Bad Ass of the week: N’Jeri

N'Jeri Profile (2)

N’Jeri will soon be showing her first feature length documentary film titled: First Friday. She bravely explores the complex issues of Oakland’s redevelopment and gentrification from all sides. This week let’s get real and ask ourselves; Am I part of the problem or am I trying to be part of the solution?

After earning undergrad stripes at Boston taking film studies, she continued on to graduate from UC Berkeley studying journalism. A former educator working with Oakland’s youth teaching “Video Production”, N’Jeri is currently working with “Independent Television Service” helping manage documentary film projects as well as their field relations. (I want her job…)

Leading up to your latest success releasing your first feature length documentary, what was your experience like working as an educator? How did your students respond to this class; did any of them find a passion for film that stayed with them after graduation?

I was working in West Oakland with middle and high school students. It was a wonderful opportunity to help them get their story out into the world in a way they may not have otherwise had the opportunity to try. Sports were paramount at that school with an emphasis placed on athleticism and winning. This was something altogether different; it helped students find their voice through their own creative mind. I have to say they definitely toughened me up in the best kind of way. I was 24 when I started teaching and learned as much about myself as I did them while I was there. I’m happy and proud to say some of my former students are continuing to pursue film and are succeeding greatly. Teaching by far has been my most fulfilling “work” in my life.”

*Tears* my heart swells just hearing that. Once again, educators like you make a difference in our children’s lives. I’m sure you haven’t forgotten any of your students and I know they have not forgotten you and the gifts you gave.

What’s your day like at work? Is it everything you wanted it to be and more?

This is my dream job! I get pitched various ideas and get to spend my day watching and talking about documentaries. I help manage projects from the first steps of development and help decide who is ultimately funded. It can be challenging when you have to “tell the truth with compassion.”  Some people DO NOT want constructive criticism of any kind. (haha) I feel blessed to get to do what I love full time. Many are not as fortunate because finding a full time job in this field is hard; it is not always sustainable financially. I can’t say it enough, I LOVE my job.”

Right on dude, I’m so glad to hear it. It never becomes any less true that if you do what you love, you never work a day in your life. I hope that never changes for you. I doubt it will. 😉

What inspired your film “First Friday” and why the title? Is this related to the growing art scene?

“Some of you may know and remember the shootings that occurred February of 2013 around 10:50pm after a “First Friday” event. An 18 year old boy was murdered in the “Beauty Supply Warehouse” parking lot on Telegraph and 21st. His 17 year old friend and two other women were injured, but survived.

I was utterly disgusted by the response of the media. Every news story and article seemed to only discuss the fact that First Friday was supposed to be a safe event; they cared more about how the murder would affect the surge of people coming to Uptown rather than the fact that a young boy was shot and killed. Where is this disconnect? The focus of the aftermath leads into the discussion of how Oakland has changed and what direction we are moving in…”

Before we continue on, let’s all take a moment to think about what we just read; do you remember the tragic and fatal shooting that took place that night? If so, what was your response? If you are just hearing about this for the first time, how did it make you feel? What were you more concerned about, the boy’s murder or the fact that fewer people may attend due to Oakland losing some of it’s “safe cred”? Be honest with yourself.

Let’s talk about gentrification and how it relates to these types of events and the resulting aftermath.

N’Jeri outside of the events of the tragedy itself, how will “First Friday” be exploring the gentrification of Oakland? Who would you describe as part of the problem?

I’ll start by sharing an experience that happened to me while riding BART. I was discussing the project and the subject of gentrification when a gentleman in front of me overheard and asked me, “Am I a gentrifier?” I asked where he lived and he replied “West Oakland”, so in turn I asked him, “Why West Oakland”? I wasn’t surprised by his response: “It’s the closest to SF.”

That’s it. Not because he wants to immerse himself in the culture here. Not because he wants to be part of the art, music or the collective community here. That’s one specific example; however in reality unless you were born and raised in Oakland, or have been here a large part of your life, you too are a part of the gentrification that has been taking place over the years. This does not mean that you do not care about your community or that you don’t volunteer and contribute. It’s all about your intentions. Intentions and action differentiate between being part of the problem vs. part of the solution. The solution is not “getting rid of the bad parts so we can have nice things”. Part of the solution always lies in community and support. Change is great but let’s take care of those already here. We still have a long way to go. Oakland is like a time capsule of history and I feel that elements of that have been lost along with the feeling of “home” for so many.

I have to say I really appreciate your distinction of the general definition of a gentrifier vs. being of the 1% and coming to neighborhoods that simply meet their commuting needs.

Who will you be interviewing while discussing these issues in your film?

We have a diverse group in an effort to give voice to all sides of our shared story. The list includes: James Copes, a vendor who helps organize “First Friday” events

Lukas Brekke-Miesner—Born and raised in East Oakland, one of the first to write about the shooting

Patanisha Williams- her family moved here as a part of the Great Migration, she currently lives in  Uptown Oakland and shares her insights on the changes she’s seen in her neighborhood

Dan and Dai Shan-are new Oakland residents who outwardly represent the issue of gentrification, however they both work at companies that add tremendous value and services to the community that they’ve chosen to call home.”

Bravo! I commend you for not only making this film to discuss these issues but that you are going about it in an objective manner. Not many documentaries allow different people from different walks of life give their perception as to what’s really going on here and how we can make it better. You are clearly a brilliant and genuine woman and I can’t wait to hear more of what you have to say. Oakland is lucky to have you, N’Jeri. We thank you for YOUR contribution, bringing educational awareness to these important and complex issues in an effort to bring us together.