Saturday, June 10, 2017



Throughout Golden

Gate Neighborhood

Though geographically small, more than 40 houses of worship are located in North Oakland’s Golden Gate neighborhood.  From modest storefront to massive churches, a mosque and an ashram, this neighborhood holds space for a rich constellation of denominations.

Operating as communities within the larger community, many of these spiritual centers are only accessible to its members.  At various Commons Archive events, neighbors have expressed a desire to know more about these sites.  And so the 2017 'Spirit Walk' was born, a walking discussion that opened the neighborhood's anchor religious centers:  the Siddha Yoga Dham Ashram, established here in the late 1970s and St. Columba Church, one of the Bay Area’s oldest African American Catholic churches.

To really get to know a place, it's wise to follow the footsteps of those who are passionate about their neighborhood. Neighborhood walking discussions have been an important way to share local knowledge and nurture relationships. By celebrating intergenerational perspectives and centering diverse voices, Commons Archive walking discussions are designed as informal opportunities for conversation and connection among longtime and new neighbors. We invite Black elders and other neighbor experts to be our guides. This creates an experience that supports diverse neighbors by listening to each other and nurturing new relationships.

In 1975 the Siddha Yoga Dham occupied  the old Stanford Hotel, a historic building in what was then a rough industrial area. According to Seth Melchert, longtime neighbor and Ashram member, that was the point––to foster an accessible meditation community in the center of urban grit. By 1988, over 200 nearby households were connected to the Ashram. These mainly young white folks formed a major wave of change in this predominantly working-class African American neighborhood. Many are familiar with this neighborhood landmark building; only members can access the facilities. This insular community opened their doors to neighbors who had never previously been allowed inside.

Since the 1800s, East Bay, Black churches have provided fundamental community wellbeing. Neighbors gathered at the Golden Gate Library to hear Dr. Martha Taylor, Oakland pastor, historian and author, speak about the role of churches in the African American community.  In 'From Labor to Reward', Dr. Taylor "meticulously renders the origins, activities and import of Bay Area Black churches." The City’s disinvestment in Black communities has deep roots. Black churches extend their services far beyond spiritual support. They have historically provided critical resources for mental health support, housing, and food. Black churches continue to compensate for the lack of city services. Dr. Martha Taylor strategically addressed the predominantly white audience, sharing information that was new to many.

Founded in 1898, St. Columba Catholic Church is one of the oldest parishes in the area. Following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, St. Columba welcomed Italian and Portuguese families who migrated to the East Bay. After World War II, Black Catholics who left the Jim Crow South in search of new opportunities brought their faith and families to St. Columba. Now the congregation is represented by more than 30 local zip codes. Though many Black families have left the area, they stay with the church.  A dedicated parishioner opened the church to share its history and current social justice initiatives. From Black Lives Matter, to food for unhoused neighbors and get out the vote efforts, St Columba is a local leader for equity. St. Columba celebrates the African American congregation’s identity and culture. This is seen everywhere, from the saints on the walls and the iconography of the Cross, to the symbols on the doors.