Few folks really know how to navigate Oakland like Pendarvis Harshaw. It’s really a sight to see. Following him on bike feels like a mini parade; whole lotta head nods and peace signs as we cruise. I call him the Mayor of Oakland. “I gotta hit the office, hit a cafe, then head to this lil’ event tonight,” Pen mentions as we ride. His days are often strategically assembled like this, with stopping points sprinkled along the way.
There’s a deliberateness to Pen’s moves that borders a bit on the obsessive. Pen’s steps are calculated, as if he never wants to waste a moment. Perhaps it’s out of necessity, as a second year pursuing a graduate degree in Journalism at Cal tends to occupy most of his time.
But despite these responsibilities, much of Pen’s passion is poured into his ongoing photo essay, OG Told Me, a continuous collection of interviews with representatives of Oakland’s wiser generation. “It’s an ode to the elder men in the community who gave me tidbits of wisdom as I moved through society as a child,” Pen states. “They taught me what to do and what not to do. Sometimes it’d be a neighborhood big shot standing in front of his car. Sometimes it’d be a homeless person at a bus stop.”
From ex-convicts to teachers, recovering drug addicts to world-famous figures like Bill Russell and Danny Glover, Pen’s interviews are wide and varied. And while personal relationships have led Pen to a number of OG interactions, chance situations also tend to turn to interview opportunities as well. The result is a diverse collection of stories, perspectives and experiences from those that have been here longer. Situating himself within the fabric of Oakland’s past, present and future, Pen’s contributions to the community are immense. Set to release a book of essays in the months to come, Pen spoke with Wine & Bowties about the evolution of OG Told Me, the lessons he’s learned, and his aspirations for the future.