In 2011, Oakland experienced a spike in violent crime after four years of declining crime rates. As of April of this year, crime has risen by 21 percent. In Fruitvale, merchants are struggling to combat the violence that is plaguing the neighborhood. One unlikely business is taking part in that effort. Cooper’s Chapel Funeral Home has been in the neighborhood for almost a century and now, a new manager is set on making the historic mortuary a vital part of the community.
Corner stores in Oakland are predominantly run by immigrants from the Middle East. Most of the merchants are originally from Yemen. Some estimates report that 80 percent of Bay Area convenience stores are operated by Yemenese.
One of those stores is Foothill Market on 19th and Foothill in Oakland’s Fruitvale district. The Hassan family runs it. Ali Farrad Hassan is a first generation Yemeni-American, and has been working in his uncle’s store for a few years now.
One way to get to know a new place is to ride public transportation – especially the bus. It’s like taking an unguided tour – a tour in which there’s often as much to see inside as there is out the windows.
The most popular buses in Oakland are the 1 and the 1R. The 1, which is the local route, makes 105 stops in three different East Bay cities. It’s a trip that takes four hours from start to finish.
Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood has a history of welcoming new immigrants. At the turn of the 20th century, the area was full of orchards and beer gardens that served as an attraction to San Francisco residents. Today, you can see colorful markets full of produce and piñatas or eat delicious tacos at one of the area’s many food trucks. Many day laborers will wait on street corners eagerly looking for any type of work. And that’s why a center called Street Level Health Project was created a decade ago.
The Unity Council has deep roots in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood. Founded in 1964, the center has expanded into a national model for community development, spearheading the creation of the Fruitvale Transit Village and growing to work with about 12,000 low- to moderate-income clients per year.
KALW’s Holly Kernan asked Gilda Gonzalez, CEO of the Unity Council, to talk about the organization’s history.