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Oakland celebrates the Black experience with a day of sunshine and joy

Members of a choir wear dark clothing and sing on an outdoor stage.
Members of the Black Joy Choir belt out “Lift Every Voice And Sing” from the Black Joy Parade stage Sunday on Thomas L. Berkley Way in Oakland. | Source: George Kelly/The Standard

Sunny skies and warm smiles graced Sunday's seventh annual Black Joy Parade, which brought several thousand people out to a downtown Oakland setting that offered respite to a town weary of headlines about brazen crime and shuttering businesses.

Rather than debating solutions to public safety or economic challenges, people gathered behind sidewalk barricades on Franklin Street to cheer on acts including step shows, high school cheerleading troupes and circus performers. Jamarr "J Man the Clown" Woodruff called out to the younger members of the Prescott Circus Theatre as they towered on stilts and undulated on unicycles.

A man in brightly colored clothing and a red clown nose smiles as youngsters on stilts pass him in a parade.
Jamarr "J Man the Clown" Woodruff greets Prescott Circus Theatre youth Sunday at the Black Joy Parade in Oakland. | Source: George Kelly/The Standard

Woodruff described the festivities simply as "Black joy exemplified!" The Prescott has been part of the community for some 40 years from its headquarters in West Oakland, where it seeks to "promote creativity, joy and belonging" among young people in the community.

"We put them on stilts to teach them that they are on higher ground and that things are always going to be great," Woodruff said. "Once a Prescott clown, always a Prescott clown!"

Prescott executive director David Hunt explained that the group provides kids with lessons in juggling, acrobatics, hip-hop dance, as well as improvisation and theater arts.

Several young people gracefully walk on stilts along a parade route lined with cheering visitors.
Members of the Prescott Circus Theatre teeter along Sunday's Black Joy Parade route on Franklin Street in downtown Oakland. | Source: George Kelly/The Standard

On one street corner, a troupe of drummers with the Diamano Coura West African Dance Company pounded out rhythms for passersby and publicized a flyer advertising March performance showcases at Oakland Technical High School and Laney College.

"It's a beautiful day," said Bli-Bi "Eric" Gore, a djembe player originally from Ivory Coast. "We're keeping the culture alive."

Not far from the Town Classics stage, where a lineup of vintage vehicles was assembling—including a tricked-out Corvette in Prince purple and a mint cherry red Mustang—Ron Hanson held down the booth for Dope Era Clothing beside a select lineup of streetwear, T-shirts and gear from local creators. 

"There's a lot of Black excellence out here. You've got all these Black entrepreneurs out here, trying to make a profit," Hanson said, adding he hadn't had to walk too far from Dope Era's storefront on Broadway in downtown Oakland. 

Three men in stylish casual clothing stand under an outdoor festival booth.
Musician, entrepreneur and organizer Mistah F.A.B., right, holds down a Dope Era Clothing booth at Sunday's Black Joy Parade in downtown Oakland. | Source: George Kelly/The Standard

"It's good that we could be out here in unity, come together without any issues or problems, out here to get a dollar and make another dollar. You've got the youth out here, and everybody's out here coming together, hanging together, man. It's a good fellowship."

On the Lil' Joy stage, Sabrina Beavers watched over families gathering to play games, greet a costumed bee mascot and share cards teasing up to $500 in giveaways for Fresno County's chapter of the California Black Infant Health program.

"We're seeing everything that we hoped to see: great vibes, community support, happiness, joy," said Beavers, who joined residents from Riverside and Santa Clara counties to help connect Black mothers and birthing parents with resources to reduce infant mortality and foster positive pregnancy experiences. 

Three women in bright yellow sweatshirts stand at an outdoor festival booth.
California Black Infant Health representative Sabrina Beavers of Fresno County, left, joins Tonya Robinson of San Jose and Keiyana Carter of Moreno Valley at the Black Joy Parade's Lil' Joy stage Sunday in downtown Oakland. | Source: George Kelly/The Standard

"It shouldn't be that our community has the worst rates when it comes to infant death and maternal deaths," Beavers added. "It should be a joyous time, when you're talking about bringing up a baby into the world."

At the Black Vines area, Monique Griffin and Angela Edwards greeted thirsty adult visitors with tastes of their own vintage wines from the Pour Up wine bar in Antioch.

"We always wanted to open a wine bar," Edwards said. "Everything kind of fell into place with the wine. So we're very excited to open."

Griffin, who said the duo were preparing to open a wine bar near Antioch's waterfront in March, remarked that Sunday's warm weather was a pleasant change of pace from last year's parade, when a downpour had doused visitors and booths.

Standing nearby, Griffin basked in the day's ambiance. "It's beautiful. There's people dancing, people enjoying themselves. They're having a great time!"

George Kelly can be reached at