Una Thurman (center) holds up the art piece she created for the Peace in the Streets banner project. From left to right: J'Marie Thurman, Jodi Thurman, Una Thurman, Alia Thurman, Zhuren Thurman. Oakland, Calif. Saturday, Jun 26, 2021. Credit: Harvey Castro

Local artists and activists held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the East Oakland Youth Development Center on Saturday afternoon, to unveil a public art installation calling attention to the steep rise in gun violence in the city since the start of the pandemic. Dubbed the “Peace in the Streets Neighborhood Beautification Project,” the installation consists of 52 street pole banners depicting images and messages intended to amplify the voices of residents whose lives have been impacted by violence. 

“Art has the power to change minds, and reprogramming our minds with positive and loving messaging is vitally needed in our community,” wrote Tanya Dennis, the board chair for Adamika Village’s #StopKillingOurKids movement and one of the project’s main organizers, in a press statement.

The banners will be displayed in the coming days along a stretch of International Boulevard between 73rd and 86th Avenue. The location of the banners was intentional, as a majority of Oakland’s gun violence has occurred in the East Oakland flatlands. The Oakland Police Department documented 61 murders in the city as of June 27 compared to 32 in the same time frame last year, or an 91% increase.

  • Daryle Allums speaking to a small group that gathered underneath the Adamika Village Banner on 84th Avenue and International Boulevard in Oakland on Saturday, June 26, 2021.

The banner project was created in collaboration with young people under the guidance of Vision Quilt, an arts-based violence prevention program. “Oakland’s youth are dedicated to bringing peace to the city, but we need the adults to listen and support their efforts,” wrote Cathy DeForest, the organization’s executive director.

The project was endorsed by City Councilmembers Loren Taylor (District 6) and Treva Reid (District 7), and funding for the art installation was supplied by a mini-grant from Oakland’s Department of Violence Prevention, additional funds from the Black Cultural Zone, and individual donations made to Vision Quilt. 

Oaklandside contributing photojournalist Harvey Castro attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony where he took pictures and recorded audio interviews with some of the organizers and residents in attendance. You can listen to snippets of those conversations by clicking on the portraits below.

Una Thurman (youth artist) and mother Alia Thurman

Olubori Babaoye, art instructor at Vision Quilt

Tanya Dennis, board chair of Adamika Village

Daryle Allums, executive director of Adamika Village and Oakland Frontline Healers

Cathy DeForest, executive director of Vision Quilt

Antoine Towers, chair of Oakland Violence Prevention Coalition

Regina Jackson, president & CEO of East Oakland Youth Development Center

Joanna Ruckman, lead designer, Peace in the Streets Banner Art Project

Kenny Johnson, community advocate

Lawrence Manifes-Gantt of Adamika Village & Oakland Frontline Healers

Harvey Castro is an Oakland-based photographer and art administrator working on projects rooted in social justice. Sociopolitical issues related to inequality and diversity are central to his work leading to connections with individuals, which result in candid portraits and intimate scenarios taken in both public and private spaces. Genuine involvement and engagement are essential; often, his work has a strong feeling of reportage with many images showing the subject mid-exchange, active in communicating their situation. Reflected are bonds of support and camaraderie within each specific community – bonds that make resistance possible against adversity and exclusion.