Cleaning Streets to Celebrate Martin Luther King

A handful of the 80 or so volunteers who spent MLK day cleaning and beautifying Oakland. Photo: Streetsblog
A handful of the 80 or so volunteers who spent MLK day cleaning and beautifying Oakland. Photo: Streetsblog

Yesterday morning, some 80 volunteers came to a Martin Luther King Jr. National Service Day event in Fruitvale, organized by the Oakland Office of Public Works, the City of Oakland, and Oakland City Councilmember Noel Gallo. The volunteers, who assembled near the BART station at 9, collected trash from nearby streets and public spaces, trimmed trees, and gardened the grounds of the Oakland Animal Shelter.

The event was one of several throughout the region, demonstrating the importance of giving back to the community and celebrating the memory of Martin Luther King.

“We expect to fill about seven trucks full of illegal dumping, garbage and trimmed trees from International Blvd.,” explained Lisa Coto, a deputy with the council office.  “We’re also mulching the grounds of the Oakland Animal Shelter.”

TKTKTK Photo: Streetsblog
Lisa Coto and Kaori Suzuki hand out instructions and kit to the volunteers. Photo: Streetsblog

Streetsblog tried to get a sense of what all the volunteers, who were spread across miles of Fruitvale’s streets, were doing. Groups of ten walked some of the sidewalks and corners of Fruitvale Avenue, picking up discarded trash. The most concentrated effort was at the Animal Shelter, where trucks had deposited a large pile of mulch which the volunteers spread out in plant beds.

Volunteers Mulching TKTK Photo: Streetsblog
Volunteers spread mulch at the Oakland Animal Shelter. Photo: Streetsblog

Kara Hunter, who works for Williams-Sonoma, came in from San Francisco and was one of the mulchers. “Williams-Sonoma is spending MLK day volunteering throughout the Bay, giving back to the community,” she explained. She worked with Kathy Lemmon, a lifelong Oakland resident. “I do animal volunteering and come to the shelter, and the outside of the shelter needs some love too, so I zeroed in on volunteering here.”

TKTK Photo: Streetsblog
Kara Hunter and Kathy Lemmon spread mulch around drought-tolerant plants. Photo: Streetsblog

Diedre Martin, with Oakland Public Works, said the MLK day event is part of an ongoing effort to work with volunteers on clean up and beautification projects through the “Adopt a Spot” program. “We do litter clean up from the streets, basic clean up…the MLK day of Service and Earth Day are two of our biggest events,” she explained. The mulch is more than just an aesthetic treatment, explained Clinton Pugh, a supervisor with Public Works. “This was a needy lot,” he said of the animal shelter grounds. “We put in drought-tolerant plants, six trees–the mulching prevents weeds and gives nutrients to the plants.”

Volunteers cleaning the sidewalk on Fruitvale Ave. Photo: Streetsblog
Volunteers cleaning the sidewalk on Fruitvale Ave. Photo: Streetsblog

As Streetsblog has pointed out in previous posts, building livable streets must include keeping them clean and presentable too. There’s a kind of self-reinforcing cycle–when people volunteer and clean up, they develop pride in the community and a better sense of place.

Despite the hard work of the volunteers, Josie De La Cruz Park still had litter. Photo: Streetsblog
Despite the hard work of the volunteers, Josie De La Cruz Park still has way too much litter. Photo: Streetsblog

That said, these hard working volunteers have their work cut out for them. As crews returned from International Boulevard and Josie De La Cruz Park, it was clear that they had collected huge amounts of trash–and yet so much work remains to be done. Lets hope more people will volunteer throughout the Bay Area, and will continue to work whenever they can, until we get the clean, safe and inviting streets we all deserve.

Did you volunteer over the MLK holiday? Discuss why and how you feel you benefited personally. List past and future volunteer opportunities below. Be sure to leave links.

  • Stan Parkford

    While I think its great that so many volunteers showed up to give back to help clean up the street, I think its really important to note that no People of Color were pictured in this post. If its the case that they’re giving back to the community, which “community” are they really giving back to?

  • AlTate

    What i think is really important is that at least some of us can look at a picture of people doing good works without the first thing they notice about it is peoples’ race. Maybe that is the real message MLK intended?

    That said, if you can’t see at least one Asian in that image then you need new glasses

  • Stan Parkford

    I mentioned my comment to simply point out that there weren’t any PoC pictured here (maybe there were? maybe they weren’t pictured? but why?). I did this for two reasons: 1) I love and respect this blog (in fact, I used to work for it), but the crowd here may not be used to including discussions of racial equity and representation as part of the other livable city issues brought up here. I saw that no one else brought it up, so this white 20-something mentioned it. 2) while these issues *should* be important ALL them time, there is a particular focus on MLK Day, specifically for Black and African-American people.

    I feel its important to point out: the myth that MLK hoped and dreamed of a post-race or “colorblind” society is one that is perpetuated by the system of white supremacy in order to dodge accountability in racial dialogue, silence the voices of PoC, and admonish responsibility for the system of privilege. Plain & simple, its white-washing.

    Here’s one great introductory resource that might help flesh out this idea bit more:

  • AlTate

    You appear to understand that MLK wanted a color-blind society where people don’t see race. And yet you looked at the photo and saw race. I looked at the photo and saw people doing good works. Which of the two of us do you think is closer to MLK’s idea?

  • Stan Parkford


    Its evident that either I wasn’t clear about the concept, or you didn’t read closely enough, because it is not my understanding that MLK wanted a colorblind society. It might help for you to re-read what I wrote, if you seek to understand where I’m coming from.

    To rephrase: the concept of “colorblind-ness” was NOT a part of MLK’s vision. To quote the referenced article:

    ‘The distortion of King’s “Dream” speech into a message of a race-free society is one of the most powerful tools of white supremacy in derailing productive discussion on racial justice. Dr. King was very aware of race and his blackness. In no way did King indicate that he saw race or the recognition of blackness and whiteness as a problem in society; his issue was with the ways in which race had been exploited to create social and economic oppression.’

    For anyone to pretend that they “don’t see color” is textbook whitewashing and is often used as a tool to negate narratives of the Black experience. Its very much in the vein of “All Lives Matter”.

    I don’t think its unreasonable to point out that in Fruitvale, with many communities of color, there isn’t much representation in the coverage of this clean-up effort. “Pointing out” isn’t a statement of blame or accusation, but it was meant to challenge the narrative presented here, and asking readers and those involved to question themselves about how they perceived this event.

    Cleaning up and beautifying streets is a generally pretty good thing, and I think its great that these people volunteered their time to contribute to any community. My comment was to add the layer of Black representation to this narrative, and help start a dialogue with someone/anyone about that. I do notice when representation skews overwhelmingly white, because I want to see more equal representation in the dialogue of urbanism, complete streets, active transportation, and livable cities.

  • AlTate

    I’m not buying that at all. It seems very clear to me that a color-blind, post-racial perspective is the very essence of MLK and any thinking liberal. MLK said he dreamed that one day we would not judge by the color of one’s skin.

    Sometimes I think the only people who have failed to live up to that dream are those who are trying to advance a race-based agenda. I looked at those photos and it genuinely never occurred to me what race anyone was. It just didn’t matter.

  • Stan Parkford

    That is something I would strongly recommend that you start thinking about and noticing more, and not attempt to skirt the issue of race by claiming to be “colorblind.” If people don’t notice the white supremacy that surrounds us, they’re a part of enabling it.

    “Why Color Blindness Will NOT End Racism”, Decoded with Franchesca Ramsey:

  • AlTate

    I never said anything about racism. I was talking about someone whose first thought when seeing a picture of some people is to notice their race and start making assumptions based on that. To me, that’s racism. It never occurs to me to do that and so, yes, I consider myself to be more color-blind and post-racial than you.


This Week: Bike Lights, Carlson Boulevard, Holiday Lights

Here are this week’s highlights from the Streetsblog calendar: Tuesday Light up the Night. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s Light up the Night is an annual bike-light distribution campaign done in conjunction with Bay Area Bicycle Law. Volunteers install hundreds of white front lights and red back lights on bicycles for people riding in the dark. […]

MLK Jr Way Streetscape Workshop

From EBBC: The City of Oakland Redevelopment Agency and their consultants will be holding a community workshop to develop a shared vision for Martin Luther King, Jr Way from West Grand to 40th Street. Your input will help the consultants to design a street that works for neighbors, businesses, and all road users (bikes too!).

With Help From Mayor Quan, Oaklavia Returns With a Bang

When Walk Oakland Bike Oakland hosted the city’s first Ciclovia-style event in downtown Oakland in 2010, onerous city fees meant plans for a second Oaklavia that year proved too ambitious for the small organization. “We thought we wouldn’t be able to do it again,” said Jonathan Bair, WOBO’s Board President. Three years later, the city brought Oaklavia back, closing […]