Kentake Tina Neil

Listen to Kentake’s interview!

Sister Kentake looks like the meaning of her African name, “Queen Mother.” Her community gave her this name and around the same time she started dressing in African garb since the late 1970s. Kentake says that these clothes are “all she feel good in.”

Kentake has lived in Oakland for more than 50 years. She has raised five children—her eldest is now 64-years-old—and she has seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Kentake honed her caregiving and organizing skills as an LVN (licensed vocational nurse) at Oakland’s Highland Hospital. She worked there for 26-and-a-half years. She recalls a strike that took place in 1976 that catapulted her into her political activism. As a single parent, she says she was timid and the least likely to get involved, but she did just that. Kentake worked in the emergency room and got “pissed off with how the cops treated us.” She says this may have been when the seeds for taking action were planted within her.

In the 1980s there was no union at Highland Hospital, but there was an association of workers that eventually became the union Kentake would help organize. Because of her activism, she was moved to the Respiratory Therapy Department in the basement. This move was literally to a basement area and was intended to isolate her. In spite of this isolation, a bad divorce, and the loss of her house, Kentake moved on in her life.

Kentake is a survivor. As a 55-year-old retiree, she found herself beginning a new phase of her life. In 1988 she joined the team of a newly founded group called the East Oakland Fighting Back Project. In participating in this community work, Kentake learned about Oakland politics, networks, and its Afro-centric community. It was this Oakland that changed her thinking and her entire outlook. Even though the present Oakland is a drastically different one from the one of the past, due to gentrification, Kentake says she “can’t even express what Oakland means to her. Her experiences here have made her a more knowledgeable person. Kentake says she is proud of Oakland, totally comfortable here, and loves where she lives.