Oakland legend - Chappell Hayes - Environmental Justice advocate, West Oakland leader

>> Monday, December 20, 2010

Photo: EBRPD

This weekend, I visited the beautiful Middle Harbor Shoreline Park. This little known gem in West Oakland has a fascinating geographic history. Instead of getting into that, or how the East Bay Regional Park District will cease to operate this park in 2011, I will focus this blog on one man's legacy.

As I've studied more and more about the history of Oakland, environmental justice and other land use issues in Oakland, I learn more about the role Black folks have played in defining the the East Bay. I vaguely recall hearing the name, Chappell Hayes before.

This summer, I took a group of students from Oakland Freedom School to 14th and Mandela Parkway, where I talked about the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. As part of an ongoing education series for my "Ida B. Wells" class, I spoke about environmental racism. I framed this around the issue of where the Cypress Freeway was built.

Initially a viaduct to mitigate traffic to the Bay Bridge, in 1957, the Cypress Freeway was built, cutting an increasingly segregated West Oakland in half. West Oakland residents fought the creation of a freeway through their community, though to no avail.

In 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake brought down the Cypress, killing over three dozen people. West Oakland residents, though surviving the depressing Reagonomic era of violent, crack covered violence, came to the rescue of many commuting motorist passing their own neighborhoods overhead.

In the 1990s, West Oakland fought against the rebuilding of the freeway in their community. Considered the leading advocate of relocating the freeway, Chappell Hayes.

Photo: Pinetree3 via Panaramio

The observation Tower above is named in honor of Mr. Hayes. Below is a photo of a plaque located at Middle Harbor Shoreline Park.

Below is the plaques description. Breathe in Peace Mr. Hayes.

"A community activist and environmentalist, Chappell Hayes was the driving force behind the Clean Air Alternative Coalition, which successfully convinced Caltrans to re-route the new Cypress freeway away from West Oakland neighborhoods. Mr. Hayes developed programs for at-risk youth and help to redefine environmental issues to include broader urban concerns such as poverty and racism. As an entrepreneur, community leader, member of many boards and commissions, and devoted community builder, Mr. Hayes raised the consciousness of West Oakland residents and neighbors, including the Port of Oakland, to work for clean air and environmental justice."

Below is a 2004 Oakland Tribune article about the dedication to Hayes, by his nemesis, the Port of Oakland.

Visionary Hayes Honored by PortSunday, January 25, 2004
by Paul T. Rosynsky, Staff Writer

Oakland ~ During his brief 45 years of life, Chappell Hayes inspired hundreds and changed the lives of thousands with his stoic leadership of West Oakland's never-ending fight for environmental justice.
As an outspoken critic of governmental policies that favored industrial development over community cohesiveness, Hayes stood as a beacon of hope for thousands of disenfranchised residents who neither had the means nor the knowledge to fight against the destruction of their neighborhood.

So it was fitting Saturday, exactly 10 years after Hayes' death, that his nemesis, the Port of Oakland, dedicated its prized environmental achievement to the man who made it happen.

In an emotionally stirring ceremony, more than 100 family members and friends, including his wife, City Council member Nancy Nadel, and daughter, Sele Nadel-Hayes, helped the port turn a new observation tower at Middle Harbor Shoreline Park into a monument celebrating Hayes' life and achievements.

"The naming of the observation tower is very fitting for Chappell," Nadel said, wrapping up a two-hour dedication ceremony. "With his feet on earth and head in the clouds, he served as an inspiration to me and Sele. Now, he has the ability to inspire us all to infinity."

Hayes, who died of cancer in 1994, is credited for helping West Oakland begin its long and continuing battle against polluting industries and the governments that support them.

With a grassroots campaign that tapped the unused pool of West Oakland residents, Hayes successfully fought various initiatives and projects, which many said would have destroyed an already struggling neighborhood.

Hayes fought against construction of a new Cypress Freeway through the center of West Oakland, forced the port to spend millions on environmental initiatives and helped get like-minded residents elected to organizations throughout the Bay Area.

All the while, he worked with West Oakland youth showing them a life outside of poverty and violence and teaching them how to make their voice heard.

"He shaped me into who I am today," said a tearful Anthony McNeal, a former drug dealer who became Hayes' campaign manager. "Chappell Hayes, to me, is like the father I never had and I mean that. Today, I just want to tell him some of the things I have accomplished."

Those include a 28-year marriage, raising a daughter now attending college and governor's award for saving people trapped on collapsed I-880 freeway during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

Others had similar stories of Hayes who's most memorable line, "It's not over until we win," was repeated throughout the ceremony.

"Chappell always worked for this community, he worked night and day," said Ellen Wyrick Parkinson, a long-time ally of Hayes. "If he was here today, I would love to tell him that we got it done. I can see we made a difference."

Port officials decided to name the tower after Chappell two years ago after West Oakland residents, who helped design the new park, came up with the idea.

And with this stunning views of the San Francisco skyline and its proximity to both the environment and the port's maritime operation, officials thought it was the perfect tribute.

"It's a magical place where the sky meets the Bay, while standing here you can see the pulse of the Bay and the nature that uses it," said Port Commission President John Protopappas. "How symbolic it is of us to name the tower after a visionary. This tower watches over Oakland as a sentinel and a gateway to the city."



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Insight into my daily regimen. Obviously of a different specimen. Me, myself & I. So fly. Welcome to the Daily Regiment.

This blog is an outlet for me to write about my life experiences. While there will be consistent themes in my writing -- because I am what I project in written form -- the topics will vary from day to day, and post to post.

If you are interested in my formal news reporting, you can visit The Reginald James Report or The Black Hour.

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