Author Archives: Sandhya
by Jean Jeffress, OPC volunteer
Greetings friends, fans, and lovers of the Oakland Peace Center. Some of you may remember a couple of years ago I interviewed, and then wrote articles highlighting staff members of the Oakland Peace Center. Okay, even if you don’t remember, we’re doing it again for this edition of the OPC newsletter. I interviewed and had a fantastic conversation with Alexandra Candia, who has been the operations manager at OPC since last December.
Alexandra became connected to the OPC through her friend, Kristy Higares, the former operations manager at OPC. Alexandra said she was not necessarily looking for a job when Kristy sent her the information about the operations manager position that she would soon be leaving, but Alexandra thought that the position played to her strengths as an organizer. The organization itself—its work, mission, and values—appealed to and interested Alexandra.
The Oakland Peace Center has so many different member organizations and so many pieces to the work it does as a collective. Alexandra says she’s
helping to bring it all together in a cohesive way, in a way that helps us further our mission and share our values, and proceed further by achieving more grants and being able to do more of the work we do. I feel really comfortable in helping to bring all of those pieces together in a cohesive way even it that translates to spreadsheets and budgets and things like that.
Oakland Peace Center is in very capable hands with Alexandra at the operational helm—balancing budgets and providing support at a systems-level to help OPC function more smoothly and sustainably into the future.
And, OPC is lucky that Alexandra chooses to spend her time with them, because she is a person who does not need any more things to do. As she said, “that could be its own interview what I do outside of here.” Alexandra’s skillset is not limited to managing the operations of a multi-faceted non-profit. She is a dance instructor and has been dancing and teaching dance in the Bay Area and the Brazilian dance community here for over 15 years. She currently teaches dance to adults in the Mission District of San Francisco and to children in grades 3 to 8 at Melrose Leadership Academy here in Oakland. She also is also one of the directors of a group of dancers who have participated in San Francisco’s Carnava every year for the past 30 years. This dance company Fogo na Roupa—Portuguese for “Fire in the Clothes”—provides free dance and percussion classes throughout the Spring and raises money for costumes so that the youth Alexandra teaches can participate in Carnava. Carnava is at the end of May, so Alexandra is very busy right now.
In addition to dance, the other big and very important piece of Alexandra’s life is costume design. She owns and operates Candia Designs Costumes and is currently in the middle of designing 150–200 original dance costumes for dancers and dance groups. Even outside of the Carnival season, she does freelance costume design all throughout the year for dancers nationally and internationally. And, on top of all that, she does marketing and accounting for Tiny Elephants Event Production, a boutique event planning company. She is a person of remarkable talent and focus.
At the heart of all that Alexandra does is a desire to make a positive impact on the lives of people in the communities in which she lives, works, and cares about. The work she does with children has a long-lasting force for good on their lives. She says,
“I see the impact. [There are] kids that are in college that I taught when they were 6 years old and I have kids in 8th grade [who] have already participated in Carnival for 7 years. So, it’s really special. And there are people in their mid-20s who I knew when they were teens [and] they’re still with us.
She goes on to say about her work at OPC,
to be able to be behind the scenes and helping [with] these other individuals like Sandhya or OPC’s programming and events and the things that they do, helping those go further and making an impact with various populations of people; that was important to me.
Alexandra enjoys her growing relationships with the OPC staff and while she is on the OPC campus 2 days a week, she is also able to work remotely which is good for her given her busy life. She is getting to know Sandhya better and values the one on one time they spend together just about every week.
Alexandra is a wonderful and valuable addition to the staff at the Oakland Peace Center. Be sure and say hello to her when you get the chance.
You can reach Alexandra at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’re really proud of what’s been happening in these walls and across the Bay during the OPC’s last fiscal year. Check it out here!
by Marvin K. White
Paying homage to black funerary practices; artist and professor Angela Hennessy and The Oakland Peace Center’s Artivist-In-Residence Marvin K. White, hosts free community grieving and performance rituals.
A black boy is not a broken bottle.
A black boy is not a unlucky cat.
A black boy is not a bus stop.
A black boy is not an ant colony.
In the midst of displacement and gentrification, historically black funeral homes rarely close. In fact, large funeral conglomerates are buying up historically black-owned funeral homes. Black people have always sat with the dead, have always meditated on death as we mourned the loss of loved ones and community folk. And now it’s a get-rich-quick scheme.
A black boy is a powder keg.
A black boy is a revolution.
A black boy is a sister city.
A black boy is not a puddle.
In the Wake of The Quiet Hours… is a monthly, site-specific community container and grief ritual. It is now more important than ever to hold space for our collective grief, disbelief and fear. “The last one”, the last shooting of an unarmed black person, the last killing of a black or brown trans woman, the last young woman forced into sex trafficking, was not “the last one”.
A black boy is not a snapped tree.
A black boy is not a flash flood.
A black boy is not a run over skunk.
A black boy is not a Newport.
The “Quiet Hours” are facilitator-led meditations, conversations, and rituals that collects the grief, that the people in Oakland carry, gives space for it to be spoken, whispered, cried, broken and learn from it. We offer those in attendance, a “Quiet Hour” (silent meditation centering on the attendees historic and contemporary, past and present, deaths, passages, and losses. We then move into the “Wake”, where those gathered read the names of their dead that they are carrying with them and introduce them to the other people’s dead that they carry with them. Mothers, fathers, friends, victims 400 miles away and 400 years ago have all been brought in. The evening concludes with the “Visitation”, where storytelling about the names entered into record become transformed into lessons and strategies of survival, resilience and love.
A black boy is not spearmint gum.
A black boy is not a briquette.
A black boy is not a double yellow line.
A black boy is not a dropped grocery bag.
With the proliferation of images, videos and livestreamed killings of black people, and the ways that marginalized people have been forced to witness the killings, our communities have always had to have meditation practices to move the fear, anger, rage, grief, tears and distrust, through our bodies. We have always known how to meditate because there has always been the killing of black people.
A black boy is not folk art.
A black boy is not a cast shadow.
A black boy is not motor oil.
A black boy is not a “Candy Gold” Camaro’s donuts.
In the Wake of The Quiet Hours… is where we gather, where we sit sangha with death, where we embrace the living, and where we leave a little more aligned and reconciled in our bodies, after having lived with and under various oppressions. We know that in front of grief, as well as going through grief, and ultimately coming out of grief, that there is joy. If the community becomes a “wake”, then it speaks to itself a vigilance that we have always needed and called upon. We sit with the dead but we listen for joy. We sit to hear what lessons were on their lips as the living became the bullet’s dead.
A black boy is not hopscotch.
A black boy is not a Coors can.
A black boy is not sunflower seeds.
A black boy is not a telephone pole.
This, first of its kind community grief ritual, is a “community mind renewal” practice, and it, through the meditations that are created, allow for the din of violence that is anti-black, anti-woman, anti-lgbt, anti-immigrant, anti-homeless, and anti-religious, to be blocked out, for several house, so that we remember that we are here, alive, breathing, surviving, possible, and thriving.
A black boy is not a fire hydrant.
A black boy is not a manhole.
A black boy is not an altar call.
A black boy is not a god.
In the Wake of The Quiet Hours are held monthly at the Oakland Peace Center. They could be as easily held in the busy historic black funeral homes of East and North Oakland. While there is no body, we are mourning the loss of our lives and livelihoods by displacement, state violence, poverty, racism, white supremacy, ageism homophobia and misogyny. our feelings of belonging here. And depending on the wisdom in the room we will also provide to each other resources for how people can engage in resurrection practices: engaging in renters’ rights campaigns, collaborating with organizations and community spiritual, social justice & creative activators addressing HIV/AIDS in the Black community, joy in the black community, senior housing access work, organizing, dignity, access, and equity.
Marvin K. White, MDiv, is a graduate of the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA. He is currently the ARTivist in Residence at the Oakland Peace Center. He was the Public Theologian in Residence (’17-’18) at First Church Berkeley and a recent Yerba Buena Center for the Arts “Equity” Fellow (’16-’17). He is the author of four collections of poetry: Our Name Be Witness; Status; and the two Lammy-nominated collections last rights and nothin’ ugly fly. He is a highly sought-after preacher, poet and performer. He is articulating a vision of social, prophetic and creative justice through his work as a poet, artist, teacher, collaborator, preacher, cake baker, and Facebook Statustician.
This has been a year of great staff transition and expansion at the OPC. We bid farewell to our communications and development intern Tia Rounsoville who is starting at Mills College, and we bid a partial farewell to our operations manager Aja Minor who will continue to partner with us on our high school internship program through her OPC partner organization InSolidarity. We have a phenomenal new operations manager we hope you’ll get to work with in the months to come. And we’re grateful that Clidell “Franceyez” Jackson is providing continuity as our facilities coordinator.
When we welcomed our ARTivist-In-Residence Marvin K. White in March, OPC executive director Sandhya Jha interviewed him and shared the interview in that month’s newsletter as well as on our webpage. As we welcome our brand new OPC Peace and Partnerships Communicator, Todd Atkins-Whitley, Sandhya has done the same thing. We hope you’ll check out Todd’s bio on our webpage to learn more about his expertise and gifts in the field; but for now, here’s a little glimpse into Todd’s vision for his work with the Oakland Peace Center’s 40 partners!
SJ: Todd, what got you connected to the work of peace and justice in the first place?
It would not be until late in my life, actually after I became a community organizer, that I realized it was my mother who modeled the work of peace and justice to which I aspire. Her life’s work—well into her 80s—was focused on making life better for senior citizens in our community, particularly those on fixed incomes or experiencing poverty. Not only did she advocate for their immediate needs of food, transportation, and companionship, but she also lobbied governments and councils to address systems that marginalized and harmed the elderly and admonished them to care for these most overlooked folks. Her advocacy was done in the secular arena but it was 100% motivated by her faith. She felt those “little old people” (as she called them) deserved to experience peace in the sunset of their lives and that belief, as much as anything, prompted her justice work—even though she would have never called it such.
After spending a couple decades raising my children and working a corporate job, I began searching for meaningful work that would make an impact in society. So I began to show up in justice- and peace-oriented communities—listening, being present, following the lead of others. It would not be long before I was invited to leverage the skills and knowledge I had gained over my life toward efforts that not only responded to folks’ immediate needs but also addressed systemic issues that kept people oppressed.
Today, I realize this sense of connection to works of justice and peace simply runs in the family.
SJ: I love that. It raises an important question for me. At the OPC, all of our partners are working on peace, but they are working on it in 40 different ways. What is peace to you, and how do you hope to participate in peace at the OPC?
To be honest, I never really framed the work of peace in the same context as my justice work. You see, I was raised to think that “peace” was simply being nice to others, or being quiet, or meditating—certainly more of a passive, individual, heady pursuit. So even though at times I have thought I was experiencing peace in an interior way, I did not experience it fully until I came to imagine peace, and the work of peace, as a collaborative experience.
OK so—It may sound strange, but I think of “peace” as a sort of energy. Sure, it’s energy that must be cultivated within but for me, the work of peace, when done alongside other peace-makers and peace-dreamers, is exhilarating and much more productive. It is that energy—that varied hum of peace—that compels and propels my work among and alongside people committed to cultivating a culture of peace. I feel that energy here with the OPC team and I felt it in a powerful way in our partner meet-up last month!
I guess you could say I thrive on the idea of working among such a diverse community, with as many different practices as there are organizations, in partnership with folks who are committed to this great enterprise we know as seeking and creating peace.
SJ: You’ve gotten a few glimpses of that community so far. What are your thoughts about how we might be able to move towards peace together, and what’s your role in that?
It is important for us to be aware of each others’ hopes and dreams and what we’re doing to achieve and fulfill them, as well as our movements toward co-creating this peace we aspire to. I also believe a more unified peace is possible—and more realistically attained if not also more lasting—when we’re all aware of the intersections of our work. Where are we able to lean into the practice of solidarity, where can we lift together, where can we diversity, where can we learn from one another. And that’s how I perceive my role here—communicator, cheerleader, amplifier, evangelist, collaborator—not just for our community here in Oakland but for each member of this incredible collective.
SJ: Thanks so much! Anything on the horizon at the OPC you’re particularly excited about?
You mean, besides hearing Alice Walker live?! I am truly excited about getting to know this community and really immerse myself in the culture of peace being cultivated with such intention and great love. And honestly, I can’t wait to help bring as much attention as possible to the incredible work being done by the OPC team and the collective of people assembled here.
SJ: Thanks, Todd. Super excited to have you on board.