Oakland celebrates third Black Joy Parade


shaylyn martos

Mascot for the Hundreds Unit Rochelle Westbrook led the women’s dance group in a beautiful home-made peacock costume, which took a full 10 hours to create. (Photo by shaylyn martos / Golden Gate Xpress)

shaylyn martos

“Black joy means to me resistance, reclaiming. It means unity; it means heartfelt connections. And it means home.”

Co-founder of the breaking group Oakland Originalz, Gideon Chiwinke Mekwunye II, hands a $20 bill to J.R., an audience participant who proved he can keep up with the breaker’s moves during the Black Joy Parade. (Photo by shaylyn martos / Golden Gate Xpress)

In Oakland’s third annual Black Joy Parade, more than 20,000 people gathered in celebration of Black history, culture and future. 

Oakland native, business owner, artist and stylist Toshia Christal came to the parade to promote her first curated show “Unbound Roots” which opens at Soma Arts in San Francisco on March 12. 

“The curation has been a nice experience where I’ve learned all the inner workings and all the things that it takes to put on the actual show,” she said. “The importance of having events like this, to me, is really just making space and taking time for folks to get together and network.”

Oakland Originalz breaker and SF State student Tadhg Rush slides across the group’s mat on his forearms during the Black Joy Parade in Oakland. Rush studies kinesiology at SF State. (Photo by shaylyn martos / Golden Gate Xpress)

Founded by Alisha Greenwell and Amber Lester, the parade grew exponentially these past few years. Black families and businesses, fraternities and sororities, religious groups and community organizations, drill teams and breakers all participated in their own ways.

Rosemary Towns, a member of the Xi Gamma Omega chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, the first black sorority founded at Howard University, graduated from SF State in 1955. Since her school did not have a chapter, Towns would head across the bay to UC Berkeley.

“Because there were so few of us at that time, we would have to travel to get the community all together,” she said. “So we knew people all over the Bay Area.”

What tied these different groups together was a profound appreciation for Black experience and excellence, as well as the great music bumping and the delicious food all around. 

Co-founder of the breaking group Oakland Originalz, Gideon Chiwinke Mekwunye II, was born and raised in Oakland. He and his breaking crew represent Oakland culture around the world.

“So when you break, you emulate your environment,” he said. “I feel like when you’re Black you can be really bitter. So there’s one thing to let it go but there’s also another thing to let it grow.”

Oakland Originalz focuses on creating very positive performances that challenge the common culture of breaking. As they spun through the air and contorted their bodies, they called for the audience to stay in school and appreciate the people around them. 

Rochelle Westbrook led the Hundreds Unit women’s dance group as their mascot and choreographer. The group won the “Best in Flow” award at last year’s parade and showed up in force with an “African Jungle” theme for this year. 

As their mascot, Westbrooks literally shone under the warm Oakland sun with a sequined peacock costume, complete with a huge feather tail. She said the whole ensemble took a full 10 hours.

Alicia Gold, owner of Nubian Queen Natural Beauty, came to the Black Joy Parade to sell her home made products, specializing in shea butters. (Photo by shaylyn martos / Golden Gate Xpress)

“Representation matters. So our children get to see business owners in the community,” she said. “We expose and expand and grow as a community of people but also leaders, as we’ve been throughout history.”