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OG Told Me...

A photo essay.
By Pendarvis Harshaw. @OGpenn 

"I’d tell em to go back to school."- James Moore

I stopped for tacos. Ended up getting clean windows… and some wisdom. 

As the sun set in East Oakland on a Saturday evening, I met James Moore, a neighborhood native who traveled the world; a serviceman who fought in the Korean War.

He was washing windows in front of the well-known Sinaloa Taco Truck on 22nd Ave. and International Blvd. 

As he sprayed and wiped the front window of my car, I asked Mr. Moore the question I ask all elders I encounter: if you had the chance to tell young people any words of advice what would you tell them, Mr. Moore instantly replied: “I’d tell ‘em to go back to school”.

We continued to discuss the concept of work ethic, be it that of a window washer or that of a journalist; and how your work might help other people. 

He ended with saying, “it might not seem like much, but the more I do it, the better I get.

After I cut off the camera, I asked Mr. Moore about the work ethic of the women on International Blvd, a well-known hub for prostitution. “That profession is older than Christ,” Mr. Moore said as a young lady in short shorts walked through the intersection about 50 yards away from us. “It’s ok, if they’re are doing it for the right reason,” said Mr. Moore. He followed up with saying, “if she has a family and this is the only way they can eat, then it’s ok.”

As the school-age girl walked out of my peripheral, Mr. Moore finished wiping my passenger window. I got my order of three tacos and one large Orchata from the taco truck, and then shook Mr. Moore’s hand—giving him what spare change I had in my pocket.

Have a blessed day,” Mr. Moore said, before I drove away. 

"Alcohol is almost as bad as heroin…"- Gerald "Tin Man" Green

Mr. Green and I stood outside of Oakland’s Laney College Forum on a Saturday morning, as we discussed his upbringing, his career as an engineer and his history here in Oakland. 

What impressed me the most was the portion of the conversation where Mr. Green, I mean Tin Man, talked about his knucklehead days.

"You know that corner store over there on 59th and San Pablo?" Tin Man said as he pointed in the general vicinity. 

"I used to hangout in front of that liquor store!"

He and his crew were regulars on that corner. And after having a couple of drinks and/or smoking with the gang, he’d head home and do his homework.

He said it’s all about self-control.

I asked him if it was like being a kid, and knowing how to stop yourself from grabbing another cookie out of the jar. He said, yeah! 

I didn’t get a chance to ask him the question (If you had a chance to give young people a piece of wisdom, based on your experience, what would you tell them?).

Instead, our conversation about drug consumption ended abruptly, as I was asked to return to my job as a photographer for an event. 

But, before I left, Tin Man made sure to tell me to be mindful of my alcohol consumption.   

"Alcohol is almost as bad as heroin; it’s one of the hardest habits to break." 

When (Billy Dee) smiled at Diana Ross… I said, man, that nigga got a pretty smile.- Diamond Jim

I saw his car earlier this year, and I instantly took a photo.

The caption of the photo read: "(Whose) granddaddy/ uncle/ baby’s daddy is this? I gotta holla at OG. #OGToldMe#Oakland#Cadillac.”  

Well, on June 12th 2014, I saw the car again. It was in the Church’s Chicken parking lot in North Oakland. As the driver stepped out of his brown Cadillac Fleetwood, I approached him, introduced myself and complimented him on his license plates.

We began to talk: about his birth down in Louisiana, his upbringing in Chicago and the ups and downs of selling drugs in Oakland.

Diamond Jim’s lifestyle was flashy: he gave cars to family members and invested in jewelry. 

"I had 2 whole karats, not no half karats, 2 whole karats," Diamond Jim said as he pointed to his teeth.

He told me that back in the day he had gold teeth with diamonds in them, but he had recently “gotten past that”. 

"In 2010 I had ‘em taken out,” said Diamond, as he hit his hand with his fist. “I’m 74 years old now!”

He continued, “I liked it when I saw Billy Dee with it. You know, Billy Dee in lady Sings the Blues,” Diamond smiled. 

When (Billy Dee) smiled at Diana Ross… I said, man, that nigga got a pretty smile.

I laughed, and then I went to ask him the magical question— but he didn’t answer.  

"If you had the opportunity to give young people some advice based your life experience," I said, "what would you tell them?"

OG told me, “look man, I got to go.” He gestured at the fast food joint behind us. He was en route to get something to eat, and I was holding him up in the parking lot. 

He concluded with saying, “Do you know Gangsta Brown? He has my whole story…”

I found the OG in the brown Cadillac. Now I have to find Gangsta Brown...  

"Pay close attention to anyone who looks like they have a level head."- Randolph Cox 

                        …

He was wearing a weathered leather jacket and holding a horn in his hand. He walked alongside his bike, marching down San Pablo Ave at high-noon on Wednesday June 11th. 

I introduced myself to Randolph Cox, and without taking a breathe, I asked: why do you play the horn?

"There’s nothing new under the sun, so I play the same thing over and over; and it makes me feel good," said Mr. Cox.

"How long have you been playing?" I asked.

Mr. Cox replied, “I picked this thing up about two weeks ago; got it from a shop around the corner…”

I laughed.

We proceeded to have a conversation about his middle school days in Berkeley, his time in Vietnam and how the media can be deceiving or informing— and that’s why it’s powerful.

His mention of media served as the perfect segue. I showed Mr. Cox a newspaper that I had just grabbed off the newsstand a couple blocks prior to encountering him. The East Bay Express had just published a well-written piece, highlighting my OG Told Me project. I was excited; in the middle of the street, tooting my own horn!

After showing him the periodical and explaining my project, I asked Mr. Cox thee question: If he had the opportunity to tell young people anything, based on his life experiences, what would he say? OG Told Me: 

"The best training is to start early, maths and sciences and stuff like that," Mr. Cox said as I filmed him talking. He said that if you can acquire one of these skills, "you’ll always have a place in society… ’Cause ain’t nothing new under the sun." 


On May 26th, I met a gentleman who introduced himself as D-Bo on the corner of 57th and Foothill in East Oakland. This is what OG Told Me…

 

"My name is OK," an older gentleman told me, as I walked through Oakland’s Mosswood Park with a camera in my hand.

After asking If I could take his photo, OG told me: "Oh baby, don’t get it twisted: I’m not Hollywood. I’m Holly-hood.

And then he proceeded to take a number of photos, with different poses.  

"Culture is a weapon."- Emory Douglas
…
Emory Douglas is an artist, illustrator and the Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party. He’s a published author, as copies of his book “Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas" can still be found online. 
His art is evocative. I dare you to look at his images and not feel them.   
“Whether the people like it or not, you’ve got to bring it to their attention,” Emory Douglas told a room full of students and faculty during a presentation at Merritt College’s Student Lounge on February 18th, 2014.
His art is social commentary.  
“I wonder if Nixon is bothering us now,” Douglas said as he showed an image of the former President in a menacing manner. He clicked to the next slide and said, “I wonder if Obama is spying on us now”. As the image of Obama replaced the image of Nixon, someone in the crowd let out an “Ohhhh!”
"We’re talking about the real deal!" exclaimed Douglas.
His point: the same thing he saw back then, he sees going on today. And it’s his job to show that connection to the world.
His presentation was full of words like: Freedom, Slave ships, Obama, Nixon, Panthers, Sickle-cell, Oakland, Atlanta, Vietnam, Terrorism, Media, Government, Police, Pigs, Politics and Power. 
He talked a lot about politics. And power. 
…
When the question/ answer portion of his presentation came about, I asked Mr. Douglas: if he had the chance to give the youth a piece of advice, based on his experience, what words of wisdom would he give them?
OG Told Me: 
"Stay inspired. Stay focused. Have fun, at the same time, be focused on what you need to do. Study, learn your craft or whatever you do," Emory Douglas told me (and a room of people).
He concluded with saying,”be able to work with a group of people.”
….
After answering my question, he recited a poem.
(The following is the final segment of his poem.)
"…It is our duty as the makers of the art of resistance to always recognize the oppression of others. The goal should be, to make the message clear— so that even a child can understand it. Don’t be fooled by deception. Know the rules before you break them. Don’t lose sight of what the goal is. All power to the people.” 

"Culture is a weapon."- Emory Douglas

Emory Douglas is an artist, illustrator and the Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party. He’s a published author, as copies of his book “Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas" can still be found online. 

His art is evocative. I dare you to look at his images and not feel them.   

Whether the people like it or not, you’ve got to bring it to their attention,” Emory Douglas told a room full of students and faculty during a presentation at Merritt College’s Student Lounge on February 18th, 2014.

His art is social commentary.  

I wonder if Nixon is bothering us now,” Douglas said as he showed an image of the former President in a menacing manner. He clicked to the next slide and said, “I wonder if Obama is spying on us now”. As the image of Obama replaced the image of Nixon, someone in the crowd let out an “Ohhhh!”

"We’re talking about the real deal!" exclaimed Douglas.

His point: the same thing he saw back then, he sees going on today. And it’s his job to show that connection to the world.

His presentation was full of words like: Freedom, Slave ships, Obama, Nixon, Panthers, Sickle-cell, Oakland, Atlanta, Vietnam, Terrorism, Media, Government, Police, Pigs, Politics and Power. 

He talked a lot about politics. And power. 

When the question/ answer portion of his presentation came about, I asked Mr. Douglas: if he had the chance to give the youth a piece of advice, based on his experience, what words of wisdom would he give them?

OG Told Me: 

"Stay inspired. Stay focused. Have fun, at the same time, be focused on what you need to do. Study, learn your craft or whatever you do," Emory Douglas told me (and a room of people).

He concluded with saying,”be able to work with a group of people.”

….

After answering my question, he recited a poem.

(The following is the final segment of his poem.)

"…It is our duty as the makers of the art of resistance to always recognize the oppression of others. The goal should be, to make the message clear— so that even a child can understand it. Don’t be fooled by deception. Know the rules before you break them. Don’t lose sight of what the goal is. All power to the people.” 

OG Told Me: A Love Story

Felix and Hazel Wright met in a church in Arkansas circa 1934.
He was 19. She was 15.
Well, she was actually 13 at the time, but he soon found out. And 80 years later, they’ve learned a lot about each other— including how to love one and other. 
The couple lived in Arkansas, where Mr. Wright worked multiple jobs, including picking cotton for a sharecropper.
"300 pounds. That’s the most I ever did in one day," said Mr. Wright, as he spoke about his experience sharecropping. His work resume is American history— it speaks of the occupations African-Americans held during the early 1900’s.
 
The couple decided to move to California in 1945. 
"I came here looking for money," said Felix Wright, as he sat at the foot of his bed in North Oakland.
His recollection of driving to California in “a Chrysler, Cadillac, Ford- na it was probably a Chrysler” in 1945, not only speaks of the great African-American migration from the South to the industrialized urban areas of American; it also highlights how popular American-made automobiles once were.
His work resume and recollection of automobiles pale in comparison to the photos on his walls.
"I was with the greatest!" Mr. Wright exclaimed, when asked about his experience in meeting Muhammad Ali.
Keeping with his trend of taking photos with royalty, Mr. Wright has a photo of himself standing aside BB King. “Look! And he’s holding Lucille,” Mr. Wright seemingly forgot he was 100 years old as became animated, pointing to the King’s guitar. The King was dressed sharp. So was Mr. Wright. Not to mention Mrs. Wright’s uncanny sense of fashion, as she stood next to Felix in the photo.
In a number of pictures, the Mr. and Mrs. Wright have coordinated outfits: his tie went with her dress. Her glasses complimented his blazer.
Not matching. Coordinating… They had swag. 
Aside from a family photo, there’s one other photo on the Wright’s bedroom walls: a photo of Barack and Michele Obama. I guess you could call that a family photo as well. I mean, the Obamas are familiar with the Wrights. 
On November 15th 2011, the First Lady and President of the United States of America signed their names on a document dedicated to acknowledging the Wright’s 75th wedding anniversary. 
Mr. Wright, passively proud of the letter from the President of the United States, spoke greater lengths about his wife’s angelic singing and her incredible ability to cook chitlins. 
When asked about strategies on making love last, OG Told Me:
"I just know we tried to make it last from death, ‘til we part, or something like that." - Felix Wright said with ease. 
Note: Aïdah Rasheed, who was present during the interview, is the granddaughter of “Grandma Hazel and Daddy Wright,” as she calls them. Rasheed is a filmmaker and lover of good stories; she told me about this couple and how they’ve been married for over 75 years. She wanted to make sure to document the story of an underaged couple from the South, and how they grew to a beautiful elder age, together. And now, as their memories fade they still remember to hold hands as the fall asleep, every night… I’m thankful for being a part of this documentation process. 
 

"I learned how to take my lil butt, sit in that chair and hit them books in that school."- Tall Paul

I was cruising down the backstreet when I saw the golden spokes on his parked bikes; I instantly hit my brakes. I had to compliment him.

He was kneeling, woking on another bike near a mobile home.

I introduced myself and he did the same, proclaiming that “Tall Paul” is his name

I told him I liked his bikes. He told me he liked my vibe, and asked me to hold on…

He went in his mobile home, and came back out with another golden wheeled Scraper Bike. He was followed by his “better half”, a woman by the name of Antoinette, who was holding yet another decorated bicycle.

He said he fixes bicycles for young people who earn more than 3 A’s on a given report card. Of course, the young people have to bring the report card and their bikes to his shop, which is West Oakland’s on Peralta st. 

He has no problem fixing bikes, in fact, he’s been doing it since he was kid. I asked him, if he had the chance to talk to young people, what message would he tell them? OG Told Me…

"It starts in the books."- Tall Paul  

Walter Turner is one half of the R&B duo Robert Winters and Fall.

The group had a big hit int he early 80’s, by the name of “Magic Man" … He has those words tattooed on the side of his neck. 

Now, Turner works as a record industry consultant and a Juvenile Justice Commissioner at the Juvenile Hall in San Francisco. 

I met Mr. Turner while he was working a third gig: the chauffeur for Mr. and Mrs. Tanner’s late December wedding in West Oakland. 

Turner showed up in a Rolls-Royce: his hat and suit were as sharp as the spikes on his shoes.

After attending the wedding, Mr. Turner drove the bride and groom from the church to their photo shoot; and then Mr. Tuner and I had a chance to talk. We discussed the record industry, juvenile justice and the power of hope.

"Before Robert passed," Mr. Turner said in reference to his former co-singer. "We wanted to make sure that artists and other kids coming up got a fair break. Record companies don’t pay artists, they pay managers. We wanted to make sure that didn’t happen to these kids.”

He says he uses his position at the Juvenile Justice Center to reach young people who aspire to be artists. He doesn’t do the work alone, “I always see that their parents stay involved. Let their parents be a co-manager,” said Mr. Turner. “It’s not just about the kid it’s about the business.” 

When asked what he would tell young people to help them on their path,
OG Told Me: 
"What they need to do is: stick to it. Follow what you believe in.
By then, the camera was rolling— and so was he.

He told the story of an incarcerated individual, who rose to the level of a ranked police officer. He told the story of his friend who makes cool sweatshirts, and how he wants one.
He then closed his two minute monologue by saying, “I’m a hope dealer.”