is so positive. Congrats to Aunti Frances and the other entities who took the time to think of whats best for the community.

  5. OaklandNative

    I agree with you. This is what Oakland is about. This is truly making Oakland better.

  6. Ren

    Is the author trying to be misleading? Take a look at SeeClickFix (http://seeclickfix.com/oakland?q=driver+plaza). People were complaining about a lot more than just drinking and public urination: drug dealing, needles, multiple shootings, shattered glass. She doesn’t mention these issues. OPD was not overreacting. Thanks to Auntie Frances for feeding people in need. Thanks to OPD for making the area around Driver Plaza safer.

  7. Ren

    P.S. Max, are you going to list all the local businesses you contacted, or are you just singling out one business for your public shaming campaign?

  8. max cadji

    Sure. We have had support from the Berkeley Farmers Market, Berkeley Drop In, a good amount of the local churches, residents that live across the street at the lofts, Louis the Pie Queen, Planting Justice, Growing Together Project, Healers Not Jailers and the list can go on and on. Even the people that couldn’t support financially called us back and offered moral support for the Black History Month Celebration and support for our community elders in the park. Wilson’s Associates was literally the only business or community org we called that didnt respond to phone calls, emails, and even fliers after numerous attempts. This isnt about shaming, its about being a part of the community you own property in and being present.

  9. OaklandNative

    I read the link you posted. I wonder if the complainers bothered to look into the neighborhood before they moved in. This is where they CHOSE to live for whatever reason. They CHOSE to raise their children out there.

    As for the people in the park, alcoholism and drug addiction are illnesses. These sick people are being bullied. First by the criminals and now by the people who think they’re “decent.” I hope the OPD is not criminalizing these people.

    One person had the audacity to say he or she couldn’t walk their dog because of the issues in the park. That should not be an issue. What kind of society places animals before people?

  10. Jonatton Yeah?

    Ahhhh. Yes. Never too far away from the daft ON “argument” that deviant behavior like drug dealing, throwing trash on the ground, pissing all over the place, and shooting each other is a-okay simply because it was there first. The fact is, it never should have been tolerated in the first place. Criminal behavior should be criminalized because that’s the law. You want to go ahead and change the laws, that’s your prerogative. Until then, the laws should be enforced. Then again, you’re just trolling so who cares.

  11. OaklandNative

    Please re-read my comment. This time without your usual jumping to conclusions and flying off the handle.

  12. OaklandNative

    People like you show why we need more people like Aunti Francis.

    Few people CHOOSE to be alcoholics or drug addicts. Few people CHOOSE to be poor and marginalized. Few people CHOOSE to be preyed upon by aggressive criminals. Yet, they are still human beings.

    Everyone needs a place to call home. These people’s home was out of the way. You may not like their home, I may not want to live there, but it was theirs. So I say leave them alone.

    The new people moved in next to them and now cry they’re offended that they have to see them. BS. Now they replace the aggessive criminals as bullies. They’ve marginalized everyone out there. One person even placed dogs above them.

    Thankfully Aunti Francis sees those old residents as human beings. As I said before, your comment showed why we need more people like her.

  13. Oakie

    Oakland Native,

    Is there no room for you to acknowledge “enablers” who go beyond charity and arrive at enabling bad behavior?

    “Few people CHOOSE to be alcoholics or drug addicts.”

    Do you see a difference between having the disease and choosing whether to continue those behaviors or to go down a different path of behavior? Lots of programs out there, and many people with the disease that are active participants in working to overcome it. The fact that some people who have these diseases choose not to work through the problem and enter normal life are some how not to be held accountable for that or the impact it has on the general community?

    “Few people CHOOSE to be poor and marginalized.”

    Do you not believe that people have agency in their life? Do you not believe that people’s behavior can, I would say often, lead to whether they become or remain poor and marginalized?

    “These people’s home was out of the way. … but it was theirs. So I say leave them alone…The new people moved in next to them and now cry…” The newcomers are “bullies” and “marginalized everyone out there”

    So are you saying once a neighborhood in our city has a collection of drug addicts and alcoholics who somehow (not sure how) create “ownership” then no one has a right to move into that neighborhood and expect to be able to hold the neighborhood up to (what I would call) normal behaviors and standards? Does their destruction of the neighborhood shared space through misbehavior such as peeing and defection in appropriate manners, throwing refuse wherever they choose, somehow makes that public space “theirs” instead of “ours” as a whole community?

  14. OaklandNative

    You wrote a lot about “choices” and “agency.” So new people move into a neighborhood were the old residents are often afflcted with alcoholism, drug addiction and poverty were plainly visible.

    The new people are more privileged. They had a choice not to move there. They had a choice to live with it. Don’t blame the old residents.

    So you believe the new people are “entitled” to force the old residents to change because they don’t approve of their lifestyle.

    This is about entitlement/privilege v. compassion. In your comment, you vilify the people in order to justify a lack of compassion. Conflict and instability arises from that attitude.

  15. Oakie


    You betcha. “Choice” and “Agency” are what it’s all about. Without that, we are slaves. I’m assuming we’re all against that. Right?

    “The new people are more privileged. They had a choice not to move there.”

    I think your use of “choice” is a conflation of issues.

    I didn’t know that if you are affluent you lose your freedom to live where you want, either through the purchase or renting a home. Regardless of whether we have accumulated wealth or not, that is not a criteria from which others get to decide whether we have the right to live where we want to.

    And, by the way, I object to any assumption that if you have not accumulated wealth that therefore it is presumed that you can accept these misbehaviors (if that is what you have implied). Poor people are not stupid, nor are they less desiring in living in an attractive and civil environment. Poor people may lack money but that does not imply that they are in favor of bad behavior.

    “Don’t blame the old residents.” “new people are ‘entitled’ to force the old residents to change..”

    Everyone is entitled to enforce all the laws regarding behavior. We have many, including littering, drinking in public, excessive noise and unruly behavior, inappropriately defecating and urinating in public in the wrong place, and others regarding misuse of public space or activities which reduce other’s ability to quietly enjoy their home and all public spaces.

    If it was not enforced in the past does not preclude enforcement now. Those laws affect all of us at all times. If you don’t like them, then change the law but don’t expect other to not enforce it because you just say so based on some arbitrary criteria.

    “This is about entitlement/privilege v. compassion.”

    Enabling bad behavior is not compassion. It is quite the opposite. I understand people fool themselves into believing this, but it does not make it so. I would not characterize the right of each of us, regardless of socioeconomic status to obligate others to obey the rules of law to be “entitlement.” It is inalienable. Says so in the Constitution. That means you nor anybody else has the right to abrogate the law because you judge me by my affluence or anything else.

    I only “vilify” bad behavior by those who choose to engage in those behaviors and by others who enable it by justifying it and trying to abrogate the rights of those of us who wish to enforce the law.

  16. OaklandNative

    Not all criminals or vandals are poor. Look at those suburban white kids who came into West Oakland to trash poor people’s homes and murals.

    Not everyone at Driver Park is a criminal or vandal. Most of the people are probably poor. There also seems to be a lot of people with substance abuse problems. I don’t believe those are crimes, but health issues. Many are incapable of improving their conditions. Unfortunately, those health issues, plus poverty attract the criminal class.

    Also, you write that “choice” and “agency” are what it’s all about. There’s also privilege. These newcomers are using theirs to bully the old timers. And they have a sense of entitlement to do so.

    It’s easy to sit from a privileged position and say that all poor people can work their way out if they choose. That’s a very sheltered position to take.

    So the privileged new people should understand their privilege before looking down on the old timers.

  17. Oakie

    For the most part, what you attribute to me are not things I have said. But I can understand your perspective.

    There are many people who have escaped impoverished environments like this one. None of them I have met believe in this “privilege” dogmatic framing (admittedly biased polling data). In fact, what I observe is that it raises their blood pressure quite a bit. More interestingly, most of the people I hear in Oakland espousing it are, in fact, middle class white people from the suburbs who fall for it during their college careers (because they lack the critical thinking faculties to contextualize). To me, the “privilege” meme is yet another form of enslavement of the very people they think they’re defending. In this case, it’s defending bad behavior which makes neighborhoods unlivable for most people. I am very encouraged that people are moving into those neighborhoods and fighting the good fight to bring civility to those neglected places (certainly the politicians have no interest in doing it). The old residents who are not doing the bad behavior will benefit greatly if it succeeds.

    From history, I can say there is one place and time I am familiar with where this “privilege” meme was allowed full throttle: 1966 China. They marched the “privileged” people in dunce caps down the street punishing them with prison and years of forced rural labor. It ended in 1976, and by then the per capita annual income of the country was down to $200 (there have been centuries in the past when China was the richest country on earth). When Deng Xiaoping ended the insanity and ended this meme, it took 30 years to take it to the brink of being the largest economy in the world and we’re freaking out because of it. They don’t talk about “privilege” there much these days (although they do talk about corruption, a big problem).

    But I can see what makes you mad at those evil privileged people. It has an internal logic to it. It just doesn’t make for a good place to live. For anyone.

  18. Phillip

    I bike through that little park every weekday on the way to and from work. The folks there seem to just be hanging out. Once some random dude yelled at me “Down With White Privilege!” as I was biking through, but other than that the folks there seemed decent, and just going on enjoying their day.

    I don’t have much of a solution for the trash & troubles that go on there. My guess is that some folks have other stuff to deal with. If I was homeless and had an addiction to alcohol, I probably wouldn’t give a damn about putting garbage in a can. I think Aunti Francis is going about it the right way. If you want to help out the community, you gotta go from the bottom up.

    BTW, I love to see y’all argue 🙂 Sometimes I don’t even read the article, I just scroll down to the first mention of r2dii, OaklandNative, Oakie, or Jonatton!

  19. Jonatton Yeah?

    And people like you are why we need gentrification, “Oakland Native.” The sooner whining, race-baiting, criminal-enabling, urban-decay-creating simpletons like yourself leave this city the better. I don’t care how long you’ve been “here.”

  20. Oakie

    I’m sorry, I object to that. I would request that everyone be as civil as possible, assume that each contributor has the best of intentions, and that we encourage the full voicing of all sides. Discouraging people from contributing destroys the dialogue, which we desperately need in our city.

  21. Robin

    Oakie and OaklandNative,

    I appreciate your thoughts and the time it took to express your opinions on this matter. While I tend to sway more toward OaklandNative in my thinking, I must say that Oakie took me by complete surprise with their last comment. I truly appreciate a thoughtful and informative debate, but often find the point gets lost when people resort to name calling and in general bad behaviour. I completely agree with you Oakie, civility between opposing views is the only way for discussions to progress.


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