510 Day returned to Lake Merritt on Tuesday after a two-year hiatus from being fully in-person. This year’s festivities took place in front of the Pergola and Colonnade (currently closed off for renovations as part of the Lakeside Restoration Project, funded by Measure DD.)

The event was hosted by several community organizers, including 510 Day co-founder Leon “DNas” Sykes, city of Oakland Cannabis Regulatory Commission member Chaney Turner, Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ) Executive Director George Galvis, and Deligod of Oaxxanda, a local arts and culture cooperative, among others. 

510 Day was co-founded in 2016 by Sykes and fellow Oakland locals Jordan Warren and Needa Bee, the latter a housing activist with The Village in Oakland. Nicole Lee, the founding executive director of Urban Peace Movement, became involved with the block party in 2018. 

The unofficial Oakland holiday, which has been celebrated on May 10 each of the past seven years, combines a party atmosphere with protest, themed around current social justice issues affecting longtime Oakland residents. This year, the topic of Oakland Unified school closures weighed heavily on participants’ minds. 

Through 2019, the block party was held at Lake Merritt across the street from the Cleveland Cascade staircase on Lakeshore Avenue. But the pandemic hindered the event for the past two years. In 2020, the celebration was all virtual, and last year it took the form of a car caravan

On Tuesday, several speakers addressed the crowd on issues affecting residents. 

Keith Brown, president of the Oakland Education Association, talked about the need to support students who attend Oakland Public Unified School District schools and encouraged attendees to fight against closures in the district.  “We stand together in unity with our students,” Brown said. “We stand together on this beautiful 510 Day.”

A large crowd of people gathered in a circle to check out performances by a group of dancers from the Destiny Arts Center. There was also spoken word by members of 67 Sueños, a nonprofit that teaches undocumented youth about activism and social justice. 

The chilly and windy weather did not deter local entrepreneurs from setting up shop along Lakeshore Avenue. They included Nate Day and his wife Jasmine, from East Oakland and West Oakland, respectively, who own Pop Wok N Drop, a kettle popcorn business. The pair talked about obtaining street vending permits through the City of Oakland. “We are from here,” Day said. “The city makes it difficult to give us a way to vend legally.” Oakland City Council approved new rules and regulations for street vending and events held at the lake. The rules are in place through Memorial Day weekend. 

While Tuesday’s event did not draw a crowd as large as those prior to the pandemic, organizers and attendees were enthusiastic in expressing the same sentiment, to fight for the preservation of Oakland culture. 

Photojournalist Carla Hernández Ramírez was on hand to capture images from the celebration.

Members of the community enjoying the performances at 510 Day at the Lake Merritt Pergola. Credit: Carla Hernández Ramírez.
Nate Day and his wife Jasmine, owners of Pop Wok N Drop, pose in their booth during 510 Day at Lake Merritt. Credit: Carla Hernández Ramírez
A 510 Day attendee at Lake Merritt stops in front of the Black Men Speak booth. Credit: Carla Hernández Ramírez
Chaney Turner of the Oakland Cannabis Regulatory Commission addresses the crowd. Credit: Carla Hernández Ramírez
Members of the nonprofit 67 Sueños performed a poem at the event. The group brought a banner depicting scenes with Black and brown people in Oakland with messages reading “Certified Ohlone Land” and “Close All Detentions.” Credit: Carla Hernández Ramírez
Caribbean food vendor Jerk’n It was one of the many vendors with a booth at the event. Credit: Carla Hernández Ramírez.
Dancers from Destiny Arts performing during 510 Day. Credit: Carla Hernández Ramírez
Drummer Andrew Reynolds watching one of the performances. Credit: Carla Hernández Ramírez
A father and son walk with their bikes during 510 Day. Credit: Carla Hernández Ramírez
Attendees and members of Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ) cheer on performers. Credit: Carla Hernández Ramírez
Attendees enjoying the sunshine during 510 Day at Lake Merritt. Credit: Carla Hernández Ramírez

Azucena Rasilla is an East Oakland native, a bilingual journalist reporting in Spanish and in English, and a longtime reporter on Oakland arts, culture and community. As an independent local journalist, she has reported for KQED Arts, The Bold Italic, Zora and The San Francisco Chronicle. She was a writer and social media editor for the East Bay Express, helping readers navigate Oakland’s rich artistic and creative landscapes through a wide range of innovative digital approaches.