Listen to Part I of Kimi and Isaiah’s interview!
Kimi Watkins–Tartt—mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend, and neighbor—has lived in Oakland all of her 52 years. She was raised and continues to live in East Oakland. Her life centers around the people who are around her—she “belongs” to the people in her community. Her 16-year-old son, born and raised in Oakland, simply defines himself as “Isaiah.” He cares for his family and friends and wants to help them succeed.
Kimi went to college at UC Davis, where she met her husband, intending to pursue a career in health. She discovered that the part of healthcare that she was most passionate about was the social justice aspect, and she decided to go into a career of public health. Working in public health in Contra Costa County and then Alameda County for the past 25 years has allowed her to pursue her passions for economic and racial justice. Ultimately, she’s interested in helping people get what they need in order to reach their full potential.
Kimi has seen a lot of changes in Oakland over the years. For instance, she describes how she and peers in her age group were in their twenties when the crack epidemic hit Oakland in the 1980s. She has seen the changing racial demographic of neighborhoods in Oakland, and she has witnessed the decline of previously vibrant neighborhoods. Kimi describes gentrification as a “mixed blessing.” While she appreciates some of the commercial improvements that come with gentrification—like new shops and restaurants—she is upset by the entitled and selfish actions of newcomers, who seem to want to makeover the city in their image. For instance, she describes how gentrifiers called the police on established churches in West Oakland for creating a disturbance during choir practice; and how Native American drummers at Lake Merritt were given a citation.
Towards the end of the interview, Kimi shares an old black-and-white class photo belonging to one of her friends, who went to a school run by the Black Panther Party. For her, this image of dozens of young students, all sporting berets, embodies the spirit of Oakland’s constant struggle for social justice. She also shares a picture of Lake Merritt—where longstanding Oaklanders remember they used to celebrate Festival at the Lake—which embodies the diversity of Oakland. She points out the Courthouse, East Oakland, the Hills, North and West Oakland. The beautiful Lake Merritt is at the center, and whatever direction you go, you are certain to find something very different—like night and day. It can make you wonder, “Are we still in Oakland?”