OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - Community leaders are hosting the 2nd annual BBQ ‘N While Black event at Lake Merritt in Oakland, and this year, they said they want to distance themselves from why the big party started in the first place.
“We don’t want to attach this to BBQ Becky,” Jhamel Robinson told KTVU. “Saying her name just gives her too much power."
He was referring to a woman named Jennifer Schulte, who on April 29, 2018, was captured on video after witnesses said she told two African-American men to stop using a charcoal BBQ at the lake. She called 911 and police came to confront the men. While she was technically right – only gas grills were allowed in that particular area – and no one ended up being arrested, her vitriol against the men of color sparked a national uproar and a backlash of support for diversity in Oakland and beyond.
“We want this to be a positive event," Robinson added. "It’s a celebration of blackness. But we want our allies and members of the community there, too.”
And there’s been more positivity that has sprung from the original act of prejudice. On most Sundays, predominantly African-American vendors have set up shop, selling juices and clothes, in an effort to “take back the lake.” Many say they are selling their goods not only as a way to make some money but to also harken back to the 1980s and 1990s when Oakland hosted a “Festival at the Lake,” a popular venue for up to 120,000 people at its peak.
Sspecifically, Robinson said he used the BBQ Becky encounter to teach his students at Fremont High, where he leads a multimedia class. He asked his students what they would have said or done if someone had come up to them and told them to stop barbecuing at the lake. Their answers came in the forms of songs with titles such as “Know Your Worth" and "Live From the Block."
"We tried to portray us having a good time in the neighborhood," said Mina Washington, 17, who helped co-write the latter song. "We are often portrayed as violent, criminal or 'ghetto.' But we are trying to show that we are just people who like having a good time."
The class is launching a release party for the album on Friday afternoon.
Robinson acknowledges that it’s not all kumbaya. This week, someone spray painted the N-word on a black man’s sedan at Lake Merritt.
But mostly, Robinson said, relationships and attitudes have gotten better. “It’s not perfect,” he said. “But I feel that there’s more unification with different races. Even if people aren’t black, I think they heard, they understand and they empathize.”
IF YOU'RE INTERESTED: Organizers hope to raise $10,000 to pay for permits, police and other costs related to putting on the 2nd annual BBQ ‘N While Black event, tentatively on July 21, at Lake Merritt.