Earth Day: Golden Opportunity to Uplift East Oakland

By Ernesto Arevalo and Jose Lopez

Parents, teachers, and students learning about their local environment.


Friday, April 24- “The participation of ACORN Woodland and EnCompass Academy schools and the ability to share my knowledge about our local environment with students and parents made this event genuinely interactive,” said Leticia Hernandez about Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) seventh annual Earth Day Event in East Oakland. The learning began with storyteller Awele Makeba, who told the poignant and classic Dr. Seuss environmental tale of The Lorax. Resident Leader Maria Guzman enjoyed the story teller and felt that the audience really appreciated the story as it was much aligned with the theme of the day.

This environmental story lead into CBE’s narrative of current state of the environment in East Oakland. Children received passports that would help guide them through an outdoor experience of local grey and green zones set up on a micro-scale in the schools’ grounds. The grey zone had stations that highlighted the current stressors and threats to the local environment, while the green zone was a representation of the possible better environment East Oakland children could have. This was an Earth Day celebration that presented the disheartening truth of these children’s school environment, and the inspiring examples of how to improve the environment for this community.

Teacher discussing life expectancy with students.

The grey zone, although distressing, informed children and their parents of the environmental threats that negatively impact existing East Oakland residents. The stations addressed issues of land use, zoning and air quality by highlighting the schools’ proximity to these environmental threats. The AB&I Foundry station presented the issues on air quality and its impacts to health in the surrounding schools. Other threats to East Oakland’s environment that were on display include crude by rail, the proposed Neptune Crematorium, and the Coliseum City development. The final message from the grey zone was a sign showing the discrepancy between a child’s life expectancy in the East Oakland hills and the East Oakland flats where the environmental threats are located. “This information is worth gold for many children,” mentioned Nancy Mejia.

Once the children collected stamps for visiting each grey zone station, they moved to the green zone that had a visionary community model of a transformed East Oakland neighborhood block. By developing this model, CBE envisions expanding the Elmhurst Neighborhood Planning process that HOPE Collaborative launched in 2012. The 3’ x 3’ model was developed in collaboration with UC Berkeley students and faculty from the Engineering 157 AC / AIS 157 AC class, and HOPE. This process is an excellent tool for residents to give input to transform a local neighborhood.

UC Berkeley students sharing the visionary model to transform 86th Ave. and A St in East Oakland.

The overall goal of the event was for children and their parents to begin and continue having conversations about their local environment, the threats that exist, and the possibility of transformation. “I loved how students where genuinely asking questions and wanting to know more about their local environment, I feel proud of what I did today,” said Resident Leader, Mercedes De La Torre. Another leader, Marina Muñoz is eager to help replicating this event in other schools in the neighborhood to engage students and families and together build a healthy, safe, green, and prosperous East Oakland.