Education in Oakland

Hustle and Grow

Posted by novometro on August 8, 2006

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Chip Johnson reminded his readers Tuesday that “younger individuals” in Oakland are forming “large mobs,” and then “attacking individuals.” This information was part of a larger story about the rising rate of robberies and felony assaults that is accompanying Oakland’s mounting body count.

The article brought to mind the mob of young black males I saw gathered on a street corner in downtown Oakland Monday afternoon. Tony Fontaine and about five of his friends had clustered at the intersection of 19th and Webster to peddle his new CD at five dollars a pop. Selling rap CDs on street corners as a prelude to one’s own line of fragrances and a spot on Cribs is part of hip-hop lore. It’s the music industry’s version of that Lower East Side pushcart that becomes a grand department store.

I don’t know where Tony Fontaine’s career is headed. I’m no connoisseur of rap. But I do know that his entrepreneurial spirit ought to be encouraged rather than stifled. People don’t need another reason to be afraid of large groups of young men standing on street corners.

I didn’t feel like paying five bucks for the CD, and Mr. Fontaine, 22, wouldn’t give me one as a “media demo.” He suggested we check out his music online. His MySpace page makes it clear that he is no saint. He and his partner, who together form the Full Tyme Hustlers declare a love of “weed and panties.” The music I heard isn’t much deeper. But Mr. Fontaine and the “Hustlers” were hustling, and not in the bad way.

As anyone who has ever tried to sell anything knows, it’s painful. You have to steel yourself to the indifference of strangers. If Mr. Fontaine can bring himself to endure the cold shoulders of lunchtime office workers to reach his goal, he will probably find his way in the world even if his music career goes nowhere.

And yes, I know that not every group of kids hanging out in front of the liquor store is a lemonade stand. Some young people are committing armed robbery and making Oakland worse. But we already know that. For most people, the sight of young people huddled on the sidewalk is a sign that its time to cross the street. Raising the specter of attack mobs is not performing a public service.
–Alex Gronke


One Response to “Hustle and Grow”

  1. You’re being overly sensitive. The groups of young men attacking people is a new phenomenon this summer, and Chip Johnson understands the difference between people hanging out and large groups rushing up to people, assaulting an robbing them. In downtown Oakland, employees of one bar have been attacked no less than three times by a group of teenagers.

    The article was reporting actual incidents, not “raising spectres.”

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