A reflection and conversation sparked by watching the preparations and evolution of Not Ur Baby 2, (and my inherent and re-affirmed deep appreciation for my queer-minded womyn-builders and community I’ve left behind, not because I don’t love them, but ‘cuz I’m a traveling man, movin thru spaces, place and time. Got alotta tings I got to do, but goddess willin I’m comin back to you. The Bay be boo.)

Photography by Kate Dash.


A couple weeks ago, Vavi curated the second installment of her pop-up show and benefit event at Oakland Terminal in the West. (You can peep the write-up & interview I did with Vanessa on the last one here.) Saturday’s event featured the works of over 40 womyn artists— a huge leap from the first Not Ur Baby’s fifteen. Each of the artists involved in the show were asked to create a “donation piece” where 100% of the profit went directly to Regina’s Door, a boutique in Downtown Oakland whose proceeds help create safe spaces for at-risk youth and human trafficking survivors.

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I love that there is a push in The Bay which centers youth culture around creating discussion and making a difference around issues that affect us all. Open discussion actually occupies a space in youth culture– which I think in part has to do with consciousness and activism becoming trendy as well as the insurgence of alternative options for education which encourages youth to think critically. Whatever the reason, I’m always stoked to see youth culture focusing their energies to positive causes, because change, no matter how incremental, is only possible if we set our sights on it. With Not Ur Baby, there were several dope developments since last year. First off, they really lowkey went in with their flygirl-reminiscent branding and made matchbooks, tote bags, and baseball caps… all to create hype around the cause, as well as to generate more sales for Regina’s Door. Who doesn’t love merch? This only helped further spread the message that womyn and children are not pieces of property to be bought and sold. I know yout attention-span be multifaceted, and I think this was a really fresh approach to getting a fashion-forward set of folx interested in digest the information. Whether folx carry this philosophy into the way they live their lives (beyond the wearing a cool snapback) is a different story—but from my design geek/branding perspective, if you can get folx to pay attention to your messaging and actually share it, that’s a win. Once I seen em, I hit Vanessa up to save me a swag bag. This was not the first time anyone had made message merch by any stretch, but it’s definitely the first time I’ve seen such a wide range of crews and various cool kids pay attention to and unite for a single event. Vavi had successfully made curating for a cause… cute. Koool.

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In the words of Vavi herself: “Not Ur Baby allows a “younger” audience to be a part of a benefit. Most benefits seem to be run by an older crowd. So being 22 years old and having peers that are in the young upcoming Oakland community, allows me to bring this new way to view “benefit”. If i am going to use space in a community, i want to do something thats giving back to the community. Thats what Not Ur Baby does.

I haven’t really been to art events anywhere else than in the bay, just a couple in LA. But what makes the bay area unique is its diversity. Even if an event is put on by a certain “group” of people. Everyone is still more than welcome to come, enjoy and be a part of whats going on. The bay area has hella love for the bay area.”

Pause, rewind. Apart from giving back to community, it occurred to me that I never asked what sparked the idea for Not Ur Baby to begin with, so I did a little poking around, and it all started with some good ol’ Netflix and chill… lol jk. Halfkey.

I somehow came across a documentary on Netflix (Tricked). I happened to watch the documentary around the same time I was planning the first Not Ur Baby.” Vanessa recalled. “You could say I was pretty ignorant on my logic of human trafficking. Once I gained more information about it, I immediately wanted to do something about it. The show was a perfect way to channel that.”

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Like everything else in Oakland, dots were connected within community, through tried and true word-of-mouth.

Vanessa approached me.” remembered Regina Evans (54, Business Owner, Abolitionist, Playwright, Poet, Actor) of Regina’s Door.

Mesiah told her about me and my store last year and the relationship continued this year. She came over and I told her info about trafficking, and what was happening in Oakland. She knew a lot about it already, but I was able to give her some context. It was just awesome to get the support.”

I was also curious how many people knew about the issue if human trafficking before the event.

The majority of folks these days are buzzing about transplants and gentrification, so it was my assumption that it’s something a large number of people are unaware of. Being that I’m currently in a long-distance relationship with Oakland (tears… so many tears), I picked the brains of a few folx who actually were able to attend the event.

Growing up, it has always been evident that pimp culture was a big element in the Bay.” says Sasha Kelley (26, Creator, Connector and Capturer of creative persons, places, and things). “It wasn’t until recently that I was able to make the connection that “the life” and human trafficking is one in the same.”

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Yet for some, the event was their first time they’d heard. “I wasn’t aware.” admits Nahpsee Valle (21, Artist and Healer). “It’s one of those things that people don’t think about because they aren’t witnessing/experiencing it. I had no idea it was such a big problem in Oakland. It actually surprised me.”

Katherine Rae Mondo (23, radio podcaster) was in a similar boat: “I had no idea, and am embarrassed to admit it.”

It is so important that art speaks to people and creates conversation. One of the reasons I personally felt that I needed a break from The Bay was the way that art shows seemed to be turning into just another reason to hand out free beer and turn up—and in spaces like that, I don’t think the art can really be respected, let alone looked at. I felt that art was turning into some run-of-the-mill, yeah-i-got-a-camera-so-now-i’m-a-photographer type shit. It was disheartening as someone who’s spent the majority of their career thus far focusing on making films with positive content representing oppressed communities and and building with folx who think about how to make our communities better, only to feel that beer takes precedent over thoughtful curating. Now that I’m here in no man’s land, I do miss the turn up, but it’s given me a new appreciation for the high volume of competition in The Bay’s creative scene, which even allowed for there to be an abundance of less than thought-provoking art in the first place.

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HOLD UP— For those who don’t know: About two months ago, I moved to Oahu. It started as joke. But, I soon found that as a person who’s been fighting insanely debilitating eczema (fuck eczema) for the past 3 years since living in a warehouse (HELLAS!) with mold in it(fuck mold), Hawai’i’s climate is excellent for my made-in-China body, and I’ve since been able to heal (thank u Based God). Its amazing how much good thinking you can do when you’re not in a state of constant physical and psychological trauma. That said, I feel it important to mention here that so far on this island, I’ve only seen one top-40 gay club (I can’t), and the occasional live jazz jam(actually hella cool), but mostly it’s been a bunch of house music, and one singular yt dude with an all-yt band who was described to me as “the best reggae artist on the island” (…what…?) …Ok. This did start as a 7-page dissertation on why The Bay is infinitely more culturally and politically and amazing (Hawai’i does take the cake in terms of jungle and ocean life), and how just because this is “paradise” doesn’t mean it’s exempt from the claws of amerikkka’s capitalist racist infrastructure, but uh… yeah… I’ve chosen to save allat for another day.) There are youth arts and poetry movements here, but nothing compared to the sheer volume of 20-to-30-something creative culture makers in we have in The Town. When it comes to activating space… nothing compares to Oakland. Shit is live. I would just like to see more intentional balance of art and the turn-up. Like, we got it, so let’s be responsible with it yall. The yout is watching. Shit.. EVERYONE is watching. The first night I spent in Honolulu’s Chinatown (essentially La Mission+TL+Chinatown combined), I was told enthusiastically by Oahu’s “Human Beatbox” that they’re super inspired by The Bay. I mean, we do have our issues, but we tight. Can I be proud?

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Anyhow, I digress. Back to Not Ur Baby 2; it seems there was indeed some bad ass arting going down that day. I asked the same folx what their favorite pieces were, and how they felt about the energy of the space and this is what they had to say:

Sasha reflected from her perspective as a fellow curator, as well as artist and first-time performer: “Not Ur Baby 2 was an amazing experience that brought up a lot of emotions up for me for different reasons. As a curator I learned a lot from being apart of the show. As a participating artist, it was an amazing experience to show work amongst so many amazing artists. And as a performer, it was my first time being on stage. I shaved my head and was dancing in a body suit… Did I mention above that I am shy? It was a nerve racking, empowering experience. The room was packed and filled with warm bodies. It was great to see the youth, particularly the young women who came out shining. The young bro’s came through and respectively supported their peers. And it being a safe space for the non-binary—it was beautiful.”

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As for her favorite pieces, she felt there were too many to choose. “Favorite pieces. I LOVED the mattress piece with the hand stitched under garments and tapestries & learned a lot from the Genocide Coca-Cola alter that was behind it. I was inspired by the dedication of the research that took place within the piece near the entrance about the statistic of woman murdered through domestic violence. 1,600 autopsy printed and displayed. I also really liked OD magazine !! And Shades both was uber cute. I mean the list can go on for hours. 40+ artists… come on.”

I felt overwhelmed with the emotions of joy, support and love. It was beautiful in every way.” Regina reflected. One particular piece which brought up a lot of emotion: “The bed. Wow. I hated it. Not the art, but what it represented. I hated that. And I connected with the artist through her art because I understood the feeling of it all as a survivor… I found the artist (Sarah Hornsby) on Instagram so I could follow her!”

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Katherine felt the show made her proud to be from Oakland:

The room was filled with vibrant, inspiring energy. It made me proud to live in Oakland. Everyone was radiant and supportive and respectful. My heart was fluttering the whole time. So many things resonated. I was also surprised and touched after Regina’s poem/presentation. I was embarrassed and kind of horrified by my ignorance about sex trafficking in Oakland, and it definitely made me want to find out how to be a part of a solution. The whole event felt like women/womyn/allies/everyone lifting each other up. This might be kind of a silly way to describe it, but I was telling my friends in Texas afterwards that it felt like a revolutionary art event, rather than a hipster art gathering.”

She was drawn particularly to pieces that she could relate to her craft of choice.

Spoken word poetry performance by Samgeeeez. Storytelling is my art form of choice (although generally in radio/podcast form for me) and her performance inspired me to go home, work on my projects, and daydream about trying out poetry myself. All of the art was incredible, though.”

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Nahpsee was beamin. It was wonderful. I went to both shows & Vavi outdid herself both times. I know her personally so with each show it made me really proud to see such a young & strong womyn making such a profound impact on the community & individuals. I feel like we’re in time & place where kids & young adults aren’t concerning themselves with the issues of today. They’re too busy following bullshit trends, drinking, smoking & overall not giving a shit about anything except for the amount of likes they get on their 100th fucking selfie. NotUrBaby is providing these types of people with straight knowledge & showing them that there’s more to the Bay & this world in general than the superficial shit they been doing. It’s an eye opener for those that need it.”

As for her favorite Pieces?

Fuck.. I loved everything! The quality of the art at the show was insane. So many talented womyn. I loved Jessica’s film work, I loved ALL of Nina’s paintings, and The House of Malico‘s installment was the shit.”

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It felt warm, energetic and joyous. I thought the show featured strong and talented artists.” commented Brooke Doaks (28, Wombmoon and Artist)

She was also lovin the magic put on by The House of Malico (skwa!!), and offered some food for thought about the way the installment actually related to the theme of the show:

House of Malico rite of passage… I thought it was thought provoking and engaging. I believe that the lack of rites of passage in our communities contribute to the sexual violence we see.”

As for Vanessa, she felt like the event was a success: “It seems like no matter how many months I have to put the show together, its never enough time. My main goal was to make it more informative about human trafficking and that it was a benefit. The first show wasn’t advertised correctly and a lot of people didn’t even know it was a benefit. For the second show, I made sure to advertise it on the flyer, have a human trafficking speaker, and made posters with information on human trafficking. I got responses from so many different types of people that hold space in the east bay community. People were touched. They laughed, they cried, they understood, they learned. And most importantly, we all talked and reflected about it.”

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So, there you have it. Love Letter #1. Trust, there will be more to come. Or, maybe there won’t. One thing I’m learning this year is to go with the flow and trust the universe got my back. So far, that philosophy has led me to move 2,402 miles from home (still waitin on them visits yall, I got my own spot so… holla atta lala), enter my first poetry slam and get hugged in the bathroom by a lady who was so into it she couldn’t contain herself, subsequently get asked to slam to qualify for Hawai’i’s slam team, got a gig where they flew me across the country to shoot for Greenpeace’s activism bootcamp (it was dope), and I continue to learn every day. It’s a lot of work, but I know I wouldn’t even be in this headspace if it weren’t for everything I learned in the land of the Yay. On Citas. (lol) #TheBayRaisedMe. I know I ain’t gotta tell you, but keep shinin. Ima always put on for the people and places that made me who I am today.

Dear Bay Area, I will love you forever.

Yee,

Lahleez.