We Are Oakland

We Are Oakland- Aimee Green

I may have written this in the blog before, but I truly believe that people come into our lives for distinct reasons, and most are generally right on time. This definitely rings true as it relates to Aimee Green. She was my daughter's (Paloma) kindergarten teacher. And to say that she was a wonderful teacher is an understatement. 

Paloma had a bit of a tough transition to kindergarten, and I never saw it coming. Ever since she could talk and became aware of school, she looked forward to going to kindergarten at a "big kid school." As the weeks and days approached before the first day of school, she became giddier and giddier. She would imagine what her teacher would be like, what she would learn, and all the friends she'd make. She picked out her lunchbox and backpack with care and she was ready to go. And then the first day came, and it was a bit of a shock to her system filled lots of tears and trips to the nurses office for psychosomatic stomach aches.

Fast forward to the end of the school year, and you couldn't tell her that she doesn't rule the school.  She ended up having an amazing kindergarten experience and I credit that to Ms. Green (that's what I've called her all year and I can't stop now). Ms. Green was patient with Paloma's quiet sadness. She took the time to understand her- to really get to know her. She gave her (and the rest of the kids in Paloma's class) the space to be themselves. Paloma tangibly felt the investment Ms. Green had made in her, and in exchange my daughter fell completely in love with Ms. Green.

Ms. Green is an awesome Oakland public school teacher, and she is one of the people who make Oakland so great.

Here's a bit of her story in her own words...



What's your name?  Aimee Elizabeth Green

Where are you sitting right now? And why did you choose this location for our time together?   My classroom, my students take up most of my waking life and sometimes my dream life as well.  I love my job and who I get to work with on a daily basis. I feel blessed to be inspired by the young people of Oakland.

What's your connection to Oakland? Do you live here, work here, play here or all that and then some?   I started working in Oakland about 12 years ago.  Before I started working here, I lived in San Francisco.  My mother is a native and I had grown up thinking that the place across the bridge was a million miles away.  Once I started coming here on a daily basis, I discovered what a rich, beautiful place it was.  I moved over here and later became a homeowner here and would never live anywhere else.  People become deeply attached to this city.  It grows on you like no other place.  When people disparage Oakland, I tell them they don't even know.  Oakland is a hidden gem.

What do you love about Oakland? How did you end up here? And why do you stay?   I love the spirit of Oakland.  Someone recently said to me that Oakland is the place where the pilot light of revolution is always lit, and I totally agree with that.  The Oakland A's are the essence of Oakland to me.  They are scrappy underdogs who make do with what they have.  I love that.  Oakland is my spirit animal.  

What's your superpower?  I think my superpower is my ability to laugh.  Also, I will put an egg on almost anything.

What are you grateful for? My mom. I have the best mom.  My mom and I have gone through a lot together. She taught at the same junior high school that my sister and I went to. I wasn't a very pleasant person in 7th grade.  Her students actually felt sorry for her because I would start a fight with her while she was teaching. I managed to come out the other side and we've become very close. I think I get my sense of humor from her, and I definitely got my love of baseball from her. Some of my favorite time is spent at the ballpark with her. It's something she did with her father, and now she shares it with me. 

What are your hopes/dreams for the future?  My hope for the future is that I can continue to be able to laugh and enjoy life.  I hope that I can continue learning from the kids in Oakland. I hope that I get to see the A's win the World Series.

Thank you, Ms Green, for a wonderful year! Have a restful summer!

(And yes, my daughter has on her PJs. It was Pajama Day. What can I say?)

Indira Allegra- We Are Oakland

Indira Allegra portrait in Oakland

I met Indira about seven years ago when we both entered a yoga teacher training program offered by the Niroga Institute in Berkeley, CA.  Over the course of the next two years, we got to know each other as we also got to know ourselves through the process deepened our yoga practice.  Indira intrigued me from day one. Her quiet confidence and artistic flare inspired me to discover those qualities in myself.  

When I conceived of the We Are Oakland project, Indira was very high on my list of people to profile. She just has so much to offer her community and society as a whole.  As you'll read in the interview below, she has some knowledge to drop! You will not be disappointed. 

I interviewed and photographed Indira for this project at the end of December. Yes, almost three months ago. Sometimes life gets in the way of the best laid plans, but I am so excited to get this out to the many who know and love Indira, as well as to the new admirers I'm sure she's going to gain. This interview is a bit longer than I'd planned. I didn't want to cut out any of her inspiring words, so I've published the interview in full. Enjoy!!

Indira Allegra portrait in Oakland

What is your name?   Indira Allegra

Where are we and why did you choose this location?   We are on the rooftop of my apartment building in front of my art studio. Right now I can see the cranes by the port. I can see into downtown Oakland.  I’m looking at all of the buildings and where the buildings stop and Lake Merritt begins. I do a lot of my creative work up here and it seems like a natural place for us to collaborate on this project.

Tell me about your life's work.  I am a writer and visual artist. I do a lot of work with visual performance and textiles. So, I’ll craft the textiles that often appear in my video pieces and I’m interested in how cloth acts as a co-conspirator with me whenever I am performing. It’s not just about the body of the artist in the work. I feel like there is limitless intimacy between bodies and cloth. It is that relationship that interests me.

See more of Indira's work, click here:  www.indiraallegra.com

What is your superpower?   So even X-Men had to go to school to learn how to use their superpowers and to build them. [Laughter] What I feel like I’m in the Jean Grey School for (in the X-Men) is to learn how to communicate with everything in its own language. And maybe by the time I’m 99 I’ll have it figured out. [Laughter] I think that there is a way in which, when I’m weaving on the loom, it’s not just me making the cloth. I am in active collaboration with the boundaries or desires of the fabric. So there are certain things that cotton wants to do that silk will not. There are certain things that paper will yield itself to that linen won't. Much of my creative practice is about how I can be receptive to the ‘wants’ of my materials and how can we work together to develop something harmonious. When I think about being able to communicate with everything in its own language…I’m talking about being in intimate communion with the world. 


Indira Allegra portrait in Oakland

Why do you choose to live in Oakland?  I was born Detroit and when the crack cocaine epidemic hit we moved to Portland because I lost a lot of family members due to drug violence there.  Upon arrival in Portland, Oregon at the age of 7, I quickly realized that I really was 3% of the entire state population. That was pretty clear even as a young child. So there was always this obvious sense of not belonging. I would walk down the street (in Oregon) and people would literally ask me “Where are you from?” and “What country are you from?” As a woman of color in a predominately white environment, there were obviously lots of micro-aggressions that came up on a day-to-day basis that I had to deal with. Oakland is the only place that I’ve lived where no one asks me where I am from and no one questions my right to belong here. And that’s wonderful. 

How did you make it to Oakland?   When I first came down to the Bay, I was 11 or 12 and my Dad had taken my brother and I down here on a train trip. I remember this sense of electricity that I was feeling in my body even as a child and knowing that I had to come back here. In my twenties, I did, I got a job working at Laney College as an interpreter for the Deaf and Deaf/blind and was doing a lot of academic support for students with disabilities.

Back in Oregon, I had been the only black interpreter and one of three Native interpreters in the state. I would literally have Deaf clients saying things to me like “You are too dark I can’t even see you signing.” That's the kind of environment I grew up in. While there is obviously racism everywhere, to be in the Bay Area now is like a refuge.

Are you still working with the Deaf community?   I’m not.  My work and my primary responsibility is to my own creative practice right now. One of the things that happened for me when interpreting was that I was diagnosed with a condition called Ménière's Disease that affects my hearing and sometimes my balance. When I got the diagnosis, I learned that one of the possibilities of the condition is that one day, I too, could become deaf.  So if, in theory, my hearing could possibly have an expiration date on it (and while that is certainly not the end of the world) it does motivate me to focus solely on my own creative work and passion. 

What are you proud of?   I am proud of being able to be in a dynamic partnership for 11 years. I feel blessed.

Indira Allegra portrait in Oakland

What are you grateful for?   It’s a privilege to be able to focus on my creative work and to actually make money that way. And to have enough connection with an inner voice that tells me that I can do it. It doesn’t matter what my class background is or that I am going to be finishing my bachelor’s degree at age 35. It doesn’t really matter if I own a giant house or whatever. I don’t have to measure my achievements against anyone else’s standards. All that matters to me is that I feel like I’m growing and I feel like I’m not stuck in life. For me, that idea of being stagnant or frozen is terrifying. Being grounded is good. Being frozen is not so good. Trees are grounded because they are always open to taking in nourishment and open to giving it back. I want to be able to embody that kind of plant intelligence.

What is you hope for the Spring of 2015?   I’m thinking about other applications of #blacklivesmatter.  I’m interested in how we as black people take a stand for individual self-love and self worth in our own lives also. When I meditate on #blacklivesmatter I think about how I used to be borderline diabetic at one point and how, I had to matter enough to myself make different choices in my own diet, and to learn things that I had never been taught growing up about how processed sugars were affecting my body. I had to move beyond the shame of not knowing about all that. Acting as a grown woman often means having to teach ourselves things that we didn’t come up knowing about with regard to physical and mental health and non-violence - and that’s ok. That's a micro #blacklivesmatter movement for me.

Indira Allegra portrait in Oakland
Indira Allegra portrait in Oakland
Indira Allegra smiling in a portrait.

We Are Oakland- Kirk Roberts

As I mentioned in my previous post (check-out Part 1 here) about the Full House Cafe, the lead cook, Kirk Roberts, is pretty famous in his own right.  Full House closed it's doors for good last Sunday, but for 13 years Kirk was the face and the soul of the restaurant.  In fact, when I first met him, I just assumed he owned the place.  Kirk never met a person he didn't like.  He even earned the affection of my children who'd run to the kitchen each time we visited the restaurant to give him a big hug. Plain and simple he was (and is) an all around good human being. 

When I first had the idea to start the We Are Oakland series, Kirk was first on my list to profile. I wanted to learn more about the man that meant to much to our family and countless others. Luckily, I had a the chance to sit down with Kirk to ask him a bit about himself- his journey, his passions, his dreams.  Here's what he had to say: 

What's your name?  Kirk Roberts

How did you end of in Oakland? I'm actually from Richmond, CA, born in Martinez. I live in Pinole. I have been commuting to Oakland ever since I started this job.

I am born and raised in the Bay Area. I have never been any where else. I’ve never been on an airplane, a train, a Greyhouund, no boats. Coming up on 51 years of age and have never been anywhere besides here.

Do you Drive?  That’s all I do.

Would you like travel?  I probably will one day when I retire and have a whole bunch of money.

What do think about Oakland? It’s great. I’ve had several big jobs in Oakland. I’ve worked all over the Bay Area.

How did you become a cook?  Oh, it goes way, way back. I been cooking for 34 years.  I was in a little trouble in my youth, and I went to the California Youth Authority. I spent 18 months in CYA. I went when I was 16 and got out when I was 18. While I was in, I had a work furlough. My work furlough was at Denny’s.  This was in 1980.  I was a dishwasher. They used to take me from CYA out to a Denny’s in Stckton. Every time I took plates into the kitchen, I would always look and watch what the cooks were doing. I was real good at picking things up real fast. And one night, one of the cooks called in sick and the manager needed help.  It was on a Friday night.  I’ll never forget it.  So, I helped her out. And the next day she said, “Wow, you did a great job last night. I want you to be trained as a cook.”

So I became a cook before I got out of CYA. And when I got out, she transferred me to the Denny’s in Emeryville- closer to home. So as I continuing to work for Denny’s, I went to Culniary Arts School.  I wanted to get certified.  You know, I cooked at Denny’s for ten years. I cooked at seven different Denny’s. It was a great experience.  I could go back if I wanted to, but I would never do that.  

What do you love about cooking?   It’s a mind relaxer for me. I block everything out because when you're cooking you have to stay focused. So, if you got some things on your mind, cooking will take it off your mind.  It does something for me.

Now here, …this is the first open kitchen I’ve worked at, and I love it because I’m a people person. Some places I worked at I called it “The Man Behind the Mirror”.  You never know how much people appreciate you. The food is good, but they don’t know who you are because you’re behind the wall. I’ve always said that it’s good for a cook to walk the floor of the restaurant every now and then to let people know who you are.

I’m here for the people. Money is just a part of it.  I can go around the corner and make the same money, but will I get the same people? You got to ask yourself that. 

They’ve been talking selling about this place. (Editor's note: Full House Cafe was sold and closed it's doors on Feb 22nd) And all the custimers have said they want to know where I’m going and they want to stay in contact. The majority of the time I'm out there talking to the people, we don’t even talk about food. We talk about life and the kids and the holidays. That's the kind of stuff that people really enjoy. But at the same time, I’m going to make sure they get what they came  for, which is the food, because that’s my job.  The most important thing that I have really enjoyed is watching these kids grow up.  Like you, I watched you when you were pregnant and now you have the most adorable family. And those are the things…There’s been sadness too. I’ve lost a lot of friends here who have passed away. Two of my customers had been married for 52 years, and his wife recently passed away around Thanksgiivng. Now the husband comes in here and he looks so sad. His wife was so great.  Over the years there’s been a lot of joy and happiness and some sadness too. I had to speak on because those people were important to me.

What is your superpower?  My superpower?  Hmm...Well, I take a lot of "me" time. I’m an only child. I grew up having to play by myself a lot. So now, you’ll see my alone a lot. That’s just how I am. I tell my kids that I’m used to being alone.  I come here to work and hour or two early every morning.  Everybody needs "me" time. I don't care how old you are or how many kids you have or how long you’ve been married or what you are going through. You have to take time for yourself.  And that’s why I come early each morning. I do that from my heart because I know where my blessings come from and I have a great deal of respect for Fred (the owner of Full House).

Tell me about your dreams for the future.  My dreams are already being answered.  I turned 50 when my youngest child was 18.  She was the last one that I wanted to see graduate. It was very emotional because she was a premature baby and stayed in the hospital for four months after she was born. As a parent, your dream is to see your kids be successful. And then for God to actually let me live to see it, it is a dream come true. Now my next dream is to retire.  Oh, and I hope to get on a plane for once in my life before I check out.

When you get on that plane, where are you going to go? I have no idea. People tell me to go to Los Angeles or Las Vegas. I've never had everywhere to go- not saying that I don’t want to- I’ve just been happy here. I had my kids at a young age and now I have 5 grandkids. I’m just happy. As you grow older and you start winding down, life all comes together. I am not in a hurry to do anything anymore. 

What are you proud of?  Me. I’ve been through a lot and I’ve come a long way. It hasn’t always been a cake walk. There's a been a few stumbling blocks in my life, but I've overcome them and that’s something to be thankful for and proud of. I’m happy. I have a beautiful woman at home. Kids are grown and now me and my lady get to spend some good time together. You know, we have some of those pajamas with the feet in them that we like to wear (He lets out a huge laugh).

Is there anything else you want to tell the people reading this?  I have been working here for 13 years, and it’s going to be hard to walk away because I won't be walking away from this restaurant, I’m walking away from the people. And I’ve grown over the years, and I have a lot of respect for the cutomers that come in here.  I might get a little emotional.  Being here everyday 10-11 hours a day... I just hope that the new oweners keep it the same, and I hope that the cutomers keep coming.  I hope that Fred can drive by this place and say, “I used to own that place" and be proud. He’s run this place for 20 years and I take my hate off to that. 

I am very happy to report that Kirk has found a new cooking job at Mama's Royal Cafe in North Oakland. So, if you're local, please go check in him at his new spot. Or better yet, meet my there for breakfast! :) 


We Are Oakland (Full House Cafe and Kirk Roberts)- Oakland Family and Newborn Documentary Photographer

We Are Oakland (Full House Cafe and Kirk Roberts)- Oakland Family and Newborn Documentary Photographer

Writing this blog post feels like birthing a baby.  I have had a dream for many, many months to begin a regular series about the people and places of Oakland, California.