Oakland endured another year of pandemic ups and downs in 2021. Rather than try to tell that story, or chronicle the other crises, joys, and triumphs we experienced as a city over the past 12 months, we decided to take a different approach to summing the year up visually.

Our photojournalist Amir Aziz selected his favorite pictures of the year. Some helped tell an important or complex story. Others were simply visual reminders of the everyday beauty around us, and the amazing people we share this city with.

An uptick in robberies and assaults in Chinatown earlier this year caused concern in Oakland’s Asian communities and led to calls for increased public safety measures. Nationally, there was a documented rise in hate crimes against Asian people. In March, Oaklanders rallied together in Madison Park to show support for victims of recent attacks, speak out against violence against Asians and women, and participate in a form of collective healing.

Oakland has a rich history, and there’s been a renaissance of sorts in recent years among local historians, writers, journalists, and activists who want to tell the city’s stories and show how they’re connected to the present. One of these storytellers is West Oakland resident David Peters. Peters teamed up this past year with East Bay Yesterday’s Liam O’Donoghue and others to create a Black History Walking Tour. In May, our reporter Ricky Rodas reported on this project.

In the spring, there was a lot of uncertainty about reopening businesses, especially gyms, yoga and dance studios, and fitness centers, which had been closed since March 2020 because of the pandemic. Inside the Lightning Lopez Boxing Club on Seminary Avenue in East Oakland, gloves used by people who trained at the gym before it went quiet hang from the ceiling.

Lots of events restarted in 2021 as COVID-19 case counts dropped. One of Oakland’s most anticipated events was the Indigenous Red Market. In May, the Fruitvale gathering where native culture is celebrated, included a women’s fancy shawl dance and other performances.

The pandemic shutdown created lots of problems. One of the most serious was the financial hit that many families took after their places of work closed temporarily or permanently.  This hit immigrant renters especially hard because many of them were ineligible for some of the relief programs the government instituted. Luis and Maria Vázquez’s family experienced income losses and eviction threats from their landlord, but like others, they endured.

In May, an Israeli ship was scheduled to dock at the Port of Oakland, but it was prevented from doing so by Palestinian protesters and their allies, who are opposed to the Israeli government’s treatment of the Palestian people. The protest was only the most recent example of a long history of international solidarity actions by Oakland port workers.

The East Bay is filled with creative people. One of them our contributor C.J. Hirschfield wrote about this year creates crossword puzzles. In his spare time, he also happens to keep bees.

There’s a housing crisis, but Oakland continues to build, build, build. One of the big projects to make progress this year is the massive 900 home development in the Oakland hills where the Oak Knoll Naval Hospital once stood. In September, construction workers moved the old officer’s club building, which will be incorporated into the new community.

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley announced this year she’s retiring from office. Running for DA next year is civil rights attorney Pamela Price, who accused O’Malley in September of violating state campaign finance laws. Price and her attorney held a press conference with binders they said were filled with evidence of wrongdoing. 

An old church on the corner of Franklin Street and 17th Street in downtown Oakland got some love recently when Ariana Makau, founder of Nzilani Glass Conservation, restored the building’s ornate windows.

Oakland’s entrepreneurial spirit was alive and well despite the pandemic this year. Although many of its cannabis businesses are having a hard time, some are thriving, benefitting from the groundbreaking equity program and the hard work of founders like Tee Tee Brown and Bryce Savoy, who run cannabis delivery service Euphorium Oakland.

One of the biggest events to resume this year was First Fridays, Oakland’s signature street fair. On the first night back, Amir spotted none other than Frank Somerville walking barefoot with his dog.

In recent years the Black Panther Party has started gaining recognition for its positive contributions to the city, and in 2021 Party co-founder Huey P. Newton was posthumously honored with a public monument. Newton’s widow, Fredrika Newton, one of the driving forces behind this push to memorialize the Panther’s legacy, took part in the unveiling of the bust in October.

The return to Oakland schools saw another protest spark catch fire as thousands of students across the Bay Area protested sexual assaults, harrassment, and other forms of sexual harm on campus. Amara Romero, an Oakland Technical High School junior, helped organize a walk out and rally in November that ended outside OUSD’s downtown offices.

One of Oakland’s culture keepers, Dorothy Lazard, retired from her post as the head librarian of the Oakland History Center this year. Anyone who’s ever researched the city’s past has probably benefited from Lazard’s knowledge and the amazing collection of documents, books, maps, and more she helped assemble.

In December, tenants of a Fruitvale apartment building got an early Christmas gift when they learned that their two-year-long rent strike was ending in a deal with their landlord so that they could purchase the building through a land trust. A protest they planned in Alameda, a posada featuring a miniature horse, turned into a celebration of sorts upon hearing the news.

Amir Aziz is a photographer and videographer from Oakland, California. Using photography as his primary medium, Amir documents life and times in his community and the rapid changes in his environment. He's covered music events and social justice movements in the U.S. and abroad for local and international publications. Before shelter-in-place, he traveled to over 10 countries producing multimedia projects juxtaposing the experiences of locals elsewhere to those in his hometown of Oakland. Amir hopes to continue to bridge the gap between African diaspora communities and oppressed groups in the world through multimedia storytelling.

Before joining The Oaklandside as News Editor, Darwin BondGraham worked with The Appeal, where he was an investigative reporter covering police and prosecutorial misconduct. He has reported on gun violence for The Guardian, and was an enterprise reporter for the East Bay Express. BondGraham's work has also appeared with KQED, ProPublica and other leading national and local outlets. He holds a doctorate in sociology from UC Santa Barbara and was the co-recipient of the George Polk Award for local reporting in 2017.