Young men and women, all about Michael Brown’s age, sat in a loose circle in a room at Youth Uprising, the popular youth center in East Oakland. Their faces were somber in their shades of brown and black and Asian and mixed-race and white.

“I feel like I’m hostage as a human and as a black man,” said a young man with a quiet voice sitting in the far corner. “This misconstrued notion that we have to do more to keep ourselves safe, to come off less aggressive or not wear certain clothes,” and then his voice trailed off.

Such was the conversation in one of the four healing centers set up by the City of Oakland and community organizations in the wake of the Ferguson decision.  This one, at Youth Uprising on MacArthur Boulevard, was facilitated by the center’s director of wellness as well as by a local pastor and two counselors. Other healing centers were set up in West Oakland and in the center of the city on 23rd Street.

This reporter was allowed to listen to the conversation at the healing center provided the speakers were not identified by name or by photograph. And really, names seemed unnecessary; their voices spoke for every man or woman who has a heart or a conscience.

“This issue of police brutality and violence is so big,” said one young man, a community college student. “That this thing happened all the way out in Ferguson, Missouri, and is hitting people here shows how deep this goes. It’s because it is happening everywhere.” 

Heads shook in agreement. Several people spoke the names of Oscar Grant and Alan Blueford, young men shot and killed in Oakland by law enforcement – the first by BART security, the second by city police.

The adults with them participated in the conversation as peers.

“What keeps going through my mind is what is my life worth?” the pastor said softly.  If God created every person in God’s image and imbued them with souls, how dare a human being conclude one man’s life is worth less than another’s.

One counselor held his three year old son on his lap, a child with big brown eyes and a doggie embroidered on his shirt. The father held him with both arms and with such care you could almost read the fear in his heart that his cherished little boy would all too soon be of an age where he will be vulnerable to police brutality.

Young and old, the participants seemed kind of dismayed by the vandalism – or at least the news reports of vandalism – during the protests in the streets of Oakland following the Ferguson decision.

“The thing is, not all that happened,” said one young man about the television report he saw of the protest he attended in Oakland the night before.  “I was fortunate to leave before the vandalism started but my housemate said that for the most part they were pretty peaceful protests.”

”I will say, there were a lot of white faces on the news,” said one of the adults. She spoke of black voices being co-opted once again; for one by the media, which had heavily reported on the vandalism but less so on the peaceful marches that proceeded them, and two by white “anarchists” as they are known locally, who led the window bashing and fire setting in Oakland in the late night hours of protest.

Now, after the unbelievably heartbreaking decisions out of Cleveland and New York City that leave the police killers of a 12-year-old boy and a father of six also without indictments, the nation is reeling in pain and protest. Oakland, San Francisco and Berkeley are experiencing protests, as are New York, St. Louis, Washington, Boston, and many more cities.

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan has encouraged the four non-profit organizations running the healing circles to keep them open, to keep the conversations going.  The healing circle conversations at Youth Uprising have been, by city staff accounts, the most well attended. It is where the youth of the city, young African American men and their peers, are figuring out their future.

Other healing circles have been held by Healthy Communities/Healthy Oakland in West Oakland, at their buildings at 2580 San Pablo Avenue  and at Liberty Hall, 1485 8th Street, and by Youth Employment Partnership at their offices in central Oakland at 2300 International Blvd.  Youth Uprising is located at 8711 MacArthur Blvd.

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