VIDEO LINK HERE: Joy Elan – Old Oakland vs New Oakland
LEROY MOORE: I’m here with Joy Elan. Oh my god. She’s kicking butt! This is what, the third time I’ve interviewed you so far. So Joy, tell us what’s going on in your life.
JOY Elan: Right now, let’s see. Hey, everybody! It’s Joy Elan. , in September/2016 in Chicago I won the National Poetry Award, I mean Poet of the Year. Last year I won Poetry Video of the Year at the National Poetry Awards. So I won two awards by them back to back in a year. But also, I’ve left poetry alone for a while and wrote a couple of novels, fiction. But my latest one was about gentrification in Oakland. It’s called “Holding On To My Pride.” It’s a continuation, the sequel to my earlier novel “Life Is A Canvas.” So I said, ooh, why not talk about what’s happening in that book nine years later, from “Life Is A Canvas,” what happens to the main character, who takes after me and is adopted. So I’ve been busy being an activist, talking about gentrification. Because it effects not only our housing, it effects our jobs, our children, it’s onto education, services, and programs and everything. Gentrification isn’t about just home ownership or people living it. It’s a counter effect. It affects everybody.
LEROY: Yeah. So hold on. Let’s go back to that book about gentrification. So you’re from Oakland, went to school in Berkeley. What have you seen change in Oakland? And does your book really talk about the changes in Oakland?
JOY: So where have I seen changes in Oakland?
JOY: Neighborhoods. How about that?! Places that I used to speak at, the open mics that I used to go to not even five years ago, or yeah, four or five years ago, they’re gone. A couple years ago, some of them started closing down because of– We lost our place to go and express ourselves because we can’t afford venues or have a place to have open mics. That’s one of them. I work for Parks and Recreation for the City of Oakland. I’ve been with them for 11 years. I’m noticing the changes under the demographics in neighborhoods. We have to go get new kids to come to our programs because the kids that used to live in the area are moving out, and they don’t necessarily come utilize our service. They have money sometimes. So they go to other places. They’re not utilizing the community resources. So I see a lot of things then on the inside of the residence, working for the City, as well as being a parent.
LEROY: Wow. In your book, tell us again the title of that book. Your new book. Tell me the title of that book again.
JOY: “Holding On To My Pride.”
LEROY: So “Holding On To My Pride” deals with Oakland and gentrification. So how do you deal with it in the book? Is it a story, or is it poetry or what?
JOY: The book is strictly prose story. It’s fiction. It’s kind of my story, in a sense. It talks about like the good times, that happy times when we go hang out at the lake, but as well as the change in society and dynamics in terms of residents who are in the neighborhood. And I have a daughter, but in the story, I wanted to talk about what it’s like having a Black son and raising him. I purposely named him Huey, after the Black Panther Party’s leader, in this book ’cause I look up to his work. So what is it like for my son, in this book, to wanna go to the park down the street, maybe a few blocks from where we live, but we have an increase of white neighbors now. And they are hanging around next door, talking about that there’s this little Black boy walking down the street and keep an eye out on him or maybe report him to the police. Why? Because he’s a little kid that just wanna to the park and play basketball? Why you gotta watch my son like that? And it’s not just a Black boy. They doing that to Black residents or people of color residents who have been here. Like, I’m from here. My family, my grandparents taught in Oakland. My family graduated from Oakland High. With my daughter, we live in my great-grandmother’s house in Oakland. So we’re talking about 50 years of residency in Oakland. And now people coming in that are moving next door, and they wanna tell us how to live or tell us how to change the way we live in this community. It’s like, hold up. Hold up.
JOY: You don’t come in here– Or just like the fine of the churches. You move into our neighborhoods, and then you gonna fine us for praising the Lord too loudly in church.
JOY: Really? Really. Well, maybe you should’ve researched where you was moving into. Or like I work at Parks and Rec where I worked at a rec center in West Oakland. I knew the recycling center. The recycling center used to ask me to host community events for the children, for Christmas. But the neighbors in that part of Oakland were complaining about these same people, the same company that was disturbing the peace. It’s like, are you serious? The guys didn’t know their research. Now, the recycling center is closed after years upon years being there. They were gonna through this back in 2010 when I was working in West Oakland at that time. So it’s like, wow, wow, wow.
LEROY: So I know you don’t wanna give the story out, but how do you really end that book? Just because it’s still going on. So how did you really end that book or that story at the end of the book?
JOY: Say it again?
LEROY: Yeah, how did you really end that book? Because gentrification’s still happening. So how did you really your book around gentrification in Oakland?
JOY: Well, basically, that’s for you to find out!
JOY: Basically what I did was in 2015–cuz it takes place, it’s about 2015 in a couple of months’ period of time–so it talks about what I did was I just kind of gave you a sense of what it’s like for someone to be in the community and have that community change on you just like that. Just like that. Last year, the Golden State Warriors, which are in Oakland, right next to the As and the Raiders, but you call it Golden State Warriors, down in Oakland, though. It’s in Oakland. And I was just talking about how we got to this recognition for our basketball team, but not San Francisco Bay Area, not San Francisco. So what I just simply said was it’s an ongoing thing. So it’s just basically framing what I’m dealing with. As far as you wanna know how it ended, I just ask you read the book, because I take you through the whole culture. I’m able to describe the music things. You know musicians like Tony Toni Tone, En Vogue and Sheila E. We can go on about those artists. The actor Tom Hanks. Let’s talk about the whole open culture and how that culture, that history is almost gone. It’s not there anymore. It’s not authentic anymore. So that’s what I based this book.
LEROY: Wow. That’s interesting, interesting. Of course, like all artists, people are gonna want to know what’s next for you.
JOY: What’s next for me? Nothing really! What’s next for me is basically just promoting my book. With the lack of open mics, that lack of artists, collaborations by peers, I haven’t really been writing those, but I’ve been writing articles for independent bloggers. It’s called, Broke-Ass Stuartt’s Goddamn Website. I write about different issues that–everybody else can talk about gentrification–but I talk about issues like what is it like to be Black and Deaf and being pulled over by the police.
LEROY: Oh wow. Where is that article?
JOY: So that one was on BrokeAssStuart. I came up with that article because it was around the time with the two men being shot by the police in July. And I said, everybody talks like this, but actually, let me tell you what it’s like for me, though who is a Black person or a person of color who has a hearing disability. We sign to communicate with our hands. We’re not reaching for a weapon.
But the officer’s gonna think that. On top of that, we can’t hear. So then you’re gonna assume that we’re being disobedient and resisting arrest, or whatever you guys wanna call it. So trying to bring awareness that there are people with disabilities who won’t be able to understand what you said. They’re not a threat, but you’re gonna treat them as a threat. And that’s not right. That person ended up being shot by the police and killed by the police anyway because he was…whatever happened with that. But if that can happen to a white, Deaf person, then imagine what it’s like for a Black, Deaf person.
LEROY: Yeah. Wow, wow.
JOY: So my job, I’m constantly thinking of new ways to bring awareness. Not everybody listens to poetry or reads poetry. So I have to either write it in regular format in a column or like an article or in a short story, like I did with Holding On To My Pride. Life Is A Canvas, ever happen in a happier time, like in 2005, 2006, so it’s 11 years ago. But this book is showing in nine years through Holding On To My Pride. This is how much it’s changed. This is what’s happening to people. And then like me from two universities, I have these two degrees but I’m not really in the field that I thought I’d be in. So now here I am, working to pay off student loans while trying to take care of my daughter, but yet, I still live with my mother because I can’t afford to live out here by myself, on my own.
JOY: Wow. What kind of system? What happened to the American dream? Oh wait, there wasn’t really an American ddream, you know.
LEROY: It’s interesting. At POOR Magazine, we teach about really supporting the family, and if you can, living independent, living close with your family. I mean, you living with your mom, it really is, I think, a really good thing. This society pressures us to be “independent” and make it on their own, but yeah, tell us your thought around that.
JOY: My thought about that is it’s so– My generation is blinder than the previous generation, you know? What did y’all do? It’s my time to do something, but this baton change, technology changes. Technology is this confusing–Why are we living the way we’re living? And now, it’s bad. I’m thinking about probably learning coding, cuz then we’re all destined to be in computers. I was telling my daughter, I’m like, “Babe, you need to learn a little bit of coding cuz you don’t know what kind of job you could get.” And I felt bad because there’s so much emphasis on math and science and computers, but it’s not enough emphasis on art or literature or reading and writing as much anymore. They don’t really have a lot of art pieces or art supplies. People need these programs at the schools. They almost have to really advocate for that. So it’s like, not everybody’s lit. I’m not a computer person like that. I don’t mind sending emails and all of this stuff, but I’m really a literature teaching type of person. But they’re putting this emphasis in schools, its like wow, you know, and all the good jobs are in “computers,” they’re like, you’re forcing people to become robots in a sense. I don’t wanna be a robot. So if I have to live with my mom to get by, which is fine with me, I really don’t care. But at some point, it would be nice to be independent. It would be nice to be on my own and have something of my own. But unfortunately, it’s not like that.
LEROY: Yeah. I think it’s really going back to our ancestors because we’ve been sold independence, and it’s really a myth. You really can’t–well, you can, but it’s really–bringing in to the melting pot. So we’re really going back to our ancestors, we’ve already said that it takes a village to raise a family.
LEROY: So it doesn’t really make sense to be “independent,” but yeah.
LEROY: Yeah. So where can people buy your book?
JOY: I am on Amazon. I used to sell my books through my website, but you know what? I realized that Jay Z and Beyoncé don’t sell autographed CDs like that [chuckles]. Why should I be? You know, you gotta kind of step your game up. So I am available on Amazon. You can buy Kindle. I don’t think they have books like that anymore at Barnes and Noble Nooks. So that’s it. I’m on Kindle, or you can get a hard copy. I even have large print formats for people. And then, my video Old Oakland versus New Oakland, which just got released last night, yesterday, you can check that to get a sense of the part of Holding On To My Pride, the new book. So I wanted to just do something better. I wrote a book. I had enough poems in it, and I said, well why not make that poem–which is pretty cool, because when I decided to it, because my friend’s video, you all. So I decided to do it on three corners. I went to a studio and record the song because there’s a lot of, there’s not even an ASL sign, American Sign Language sign for gentrification. So I had to really work with some Deaf people to figure out what was the best way to find a sign or signs to stand for gentrification. So it’s really cool. I recorded it, and then in the video, I’m signing to my recording. I performed it recently at Antoine Hunter’s Bay Area International Deaf Dance Festival last month. So when people were really receptive to that poem and me signing to it. And they said, “You gotta do a video.” So I went ahead and made it happen. So yeah. You can watch the videos, you can get a copy of the book, and then I’m always available: www.authorjoyelan.com. And my videos on there, my bio, my work, everything. All of my books too, they’re all on there.
LEROY: Yeah, in your video, you show Oakland, and it’s really, really cool. You show most of Oakland. So how did you get all of the video clips of Oakland?
JOY: How did I get those? The guy who did the video, he loved what I was saying. We had to go to different locations. Oh my gosh. So that was crazy, and good for him. It’s not like a regular music video where I’m just vibing to the lyrics. I had to, he had to really pay attention to what signs to make sure to the lyrics because I’m in different buildings, different areas. So that was cool to run. The first one was in the studio, and we went to, right there there were some homeless tents by 23rd Avenue and East 12th, right by the BART. BART, I guess, was kind of going by at one point. We were not too far from Fruitvale Station, where the Oscar Grant incident happened. And then we were at the lake, Lake Merritt, which is a part of Oakland. And then he places to go in Oakland where it changed, literally, like West Oakland especially. So he knew to go. And then the Amco. He went to the freeway, when it was traffic. That’s really not how it really, really is, only in the morning going to work where everybody else is. But you pretty much get the idea of it though.
JOY: So I really appreciated his creativity. I gave him, I said hereally gave his all. You put the creativity with it. And we had fun. We had fun.
LEROY: Wow. All right, last question. I gotta ask you this. What do you think about the mayor of Oakland [laughs].
JOY: [chuckles] I’d rather not say, but basically, I didn’t vote for her. I didn’t even know she was on the ballot.
JOY: Umm I rather not say but basically, I can just say this: I don’t like what is happening under her leadership, under her administration. Students, young students of color, they didn’t get their youth employment programs in her budget. And I think some of the council members hae to find ways to keep that going, and I was reading in the Post News Group. I don’t like– You wanna talk about an attempt like Donald Trump, “Make America Great Again”? That’s the divisiveness in Oakland. That’s why that time, Old Oakland versus New Oakland theme poem, cuz I was at the Oakland Indie Awards, and she was there in 2015. That poemcame up from them. Them. When I say “them,” the new people. They said, “Oh, Old Oakland versus the New Oakland.” I’m like, what?! And basically, as young as I am, I’m considered Old Oakland. So basically, we’re the new way. Get out of the way. Whether you like it or not, it’s gonna happen. And so I mean, I’m not gonna say it’s entirely on her. It’s a disrespect that’s been going on before she got in office. But I think it’s gonna have to take a collective of people, regulars, people who are from here, people who are educating people. That’s why I wrote another article about the importance of local elections. Presidential elections are important too, but if you really wanna change something right here in your community, you have to go to City Council. You have to voice your concerns. You have to get it on your ballot. And you have to vote yay or nay for it, whatever it is. You have to educate people, and if you have a job, if you are in a union, which is very important because a lot of people don’t have jobs where they have unions. They don’t understand what could be taken from them. At least ask somebody what are some important things that are happening on the ballot that could affect me or my children or all of us in the long run? So I just say I don’t agree with what’s going on right now politically in Oakland, but if we wanna change something, we need to vote, we need to voice our concerns, and we need to come together and work together. Because otherwise, if we don’t get out there and go to the polls and vote, it’s gonna be taken from us. And we really gonna have to move out.
LEROY: I understand that. So give us your website, Facebook, and all that information.
JOY: You can follow me, Joy Elan. Just Google me. If you see a white lady, she’s a photographer in Georgia. That’s not me [laughs]. That’s why I have to put Author Joy Elan in front of me. On YouTube, I’m known as Joy Elan. I have a ReverbNation page with my videos and press release. I have all kinds of information on ReverbNation, and you gotta type in “Author Joy Elan” for that as well. And I’m on Instagram, Twitter, and my website: www.AuthorJoyElan.com. Or just Google me, and then stuff of my website and my videos appear.
LEROY: Thank you, Joy!
JOY: Thank you. Thank you. And thank you so much for your support.
LEROY: Oh yeah. I love your work.
JOY: Thank you.
Pic: Joy Elan Oakland vs New Oakland. Black Deaf woman standing with her arms on her hips looking into the sun wearing san Oakland Warriors shot sleeve t-shirt.