Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing Shayla 'ShaylaBang" Jamerson, the founder of the renown movement, SoOakland. She was born and raised by her grandparents in Oakland and her brother and nephew both fell victim to street violence. She also lost her mother, which led her into a seven month depression, but she did not let any of these misfortunes define her life.
This was by far the DOPEST interview I’ve done. Therefore, I had to switch from my usual Q&A format to tell this woman's story. I was on the phone with Shayla for two and a half hours and mama gave me ALLLLLLL the tea! She is the hardest working, most humble individual ever and the definition of a phenomenal woman.
When I started talking to Shayla my first question was the most basic, but the most important question: What exactly is SoOakland? According to Shayla, “SoOakland is a movement I created two and a half years ago as a safe space for the black and brown. I created it, because Oakland didn't feel like home to me anymore and doesn't feel the same”. Shayla explained that a lot of people she encountered felt the same way so she created SoOakland to hold on to the nostalgic feels we felt in Oakland before it started experiencing gentrification.
So that’s the short answer: Shayla missed the Oakland feels and created a movement to get it back! But how did this movement grow to be what it is today? As we speak, Shayla is on tour doing SoAtlanta and has upcoming plans to do a SoChicago and SoGhana… YES Ghana as in Africa! SoOakland has expanded rapidly in two years and Shayla shows no signs of slowing down.
To really understand this movement and it’s conception, you have to understand who Shayla is as a person. Shayla was born and raised in Oakland and was a club promoter once upon a time. She also created an accessory line called HeadBanger, so most of the people who support SoOakland are people she knew back in the day. She moved to Atlanta because people had been telling her she was "too good" to be in Oakland and once she got there she had an epiphany.
“I moved to Atlanta and you don't realize home until you leave. I had motivation and push when I was gone and started thinking, the bay is lit, I’m a hustler and Oakland made me this way”.
Seven months later Shayla moved back to Oakland and had a Welcome Back party that 700 people attended. “I came back to visit twice and while hanging out, people would say the town isn't the same without you. I didn't know what that meant, but when I came back and people came to my welcome home party it was like wow the town really fucks with me. I was on the stage at my homeboy's house and I was like damn I'm so Oakland and that's just it.”
And just like that, SoOakland was born! Shayla realized that she could bring people together for something positive and she ran with it. As strong as Shayla is you would never think she was a victim of depression. “My mom died and I was in a deep depression for seven months. I was a makeup artist who wanted to do makeup and film, but I knew I was too much of a leader to work for someone and build someone else's dreams. If I’m making money and it’s not making me happy, I’m not going to do it”.
Clearly Shayla was always a hustla and she decided to keep it going by creating SoOakland. “I’m presenting the movement and events to people and they feel the same way so they are going to follow it and spread the word and love what I’m doing. I’m only doing what I want for myself and what I feel like is missing”. Shayla felt like if people could come out to shake their ass and have fun, we need to come together for a purpose. She was hearing people say we don’t support our own, we don’t support our family so she started asking herself how can I incorporate all that into this? At SoOakland events there are always black vendors, cooks and DJ’s incorporated. Shayla describes, “people get in positions and don't want to help. I've been there and I know what it feels like. I get questions how do I start? So I thought how bout we put some businesses in here so yeah we are turning up, but giving people opportunities they wouldn't be able to have anywhere else”.
It was also important to Shayla to create a “safe space.” Shayla is heavily apart of the straight community and the LGBT community. In our community, we have a lot of issues when it comes to LGBT and a lot of POC are still homophobic.
According to Shayla, “I wanted people to forget the division and sexism, drop all those isms and share the same space cause at the end of the day we all have the same struggles. My events represent what black and brown Oakland was and not just what the media puts out there. All you hear is so and so got shot on 98th in today’s news. All you hear about Oakland is 'Omg it’s so bad people get shot all the time'. They think black and brown Oakland is just that and we just kill each other. It’s things like that that made me want to create this space and be able to break those stereotypes against each other. You can come here, there is a gay man you’re dancing next to and you’re not thinking ew don’t touch me. You’re also not looking over your shoulder because you're scared. I was tired of hearing that and people feeling that, because that's not my experience.” Shayla successfully accomplished creating a space where people could let their guards down.
At 37 years old Shayla has memories of Oakland in the 90’s. In the 90’s the lake (Lake Merritt) was predominately black and brown, but it isn’t like that anymore. We play our music too loud and we get the cops called on us, but white people can gather at the lake, slap Linkin’ Park and it’s all good. Shayla continues to tell me, “We are in our space and it doesn’t feel like home I feel like a visitor instead. I have to play by your rules and what makes you comfortable. I’m a black woman first and foremost sorry not sorry, and I love my people. Oakland is diverse. It’s one thing to not be a POC, but they want to fuck with our culture but not us as a people. The issues we face or situations like what happened to Oscar Grant".
"SoOakland is for everyone and if you feel uncomfortable coming to this space, that’s your problem and you have some issues you need to work out”.
SIDE NOTE: This quote was my favorite part of the entire interview LET EM KNOW SUS!
Shayla and I discussed how Oakland is greedy. Housing is so expensive that Oakland natives have relocated to areas like Sacramento, Brentwood and Stockton that they can afford. Most of the people that come to SoOakland events are making the push from other cities, because they are missing those feels and its nostalgia.
“At the end of the day it's just a vibe and for those four to five hours it just feels good. In the middle of West Oakland to do these events, it's gentrified but its still hood. To be there til 1AM or broad daylight with 1600 natives, black people and not one incident. People shopping supporting vendors and cooks and DJs…. It's a beautiful thing”.
Shayla wanted to make sure that her platform was used productively. When there were homeless encampments, SoOakland collects goods, when it was election time, they were getting people registered. She wanted to make sure people knew it was deeper than just parties and BYOB. But Shayla is well aware there’s certain tactics we need to use to get us to pay attention, let’s be real.
After hearing Shayla’s vision and goals for SoOakland I had to ask Shayla: WHO’S HELPING YOU?! Shayla told me that as of six months ago she now has four women on her staff. I was appalled. For two years Shayla had been doing everything ALONE. I honestly thought she had a staff of fifty people working for her at a SoOakland headquarters. She laughed and explained that SoOakland became a movement by her working in her apartment in Union City all hours of the night BY HERSELF. Now THAT is what you call a grind.
Shayla explained that she had a couple volunteers helping her, but they just wanted to be apart of something and didn’t believe in it. People weren’t carrying themselves and the brand the right way and she needs the people on her team to support and believe in the cause as much as she does. She recently opened a vintage store in Berkeley while doing SoOakland and she realized she needed help, despite her being a Capricorn and thinking she can do everything by herself.
“My girls are amazing. They have to make me give them stuff and snatch shit out of my hand, but I trust them and feel safe with them. I know they want this to grow and I see the potential.” In addition, Shayla plans to start mentoring 18 to 23 year old interns to show them the business and ropes of entrepreneurship. The fact that she genuinely wants to give back is so dope!
One of Shayla’s annual events is SoOakland Week. SoOakland week is July 23rd through the 29th and Shayla created it, because Oakland residents can’t just walk down Broadway and feel like it’s “for us”, because of the gentrification. “For SoOakland week everyone has to work together and there isn’t a lot of us here doing, so why not bring awareness to each other?” SoOakland week includes networking events, poetry nights, etc. and ends with a huge celebration called SoOakland Day. Organizers and curators contact Shayla and if it’s fitting it gets approved and added to the schedule! “I want to use my platform so it makes sense. Not like I have this platform and I just throw parties and not help anyone.” *Laughs charmingly.* Shayla explains that she wants people worldwide to know about Oakland, not just people from the bay. “I’m excited for Alicia who just started the Black Joy Parade, I'm just juiced for us and all the stuff happening for us. These movements are to show people we are here and we aren’t going anywhere like I’m here on your couch, scoot over girl!” *Laughs*
"We gotta bring our stuff back to life we gotta show people we are here and they can't kick us out. We inspire each other and how you treat people goes a long way. A lot of people support SoOakland because they support me. You have to be humble and treat people how you want to be treated. I know it sounds cliche, but its true. People feel like people don't support out here and I'm like I can't really relate".
As much as we may think SoOakland has ran flawlessly, Shayla explains that there have been many trials and tribulations. She lost all her savings to create an amazing event for the people and literally gave it all because she believes in it. “Every time I’m ready to quit I get a call, email or run into a random person. That’s fuel for me. I tell people patience is everything. If you want this you have to really want this. All my events look successful, but not all have been. I’m very consistent and people will be like oh shit Shayla my last party was nobody there man fuck this *laughs* people think it’s easy.”
In conclusion, Shayla Jamerson is one of the most influential women I’ve ever met and the epitome of black girl magic. Sis is a college dropout, was a flight attendant, a makeup artist for MAC and a once aspiring police officer and now she has blossomed into one of the most recognized entrepreneurs/ leaders in the Bay Area. According to Shayla, the timelines are what kills us mentally. Despite the fact that Shayla will be turning 40 in three years, she doesn’t let the pressure to achieve get to her. There are things she wants to complete by that time, but if she doesn’t she is perfectly fine with it. After a long and extremely wisdom filled interview, Shayla ended our conversation saying,
“I didn’t realize I wanted to be an entrepreneur and focus on things that make me happy until I was 28 and I’m 37 now. That wasn’t too long ago. I feel so free and I’m sure of who I am."
Michaela P. Shelton is Managing Editor of CSUITEMUSIC.com
Read more from Michaela at Darealmichaela1.com