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East Oakland community leaders launch $100 million neighborhood-improvement initiative

East Oakland leaders launch major neighborhood-improvement initiative
East Oakland leaders launch major neighborhood-improvement initiative 04:11

OAKLAND -- It is one of the toughest neighborhoods in East Oakland, but some local residents are aiming to make a huge investment in the area and transform it for future generations.

Selena Wilson's connection with the East Oakland Youth Development Center dates back to her childhood. 

"This is me in the ceramics class. I was about 13," Wilson said as she pointed at an old photo of herself at the center. "So I used to come here after school, and my best friend's mom still has this bowl that I made."

From that formative experience, Wilson's journey took her to Chicago for grad school. But the pull of her roots remained strong. 

Now, as the CEO of the East Oakland Youth Development Center, she's devoted to making a difference in the lives of over 1,000 young people annually in her community. 

"It's such a wonderful blessing to be able to come back and give back to the village that raised me," she said.

Joined by other community leaders on Thursday, Wilson and her counterparts announced a groundbreaking initiative to create lasting improvements in East Oakland. 

The $100 million Rise East initiative addresses the longstanding economic disparities and oppression that have impacted the area for decades.

"We're looking at this $100 million as an initial investment. And we are committed to ensure that we continue investing in the community like East Oakland that has been economically exploited and oppressed for decades. So this is an opportunity for us to help balance the scale," Wilson explained.

Rise East originates from a community-led vision to establish a Black Cultural Zone in East Oakland nearly a decade ago. This collective impact initiative is underpinned by a 10-year plan encompassing a five-part strategy.

"This investment is a down payment on a debt to the black community, anyone who is vulnerable in this community," said Greg Hodge, CEO of the Brotherhood of Elders Network.

The strategy aims to enhance schools, foster economic opportunities, and promote better health and well-being at individual, household, neighborhood, and systemic levels.

"We want to make sure that the money doesn't go to one program," Wilson emphasized. "We really want to build infrastructure, so we're literally building affordable market housing, and those buildings won't go anywhere. We're also building a community hub marketplace that will have both commercial spaces [and] learning and living spaces for people to thrive."

Wilson's passion for this mission stems from her desire to provide opportunities for the local youth and their families, ensuring they can flourish within their own community. 

"This is a beautiful place. A place that's important to me, and I want to be able to come back so we create those pathways for them to do it," Wilson concluded.

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