Join us for the next event on June 22, 2023

This June we shift our focus to some of the young people that are having an impact in our Town. Our own arts & community reporter Azucena Rasilla will be joined in conversation by activist & organizer Ixchel Arista, Oakland Tech Basketball State Champion Erin Sellers, and Youth Leader Xavier Tillery. Plus a live performance by the incredible Paris Nights!

Ixchel Arista

Ixchel Arista is an organizer with the youth-leadership and advocacy nonprofit, Oakland Kids First. She began organizing other youth as an Oakland High School freshman at a campus after-school program, and later joined the Youth Organizing Council, an education equity and social justice group, where she helped to pass Measure QQ in 2020. The ballot measure gave 16- and 17-year-olds in Oakland the right to vote in school board elections, although the law has yet to be enacted. She continues to organize with others to pressure local officials to implement Measure QQ in time for the next city election. Ixchel is also a dancer with the Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company, and a proud graduating member of Oakland High’s Class of 2023.

Erin Sellers

Erin Sellers is a graduating member of the Oakland Technical High School Class of 2023. A basketball player since the age of around 6, Erin went on to become captain of the Tech girls basketball team that won three state championships and went undefeated during last year’s playoffs. Sellers will be attending the University of Alaska Anchorage in the fall, where she received a full ride scholarship to play basketball.

Xavier Tillery

Oakland native Xavier Tillery has been a youth leader with the Teens on Target program at Youth ALIVE!, a community-based nonprofit focused on violence prevention, intervention, and healing. Over the past four years with the organization, Xavier has facilitated virtual and in-person violence prevention workshops for youth at more than eight different Oakland middle schools, including his old stomping grounds, Frick Middle School. He is a graduating member of Castlemont High School’s Class of 2023, and will be attending UC Merced in the fall on full ride scholarship.

Paris Nights

About Culture Makers

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Since launching in June 2020, The Oaklandside has been telling stories about the many people — muralists and musicians, activists and entrepreneurs, dancers and filmmakers, poets and educators — who keep our city on the cutting edge and make life in the Town so interesting and enjoyable. Now, we’re bringing these stories to life with “Culture Makers,” a quarterly in-person event series featuring live performances and rich discussions with Oakland creatives—some well-known, and others making waves just beneath the surface—who are putting a unique stamp on our city.

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Past events

March 23, 2023

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For our first event of 2023, The Oaklandside shifted its lens to examine Oakland culture from the vantage point of those who document and report about it. Our own arts & community reporter Azucena Rasilla will be joined by three local journalists who’ve been deeply committed to covering our city’s evolving culture, each in their unique way: Oakland Voices editor Momo Chang, KQED show host and correspondent Pendarvis Harshaw, and Liam O’Donaghue of the podcast East Bay Yesterday.

Momo Chang

Momo Chang is Co-Director of Oakland Voices, a community journalism training program and platform that is a part of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education. She is also a freelance writer, focusing on healthcare, immigration, education, food, and culture. She is a former staff writer at the Oakland Tribune, where she covered Chinatown and Asian American communities.

Pendarvis Harshaw

Pendarvis Harshaw is an award-winning journalist from Oakland, who started his career by freestyling in scraper vans. His insightful, thorough coverage of the Bay Area is the definition of community journalism. Harshaw is also a photographer and public speaker, the host of the podcast Rightnowish, and KQED Arts & Culture’s cultural correspondent.

Liam O’Donoghue

Liam O’Donoghue is the host and producer of the East Bay Yesterday podcast, which airs biweekly on KPFA-FM. He also writes a monthly column about the East Bay for SF Gate. O’Donoghue’s journalism has appeared in outlets such as KQED, The Oaklandside, Berkeleyside, Mother Jones, Salon, East Bay Express, 99% Invisible, The Kitchen Sisters, and the syndicated NPR program Snap Judgement. In 2018, he was honored by the East Bay Express as “the best journalist-turned-historian” and presented with a “Partners in Preservation Award” from Oakland Heritage Alliance.

Musical guest: Orchestra Gold

Orchestra Gold is an Oakland-based ensemble whose vibrant sound is rooted in a decade-long collaboration between bandleaders Mariam Diakite of Mali and Erich Huffaker of Oakland. Blending the traditions of Mali and American rock and funk with a retro feel, the group transcends borders and boundaries, offering a kaleidoscope of magical sound deeply rooted in the past while boldly blazing toward the genre-bending future.

Dec. 15, 2022

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Our fourth and final event of 2022 put the focus on filmmaking in Oakland. Joining us were award-winning local filmmakers Benjamin Mulholland, Laura Wagner, and Peter Nicks. Due to a massive power outage downtown, the show was held almost entirely in the dark—with mood lighting powered by a generator that was kindly supplied by an audience member! Oakland-born singer Satya performed live, providing the perfect soundtrack for what turned out to be a thoughtful, entertaining, and unforgettable evening.

Benjamin Mulholland

Benjamin Mulholland is an Oakland-based writer and director. His celebrated works include the short film M.O.A.B. and the action/satire web series Pennies for the Juggernaut, which has garnered fans around the world. His films—which span the genres of adventure and sci-fi and explore themes of politics, mysticism, and mythology—have appeared in numerous festivals, including the Oakland International Film Festival and Cinequest. He’s currently hard at work on a feature-length version of his short film, The Lake Merritt Monster, and a new film, 1000 Demons

Laura Wagner

Laura Wagner is a celebrated filmmaker and the co-founder of Bay Bridge Productions and the Oakland Film Center. Her feature documentaries include The Scale of HopeArtifishal, and Art 21’s San Francisco Bay Area. Her docs have premiered at Sundance, Tribeca, and SXSW, as well as the Seattle, Rotterdam, and Melbourne film festivals.

Peter Nicks

Peter Nicks is an Emmy Award-winning documentary film director, producer, and cinematographer whose most well-known works include a trilogy set in Oakland exploring the interconnecting narratives of health care, policing, and education. The Waiting Room, an immersive depiction of Highland Hospital’s emergency room, won an Independent Spirit Award and was shortlisted for an Academy Award in 2012. The Force, a look inside the troubled Oakland Police Department, won the 2017 Sundance Directing Prize. Homeroom, the final film in the trilogy, won the inaugural Jonathan Oppenheim Editing Award at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.


Singer-songwriter Satya is an Oakland School for the Arts alumna. Last December, she made her hometown debut at the New Parish as the opening act for Mara HRuby (our last Culture Makers musical guest.) Satya first got on people’s radar with her 2019 debut EP, Flourish Against Fracture. Her new EP, Deep Blue, tackles themes of love, heartbreak, and healing with striking vulnerability.

Sept. 22, 2022

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Our third event in the series took place on Sept. 22 at the New Parkway Theater and featured a discussion about Oakland sports and how it intersects with culture, race, and politics. Our guests were former WNBA player and current Oakland Tech athletic director Alexis Gray-Lawson, sports columnist Marcus Thompson, and Oakland Roots co-founder Edreece Arghandiwal. Live music was provided by Mara Hruby.

Alexis Gray-Lawson

Alexis Gray-Lawson was born in Oakland. She attended Oakland Technical High School where she helped lead Tech to its second state basketball title. Gray-Lawson earned a scholarship to play basketball at UC Berkeley, where she holds the Golden Bears’ all-time record for three-pointers made, with a total of 148. She signed with the Phoenix Mercury of the Women’s National Basketball Association in 2011. In the WNBA offseason, she also played professionally in Turkey and Israel. Earlier this year she received her doctorate in educational leadership and curriculum. Gray-Lawson is currently the community school manager, teacher, and athletic director at Oakland Tech. 

Marcus Thompson

Marcus Thompson II is a lead columnist at the national online sports news publication The Athletic, known for writing on Bay Area pro sports, especially the Golden State Warriors and the NBA at large. He is the author of the national bestseller Golden: The Miraculous Rise of Steph CurryKD: Kevin Durant’s Relentless Pursuit to Be the Greatest, and DYNASTIES: The Ten G.O.A.T. Teams that Changed the NBA Forever. The Clark Atlanta University product lives with his wife, Dawn, and daughter, Sharon, in Oakland.

Edreece Arghandiwal

At a time when sports teams are leaving Oakland, Edreece Arghandiwal is swimming against the tide. A first-generation Afghan-American born in Oakland, Arghandiwal is a co-founder and the chief marketing officer of the Oakland Roots Sports Club. This community-oriented professional soccer team made its debut in 2018 and plays its home games at the Laney College Football Stadium to a growing contingent of adoring fans, often drawing capacity crowds. In May, the club announced it would also be fielding a women’s professional soccer club, the Oakland Soul, beginning in 2023. Arghandiwal is a graduate of Babson College and the University of California, Davis. 

Mara Hruby

Mara Hruby doesn’t just play music—she lives it. Since the onset of her career, the Oakland native has poured her soul into her velvet confections, drawing inspiration from lessons that she’s gleaned in her personal life and funneling them into rich, organic compositions. In just a few years, the singer-songwriter—whose musical influences range from Patsy Cline to Curtis Mayfield—has become one of acoustic soul’s fastest-rising up-and-comers, gaining a loyal following. Hruby’s 2014 album Archaic Rapture reached the coveted #1 spot on iTunes Jazz charts within a week. Her work was described as “bridging the gap between cabaret-era jazz-pop and alternative soul” by NBC Bay Area, and the Huffington Post said Hruby’s effortless music “evokes a nostalgia for the sounds of Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald.”

June 23, 2022

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Our second event in the series took place on June 23 at the New Parkway Theater and explored themes of food and social justice. Our guests were local chef Tu David Phu, restaurant owner Reyna Maldonado, and community organizer César Cruz. Live music was provided by Los Bahianatos.

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Tu David Phu

“Top Chef” alumnus, Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and Oaklander Tu David Phu cut his culinary teeth in the kitchens of some of the nation’s top restaurants, including Daniel, Acquerello, and Chez Panisse. He has cooked across a wide range of cooking cultures—but it was what he calls “the memory of taste” that pulled him back to his roots: the practices, ingredients, techniques, and flavors of Vietnamese cuisines.

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Reyna Maldonado

Reyna Maldonado’s mother, Ofelia Barajas, spent 16 years selling tamales as a street vendor in the Mission District where she raised her family. Maldonado, a Dreamer and DACA recipient, was still a full-time college student when she and Barajas joined La Cocina’s incubator program, which helped them to start La Guerrera’s Kitchen, now located in Oakland’s Swan’s Market. The pair’s delicious tamales, pozole, and barbacoa are rooted in traditional family recipes from Guerrero, Mexico.

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César Cruz

César A. Cruz runs Homies Empowerment in East Oakland, which serves 400 meals to community members every week through its FREEdom store. The program grew out of Homies Dinners, where local youth crossed gang lines to break bread and participate in civic engagement programs. Raised in Compton, Cruz was the first in his family to graduate from high school. He went on to study at UC Berkeley and earn a doctorate in educational leadership from Harvard. But as Cruz likes to say, none of his accolades are his alone—it took a barrio.

Los Bahianatos

Los Bahianatos, led by Oakland native Jose Rivera, spread their love of Colombian dance music at performances throughout the Bay Area. The band features the sound of the button accordion and traverses musical styles ranging from cumbia to vallenato to Colombian salsa. 

March 24, 2022

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Our first event in the series took place on March 24 at 6:30 p.m. at the New Parkway Theater and featured a terrific slate of Oakland culture makers: Kev Choice, Niema Jordan, and Akintunde “Tunde” Ahmad. The evening was emceed by The Oaklandside’s arts and community reporter, Azucena Rasilla. 

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Akintunde “Tunde” Ahmad

Akintunde “Tunde” Ahmad’s clothing designs have been turning heads. His journey into fashion began in 2016 after a trip to Ghana. Inspired by the fabrics and custom clothing, he launched his brand, Ade Dehye, using custom textiles sourced directly from West Africa. Ahmad adheres to an ethical business model that supports, rather than exploits, African labor and culture. 

Kev Choice

The multi-talented Kev Choice is no stranger to lots of folks in the Bay Area and he’ll be familiar to many of our readers—he performed and spoke with us last June for The Oaklandside’s one-year anniversary Live-ish special. But Kev is about a lot more than just the music: He’s an educator and a champion of the arts in our city, as the vice-chair of Oakland’s Cultural Affairs Commission

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Niema Jordan

In addition to her own directed works (like the 2020 short film Labor), journalist and filmmaker Niema Jordan has worked on HBO’s Eyes on the Prize, Apple TV’s The Me You Can’t See,  the Pete Nicks-directed documentary The Force, a most recently, Dawn Porter’s Bree Wayy: Promise Witness Remembrance. She also serves on the board of directors at the youth leadership nonprofit, Oakland Kids First.

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Azucena Rasilla

Azucena Rasilla, host and moderator

Azucena Rasilla is a bilingual journalist from East Oakland 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 the associate editor for the East Bay Express.

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