Valerie Troutt and OMCA Connect. Photo by Max Gibson.

Valerie Troutt leads a community song building workshop during "Friday Night Live" in West Oakland. 

West Oakland Youth Center's "Friday Night Live"
Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Friday nights in West Oakland usually do not consist of children playing outside, basketball, kids dancing to the sounds of a DJ spinning classics, chess games on tables in the middle of the street, or kids cooking for a line of aunties waiting for BBQ. West Oakland Youth Center seeks to change all that by re-establishing "Friday Night Live." "Friday Night Live" is a block party that takes place during the summer through different neighborhoods of West Oakland.

"We want this to be the normal," says District 3 City Council member Lynette Gibson McElhaney. A long time West Oakland resident, McElhaney fought to keep "Friday Night Live" around for the community after it was abruptly halted due to funding issues last year. 

District 3 City Council member Lynette Gibson McElhaney attends West Oakland Youth Center's "Friday Night Live". Photo by Max Gibson.


Singing through its return was Oakland jazz and soul musician and teacher Valerie Troutt. She, along with the OMCA Connect team and a handful of youth, ran music workshops about building song together. 

Musician Valerie Troutt. Photo by Max Gibson.

While community members sat down to design their album covers featuring their inner musician, Valerie went up and down the block collecting lyrics for this song. The lyrics were collected from the participants of "Friday Night Live" including words from a son coloring with his mother, words from the folks at the domino table, and words from the kids running the bicycle juicer. Everyone added a sentence, a word, or a theme to the song. 

When McElhaney was asked what the three words she would use to describe the community, she added a whole verse to the song:

"People, Place, and Love Connection. Sometimes we don't feel love. But what binds us together is love of place. When people are from Oakland you love the town and you share a comradery with people even if you don't know them. So when I think about this space, I really do think about how do we stimulate this as an ongoing basis. And that this is the normal, kids playing in street, being safe, listening to music and being positive. That's what we ascribe to. We're standing against the things that are abnormal like the acts of violence and self destruction." 

A song such as this is definitely needed in the community of West Oakland.

—by Max Gibson, OMCA Community Storyteller