By Charles Curtis Blackwell
Gentrification was in its early stages. Most of us not knowing it would escalate to what it is today, being the desecration of the Black community of Oakland. All part of Jerry Brown’s plan setting out “to break the stronghold Blacks have on Oakland.”
Expressions Art gallery was at one point in time located on Washington Street, near 8th Street. Alan Laird operated the gallery. He points out, “We moved 3 times, all in close proximity.”
Expressions was not the usual gallery for the artwork ran from the floor up to the ceiling, featuring local artists and works from inmates in prisons. Alan also sponsored various community events, speakers like Bobby Seale, Marvin X, one of the Angola 3, storyteller Mary Joseph, and a program for Free Mumia.
Musical events were hosted by the gallery, as well as Sunday jam sessions, with Leon Williams, and Tarika Lewis. Others like Sondra Poindexter, Billy Toliver, and Bishop Norman Williams performed there.
After a few too many difficulties, Alan Laird closed Expressions and signed on with VISTA, and shipped out to Florida. There he worked with the homeless and prison community re-entry program.
Recently, he returned to visit family, friends and to maintain a connection with the West coast cultural arts. Alan, a visual artist, writer and musician, is a native of Oakland. He served in the U.S. Coast Guard, acquiring a dose of racism as usual.
In Oakland, he became part of the Black Panther Party meeting with a young Bobby Hutton the night before he was murdered by Oakland police. Alan’s journey took him to a path where he attended theology school and became an A. M. E. minister.
His ministry was quite unusual, for he would visit inmates on Death Row at San Quentin prison.
Alan remarks, “I’m always filled with joy returning to Oakland, but my heart breaks when I look at the disparities that exist. It causes me to wonder, how do we put the puzzle pieces back together which will produce a healthy community image?”
In Miami, he installed the African American Railroad Experience at the Gold Coast Museum, using his personal collection of artifacts. Along with Robert McKnight and other artists, he opened a gallery, personal workspace and a community action launching pad.
“I’m using my various skills and talents to motivate and encourage positive change,” he said. “For the African American the cultural arts are not a luxury. They are a necessity to exist and cope in this society.”
For more information, www.alanlairdblackartist-history.com