Over 40 people gathered around Lake Merritt on Monday to celebrate 510 day, a holiday in Oakland that celebrates the city’s black and brown culture and resilience to displacement on May 10 each year.
“For us it’s a protest and a party at the same time,” Leon Skyes, a Black Oakland native who helped organize the 501-day celebrations, told The Oakland Post. “Instead of targeting, we’re celebrating today.”
The holiday began in 2016 when a group of longtime Oakland residents felt that given the Black and Brown Oaklanders being displaced by the city’s gentrification, a celebration of their cultures was necessary. Day 415, a San Francisco holiday that residents gather in Dolores Park every April 15 to celebrate and protest the deportation of local families from SF, was the inspiration for Day 510. Both holidays get their names from their respective city codes.
In the years since the first 510 day, several incidents on or near Lake Merritt have shown the area is a contested place where the partying, making music, barbecuing, or simply the very existence of longtime Black and Brown residents is threatening were.
In the fall of 2016, a woman who lived near the lake called the police over at Aaron Davis, an 18-year-old Black Oakland native, to file a noise complaint about his drumming. Soon after, Oaklanders gathered behind him with their own drums to protest the complaint.
In mid-May 2018, after a viral video showed Oakland white resident Jennifer Schulte calling police against Black Oakland resident Kenzie Smith about barbecuing near the lake, many Black Oakland residents came out to protest the incident protest by taking part in the “BBQ’n While Black” celebration. Later that year a white jogger the belongings of a Black Oakland resident dumped in the lake. The city began evicting many Black and Brown homeless residents from the area and not enforcing camping rules in 2018.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the lake has become a competitive place for informal black and brown businesses after residents who live nearby filed complaints against Lake Merritt sellers selling goods without authorization.
“Gentrification has created a hostile environment for us where we can’t even exist without the police being called,” said Needa Bee, who helped start 510 day and organize the Lake Merritt celebrations , across from The Oakland Post.
Bee, also known as The Lumpia Lady, has lived in Oakland for about 30 years and has been selling Lumpia, a traditional Filipino food, on Lake Merritt for about 10 years. She served free lumpia to those who came to celebrate 510 day.
The celebration included a caravan of bicycles and cars that circled the lake about one and a half times. Bikers, many of whom rode fixed gear and did tricks, led the way. Demetrius Coleman put his legs on the handlebars of his bicycle several times during the ride.
At one point Zay Coleman sat all the way on one side of his bike, using only one pedal to move it as he rode down Grand Avenuenue with both legs and face towards the lake. Cars with signs in support of the Defundation of the Oakland Police Department and against gentrification followed, honking loudly and blasting Oakland musicians like Too $ hort. Motorcyclists went along and turned on their engines. Two roller skaters also joined the caravan.
After the caravan, participants gathered at the Lake Merritt Amphitheater to eat and take photos while some of the bikers continued to do tricks. Neptune Jenkins stood on the frame of his bike while he grabbed the front wheel, pushed and pulled it back and forth as he continued to balance. The amphitheater lined up signs honoring historic Oakland events and famous Oaklanders such as basketball player Bill Russell, activists Elaine Brown, Bobby Seale and Fred Korematsu, musician and dancer Kehlani, and rap groups Hieroglyphics and Digital Underground.
Nicole Lee, an Oakland native who helped organize the celebration, described the 510 day as a way to “claim joy at the same time that we are protesting the Oakland natives and the displacement of the Oakland culture.”
The politics of the 510 day were present in the amphitheater when the organizers encouraged attendees to sign a petition sent to the city council, Mayor Libby Schaaf, and district and state leaders in support of the #WeStillHere Oakland platform which outlines nine demands, including protection for all and Oakland’s non-cooperation with immigration and customs.
While people celebrated with music in the amphitheater and some drank alcohol and smoked cannabis, the celebration remained quiet, the crowd was not dense, and people left long before dark. Although in the years after 510 day the personal celebrations included larger, denser crowds and live DJs playing loud music, organizers purposely withheld this year’s personal celebrations to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Later that evening the organizers threw a party on the internet with local DJs Kleeptic, AbelDee and DJ Fuze.
“Although this is not the greatest physically [510 Day celebration], this was one of the best just by the people’s heart, the people’s will and the mood, “Skyes told the 510-day celebrations at the Lake Merritt Amphitheater. He looks forward to hopefully returning next year with a bigger personal party / protest.