The West Oakland Project
A Photo Essayby Alison Yin
West Oakland originated in the mid-1800s as a community of immigrants who worked as railroad laborers and later moved into wartime industries. By the 1960s and ’70s, thousands of residents were displaced owing to the construction of urban renewal projects, and West Oakland was characterized by unemployment, poverty, and blight. African Americans predominated the community, and the Black Panther Party arose out of social and economic inequities.
If you talk to a man who grew up as a young black boy in West Oakland during the seventies, he remembers the time as one of strength, power, and pride for black families. He feels empowered and energized recalling the legacy of the Black Panthers. Conversely, he is both angered and saddened by the current state of his community.
My goal has been to document this community and show how families are trying to instill values and a sense of pride in their children as a way to combat poverty and daily crime. For three months in 2008, I followed the McClymonds High School basketball team and their journey to winning the state championship. Since 1915 McClymonds High has stood in the heart of West Oakland, and despite its long line of famous alumni, including politicians, musicians, and basketball players, the school has been almost closed down numerous times because of declining student populations. The success of the McClymonds basketball team has combined the community’s love for its children with a love for basketball and has served to energize the people of West Oakland.