The Issue with Oakwood’s Name Change

Other Generational Oakwood Families Upset at the Lack of Outreach and Collaboration

So, a small faction of Venice representatives advocated for the name change of Oakwood Park to Reese-Tabor Park, after a couple of our prominent, historic Black culture bearers of Venice. From my understanding this process was finalized by a city council vote last month. However, there are many Chicanx and Black folks from the neighborhood that feel slighted because there was no outreach and feel it was done in a secretive way.

So despite the disinformation being pushed, the issue is not about not wanting to honor our remarkable Black relatives of Venice history. While there are many criticisms, the main one seems to be that there was no collaboration or outreach, not only to many of the other Black families in Oakwood but also the Chicanx and Indigenous communities who share equal roots and history in the Gabrielino/Rancho La Ballona/ Venice- Oakwood area. 

..we have to remember that Oakwood Park is the center of our community and the name OAKWOOD is an identity deeply embedded in the hearts of Black & Brown Venetians— many of whom have even given their life for that name. To not outreach and not include other generational Venetians in that process, despite intention, is a serious blindspot and failure if people are being sincere about equity and Black & Brown unity.

Myself included, I had no idea there was an initiative to do this. Personally, I think it was a hasty decision (among other things) and does not consider the long term socio-cultural implications of the name change. A key tactic of gentrification is to rebrand areas, streets, and other such key social areas. Also, we have to remember that Oakwood Park is the center of our community and the name OAKWOOD is an identity deeply embedded in the hearts of Black & Brown Venetians— many of whom have even given their life for that name. To not outreach and not include other generational Venetians in that process, despite intention, is a serious blindspot and failure if people are being sincere about equity and Black & Brown unity.

As we move forward with our initiatives for racial justice, equity, and restorative justice, it is important to understand that that fight is intersectional. We should all understand that yes, each community has their unique needs. However, reinforcing a Black/White binary, especially in a community like Venice as we pursue racial justice , will just make way for harm against other historically targeted people. In the case of the Oakwood community, it is primarily the Chicanx/Indigenous community who share parallel, albeit less documented, histories here. It is also the Chicanx community that seems to be having the stronger sentiments of identity erasure from this hasty name change.

The bootleg save venice group is incorrectly trying to frame the complaints against the name change as creating division between Black and Brown. But if you’ve been paying any attention, that’s actually what they’ve been doing for almost the past year. Even as you read this they are working with gentrifiers on the Venice Neighborhood Council (VNC) to undermine racial justice and the only Chicano-Native voice on the council. Part of that is their conscious enabling of local “hood” non-profit leaders who are selling our hood out to the highest gentrification bidders. But I digress.

Of course we have plenty of additional remarkable BIPOC Venetians that should be exalted all over our town. We could be changing all these names and not just for our people who are famous because of their proximity to white historical figures. 

Yes, we need to de-whiten the street and building names to represent the accurate histories of our neighborhoods. It’s an important initiative. However, you have to be mad inconsiderate and dismissive to not understand why many other generational families have objections to the Oakwood name change. 

We are settling for such token gestures that are minimally meaningful while we have yet to see any tangible equity or policy changes from the city or councilperson Bonin. Instead we should be demanding name changes for all these colonizer street names and spaces. God knows we have plenty additional, remarkable BIPOC Venetians that should be exalted all over our town. We could be changing all these names, and not just for our people who are famous because of their proximity to white historical figures. 

Many Brown & Black native Venetians in the community are not taking this issue lightly and are mobilizing against the name change. I encourage people to seriously consider supporting the movement to revert the name back to Oakwood. Another alternative could be to encourage a name that is agreeable via comprehensive collaboration between more historic Brown & Black communities of the Venice-Oakwood area and not just a small faction of representatives. 

Sign the petition if you feel inclined:

 

5th generation Venetian, Indigenous Rights Activist and educator for youth and families in West Los Angeles, and lead coordinator of the Four Corners Spirit Run. Current Board member of the Venice Neighborhood Council (and 2014-2016). Perspectives are my own.

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