If you’ve ridden down San Pablo Ave. at Alcatraz or paused in front of Actual Cafe, you’ve probably seen them. White slender wood crosses marked by a sharpie with the name, age, date and sequential victim number of Oakland’s notorious violence (Emeryville’s own Aya Nakano was victim #45 last year). The clusters get dense by the end of the year generally eclipsing triple figures filling the front garden area of the 116-year-old St. Columba Catholic church. Father Jayson Landeza originally began placing the memorial crosses about ten years ago and this has been continued by his successor, Father Aidan McAleenan. “It’s a huge symbol. You look out [and see] people just coming and stopping. Sometimes you see people crying. It’s a very powerful image”. Landeza, also formerly the chaplain for the OPD, was reassigned to St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in San Ramon in 2013.
This week’s “Greetings from Alcatraz Ave” on KQED’s Pop blog profiles Father McAleenan who has been with St. Columba for five years. McAleenan has “seen it all” having spent several years prior living and working in the troubled Tenderloin district of San Francisco. An Irish-Catholic priest who oversees a mostly African-American Catholic parish and congregation, St. Columba is “probably the only Catholic church in America that has a black Jesus” according to McAleenan. The piece was hand-carved out of a single piece of Redwood by Ghanaian Sculptor Anthony Komla.
Writer Andrea L. Hart profiles McAleenan as part of the ongoing series that exposes the diverse personalities of this dynamic neighborhood.
Photo: Oakland Local
Greetings from Alcatraz Ave: Meet Father Aidan McAleenan
By: Andrea L. Hart
On one end, you’re in Oakland. At the other, you’re in Berkeley. If you keep going, you’ll end up back in Oakland. If you trip, you’ll fall into Emeryville. It’s an interesting mash-up of municipalities with a rich history of activism and commerce. When I moved here 10 years ago, there was only one restaurant within a short walk and the newspaper once referred to Alcatraz as a “corridor of violence” between South Berkeley and North Oakland gangs. Now it sports a bicycle collective, a cupcake shop, several cafes, two yoga studios, a weekly farmers’ market and about five more spaces with permits to open in the next six months.
With headlines constantly barking about evictions in San Francisco and plans to turn West Oakland into a playground for the rich and techie, I wondered what was happening to my neighborhood. To get a sense of my neighbors’ perspectives, I talked to people from 10 blocks of Alcatraz Ave. about their lives, their impressions of the recent change and their ideas about how we might endeavor to “do it better.”
KQED Pop is a daily blog edited by Emmanuel Hapsis that “critically examines the social and cultural impact of music, movies, television, advertisements, fashion, the internet and all the other collective experiences that make us laugh, cringe and cry”.