Community Leaders: The Unsung Champions for Change

When I applied for the Matsui Local Government Fellowship, I knew from the beginning I wanted to intern for the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP). After taking a class on environmental justice the previous year, I learned about the effectiveness and specific victories WOEIP had accomplished within West Oakland. Tackling the issue of the high shipping truck traffic within residential areas and the resulting high asthma rates among residents, I was specifically impressed with how they managed to do it collaboratively with both the City of Oakland, the EPA, and the community, while ensuring the community's decision-making and participation. However, even with this admiration, I had little knowledge of what happened on a day-to-day basis at the WOEIP.

Exiting the West Oakland BART Station, I made a short walk around the corner to find myself in front of the WOEIP office. A small customized community-built building on a relatively empty plot of land. I found Brian Beveridge, Co-Director and Co-Founder of the WOEIP, stepping out of his truck and heading to unlock the building's door. As I stepped inside with him, we talked about the WOEIP and the current situation and work they were currently involved in. Shortly after, 'Miss' Margaret Gordon, the other Co-Director and Co-Founder of the WOEIP, along with an intern from the EPA, entered and began to set up for the day. That day they were hosting a funder's meeting from the Kresge Foundation along with various other leaders in surrounding West Oakland community organizations. As I sat in the meeting, I quickly learned the scope and magnitude of the WOEIP's work.

With a track record of success with their limited resources, along with their other work such as free educational workshops for the community, there was a reason Kresge Foundation put their faith and funding in them for their Climate Resilience and Urban Opportunity Initiative. Being my first day and second hour in my internship, there was a lot to digest during the meeting. Afterwards Miss Margaret helped explain the long history and relationships with Oakland, the EPA, the community, and various other players involved. Overwhelming at first, I slowly started to understand the current situation and the high importance of their work. We were at the center of creating real monumental change, granted with some difficult obstacles ahead.

Nothing proved to me more that community leaders are at the center of change, that very few people have the knowledge, skill-set, and patience to fight for a more just world. When I asked Brian the type of work I will be doing over the summer, he did not respond with a clear definite answer. It became clear to me that the work would not be predictable, that it would constantly be changing depending on what was needed, what resources were available, and the current political climate. However, I was given a first task between my funder's and city council meetings: define and measure 'social cohesion indicators,' where they could specifically be applied to West Oakland. As a recent Sociology graduate, it was music to my ears as it combined my passion for environmental justice with a framework and skill-set of Sociology.

My first day exceeded all expectations and I look forward to the rest of the summer working with the two unsung champions of 'Miss' Margaret Gordon and Brian Beveridge of West Oakland.

Zachary Raden is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley with a degree in sociology. He is interning at the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project as a Matsui Local Government Fellow.