Youth Program Fights to Save its Home, Former Marcus Garvey Landmark

Bishop J.E. Watkins

By Carla Thomas A digital arts youth program is in danger of closing in the wake of the sale of the building where it is located, historic Liberty Hall at 1485 8th St. in West Oakland. Overcomers With Hope 2nd Chance Digital Arts Media Program, which trains youth ages 16 to 21 in television production and life skills, is scheduled to lose its lease in February. According to program Founder and CEO Bishop J.E. Watkins, the previous owners sold the building to a hedge fund, and negotiations with the new owners have been convoluted. “We had a 10-year lease with the previous owner to be carried over with the new owners, and after numerous contractual alterations and agreements, the hedge fund played with our contact to the point of us losing $170,000,” said Watkins. Since Liberty Hall’s purchase by Citi Property Holdings, Inc., the youth training center is in the position where it must move and relocate over $1 million worth of equipment. Liberty Hall is one of the only privately funded renovation projects dealing with Black history in Northern California.  Also called The Marcus Garvey Building, the hall served as a headquarters of Local 188 of Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) from 1925 to 1931, the organization’s largest chapter in Northern California. “This building represents our history, and with our programs it has housed our future,” said Watkins who runs a community center and a chapel in addition to the media center. Citi Property Holdings, Inc. has refused to renew the lease for the training center. “We are asking Citi Property Holdings, Inc. to sell the property at a fair market value with an affordable scheduled payment plan,” said Watkins. Over the past 3 months, OWH lost $170,000 worth of grant funding from the City of Oakland and federal government to repair Liberty Hall and continue to run their programs at no cost to Citi Property Holdings, Inc. Watkins, the recipient of the prestigious Jefferson Award, is asking for the public’s help in purchasing Liberty Hall. “I began this organization to give youth a voice in the community, and we now need the community’s help in keeping this voice and our programs alive,” he said. “Our organization wants to continue to support economic development for the under-served community, especially the African Americans who have traditionally settled in West Oakland. The owner’s representative did not return calls from the Post. For information visit Carla Thomas can be reached at
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