Listen to Yaisa, Quinton, Ramaj, Nevaeh, and Ray’s interview!
Yaisa Johnson has three sons and a daughter. Their names are Quinton Reynolds, Jr. (age 17), Ramaj Walker (age 14), Nevaeh Gaskins (age 7), and Ray Gaskins III (age 7). The kids have lived in Oakland all of their lives, but she moved here from Louisiana when she was just six months old. She describes herself as a strong-minded, outgoing, and helpful woman, and her example has imbued her eldest sons with the desire to lead big-hearted, constructive lives, too. Her oldest, Quinton, is an athlete and is inspired by his sports heroes who give back to their communities. For Ramaj, the second oldest, doing well in school is an important part of becoming happy and successful when he is older.
Having a safe, creative environment for her kids is critical for Yaisa; she believes that home should be a place where children have a fair shot at their dreams. But she is concerned about Oakland due to the onslaught of gentrification, which she likens to “the stealing of a dream.” It saddens her that Oakland hasn’t yet been allowed to live up to all of its potential. Though she has lived here practically all of her life, she says gentrification makes it difficult to feel at ease in a place or even to call that place home.
Oakland has its flaws—for instance, Yaisa believes that the family structure needs to be stronger here as elsewhere. But her love of Oaklanders’ originality is one of things that have kept her here. Her two eldest agree. They love Oakland for the people who find ways to give back to their community and because people find ways to come together to help others. And when asked about how the struggles of living in Oakland have impacted their lives, they speak about the future. Quinton says, “When I’m successful I can look back on the struggles…and I can use that as a motivator.” Ramaj says, “I try to look forward and keep following my dreams.”
All in all, growing up in Oakland has made Yaisa a stronger, more appreciative person. Thinking about her future, she reflects, “It’s one thing to be happy, but it’s another thing to feel joy….My goal is for myself and my children to feel joy—no matter what comes, no matter what goes.”