When Oakland resident LeJon Loggins lost his cousin to gun violence in 2006, he designed the obituary as he would a piece of artwork. It was an eight-page, double-sided pamphlet full of colors, images, quotes, and memories.
“Kind of like a school yearbook,” Loggins said.
“I wanted people in the community to know that his life was more than a number discussed on the news. When you look at the obituary and start smiling and remembering, you start the healing process.”
Community members took note of Loggins’ thoughtful work and asked him for help when tragedy struck their own homes. He designed over 700 obituaries in eight years, 160 of which were for victims of homicide in Oakland.
Loggins started plotting his next move — a music-inspired healing session and candlelight vigil to remember Oaklanders who have died this year — after Oakland’s Department of Violence Prevention announced on Oct. 3 that applications are open for its “mini-grant” program.
The grants will provide up to $15,000 to small nonprofit organizations and up to $5,000 to individuals leading innovative community healing initiatives for those most directly impacted by gun violence, gender-based violence, or commercial sexual exploitation.
The Department of Violence Prevention was established in July 2017 to address violence in Oakland through a public health framework. The department uses data to better understand patterns of violence and implements prevention and intervention strategies through community partnerships.
In 2021, the department received nearly $20 million for 2022 to 2024, its largest level of funding since its inception. The 50% increase to the DVP budget comes in the midst of a bad year for violent crime in Oakland. To date, homicide rates are up 6% at 102 deaths, compared to the city’s three-year average of 96.
This year, $475,000 will be awarded through the DVP mini-grant program. Applications are open until Nov. 3 at midnight and recipients will be announced in early December. Youth Leadership Institute, a San Francisco-based organization, will distribute the funds in partnership with Oakland’s Urban Strategies Council.
Earlier this month, the institute trained a 13-person committee of Oakland community members to review applications and select grantees.
CEO Patricia Barahona said that the organization strives to ensure the voices of those most impacted by inequities have a seat at the table for creating change in their communities.
“It’s doubling down on the folks who continue to show leadership,” Barahona said. “When you see that grandma, when you see that auntie, when you see that uncle showing up for people, I think it inspires others to know that healing is here to stay.”
DVP began its annual mini-grant program in 2019, after community members asked how they could access city funding for individuals experiencing violence in Oakland. Since then, the department has awarded just over $1 million to roughly 140 projects.
“DVP believes people close to the problems help build the solutions,” said DVP spokesperson Candace Reese Walters. “Healing growth happens best when community leads the way.”
Past grant recipients include 1,000 Mothers to Prevent Violence, founded by Lorrain Taylor in response to losing her 22-year-old twin sons to gun violence. Last year, the organization received a mini-grant for a community healing and grief support group, COPE, and holiday gift cards to encourage healthy eating.
The organization plans to reapply for funding to develop a quarterly grief support and educational curriculum, and to provide stipends for COPE support facilitators and participants. The funds would also be put toward an annual Mourning Mothers Walk for Healing in May.
Kei Kei Kemp, founder of Panther Skate Plaza in West Oakland plans to apply for a mini-grant that would provide food and supplies to skaters at DeFremery Park on Thursday evenings.
“Play is healing. For those three hours, it’s nothing but love,” Kemp said.
Jessica Scortt, co-founder of the recently opened Self-i.s.h. Society, a nonprofit hair salon and community resource hub, will apply for a mini-grant to help fund weekly community healing circles.
Loggins’ grant proposal is for a candlelight vigil that will have live music, art, culture, and dance. It was inspired by his mother, who endured an abusive relationship after she separated from his father. On a regular basis, Loggins saw his mother and her abuser disappear into the bedroom where they would argue and fight.
“My mother used to carry black eyes, like if she’s wearing socks every day,” Loggins said.
After the assaults, his mother remained in the room, listening to music — Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, or Mary J. Blige.
“As a child, I never really understood why that was a pattern for her. Now I realized that she was trying to get back, to put on that game face and let us know that she’s OK. She would use the music to heal,” Loggins said.
By looking into the eyes of many grieving mothers, Loggins saw the connection to his own.
“I want this music healing session and candlelight vigil to be a start for our city and give our mothers the opportunity to heal and get back,” Loggins said.
The vigil is part of Loggins’ larger vision to facilitate healing and change through his community-based production company, Bay Vision Media Group, where he offers a film apprentice program for impacted youth and adults.
“Oakland is genius for trying new and different things to spark something in our community of change,” he said. “Through music and filmmaking, I’m trying to create another spark that’s bigger than Oakland.”
This article was co-published with Oakland North.