Ian Love. Photo by Max Gibson.

Ian Love, assistant director of Oakland's YMCA Eastlake summer camp program. Photo by Max Gibson.

A Conversation with Ian Love
Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Ian Love is one of the primary engines fueling the positive experiences at Oakland’s YMCA Eastlake. I had the opportunity to talk briefly with Ian (aka Love) about his work and experiences in Oakland.  If you missed the first part of this story, see Be Your Own Superhero.

OMCA: Hi Ian, thanks again for taking the time to talk. I’m interested to know how you originally came to Oakland?

Love: Well I originally came to Oakland specifically as my last stop in America. I was intending on moving out of America and moving to Ghana. But I wanted to come to Oakland because for a town of what they claim to be a half million people, this little bitty small town had shaken up the entire world.

OMCA: Yes, I agree but how so in your eyes?

Love: It completely transformed a lot of procedures in America. As far as the treatment of people of color is concerned, Oakland has a lot to do with this town. Children receiving breakfast at school, that is because of this town. A group of people here thought that children need to eat healthy food when they go to school, and these brothers and sisters implemented that into their community and as a result they created a ripple effect that the U.S Federal Government picked up on and has since implemented. On a number of levels the Bay Area has shaken up the world, but specifically Oakland, California has shaken it in a socially conscious type of way, raising people's levels of awareness about themselves and where they come from as people.

OMCA: In your mind what type of environment created that need for people to have that sort of awareness about themselves?

Love: In some ways, I think I have a small clue but in other ways I'm not really sure if I have a clue at all because all of the Africans in America that are [in Oakland] now are the result of our people migrating from the South. Our people migrated out here to get work at the docks.

The way my mind works, when you have money and you know where you're going to eat everyday, that alleviates brain space for you. So that enables me to start thinking about other things, so I start looking at the world around me and these brothers and sisters started seeing the injustices around their situation, but that’s almost a privileged ideal, because poor folks do not have the time to think about the social injustices that they're suffering from, because they're trying to figure out how they're going to get the food, clothes, and shelter to survive.

I feel like after World War II, everyone was coming out here to work on the docks, gathering up their money, but now that they had money to move around the community, they realized something wasn’t right. They were out getting brutalized and they had time to think about it, so they took action. “The police have guns... It says right here in the constitution that I'm allowed to have guns so I'm going to get guns and defend my community. You have to be in the mindset and have the willpower to implement change in order for it to happen.

OMCA: How do you see Oakland’s current social climate pushing that change forward?

Love: I would really like to see that change happen through the prevalence of healthy eating. Opening up our gateways to a healthy lifestyle. Because I look at our body like an automobile and when you go to the gas tank, you don't put diesel fuel in an unleaded car because that's going to break your car down. As a matter of fact, you don't even want to put low grade unleaded fuel in your unleaded car, you want to put high grade fuel in your unleaded car so that your car performs at its maximum potential. The same thing goes for we humans, our body is our car, our food is our fuel, and our output, directly reflects what our input was. So when when we're putting a bunch of processed foods with high sugar content, all things that are not sustainable, we behave in that exact same way.

When I look around at the youth and young adults, I see that's exactly what's going on. Through the food, we're going to get to some other things. [Nowadays] kids know more about pop culture than about government procedures and policies. Don't get me wrong, pop culture dictates a lot of things in America, but government procedures and policies dictate the flow of our lives. I want young people to be involved in that process, don't observe and complain about it, know what’s happening and get involved. Even if they don't like the situation, we come from people in Oakland that have shown us that we can do something different. I feel like sometimes people go into situations of established infrastructures and policies and procedures and it ends up turning them into what the system is already versus that person changing the system. We don't necessarily have to reinvent the wheel, but we have to know who we are to balance that out so that we can take from those policies and procedures and know what's going to push us forward as a humanity. The gateway is through the food.

OMCA: How did you decide to work with Oakland’s youth?

Love: I got involved in working with the youth because I feel like the generation before me let me down and I never want the little brothers and sisters underneath me to feel like I wasn't there for them. I never want them to come up to me and say, "Ian, how come you never told me about that?" "How you come you never slowed down enough to engage with me about anything?" "How come you were so caught up being you that you didn't see what was going on with me?" That's a cold feeling. And the little brothers, they look to us for guidance and I utilize my elders in the same way. Most of what they [the elders] taught me is what I didn't want to do, which is a great teaching lesson, but now what am I supposed to do? I had to learn a lot of that through trial and error.

Youth making aesthetic decisions as they create their masks. Photo by Max Gibson.
Youth making aesthetic decisions as they create their masks. Photo by Max Gibson.  

So what do I want to do for our little brothers and little sisters? They need to know what a functioning healthy man looks like, acts like, sounds like. With the guys, I have to live it out for them and I have to create opportunities so that they can cut their time in half. By that I mean, I knew a bunch of what I didn't want to do, but then I had to learn what I needed to do. For them, I want to show them what I'm supposed to be doing, so they have time as youth to learn it. I'm going to show you what to do, to be a healthy constructive human.