The Temescal Roots Project is a testament to the power of collaboration, intentional community engagement and artistic co-creation to preserve a neighborhood’s rich history. The project represents the first public art piece in the world that will commemorate the legacy of the Black Panther Party. In 2021, a development grant through the Kenneth Rainin Foundation’s Open Spaces Program kickstarted a series of conversations to gather community insights, stories and ideas to inform the art. Jena Dominique is the visionary spearheading this project, the community participation and artist recruitment. We invited her to reflect on the project and strategies that supported community engagement and consensus.
Artistry Through Activism: The Inspiring Temescal Roots Project Collaboration
Guest blog by Jena Dominique
The Black Panther Party’s historical significance and impact are widely acknowledged, but its roots in Oakland’s Temescal district often remain overlooked. Temescal and the surrounding area are pivotal to this remarkable story—it’s where several party members grew up. Huey P. Newton graduated from Oakland Tech in 1959 and, with Bobby Seale, later established the first Black Panther Party headquarters.
In 2022, the Temescal Telegraph Business Improvement District was a proud recipient of a Kenneth Rainin Foundation Development Grant. This funding marked the inception of a profound initiative—the Temescal Roots Project—a collaborative effort between the Business Improvement District, Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation and Made in Color to create a lasting public art installation. The aim? To pay homage to the enduring impact of the Black Panther Party on Temescal, the city of Oakland and beyond.
Collaboration Amongst Microeconomies
The alliance formed by these three organizations might seem unconventional—how do a Business Improvement District, a creative agency and a nonprofit find common ground?
Each organization is a microeconomy, or an entity working within Oakland to advance, uplift and intentionally impact the local community. Here’s a closer look at how this partnership unfolded:
- Temescal Telegraph Business Improvement District served as the physical home for the project, while the local neighborhood became the project’s foundation. The District hosted most of the project’s events, nurtured partnerships with hyperlocal Temescal organizations and provided a digital platform for updates.
- Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation bestowed the project with purpose, creating the world’s first permanent 3D installation to honor the Black Panther Party. They facilitated connection and participation from Party members and enriched the project with historical insights.
- Made in Color, a Black women-owned, Oakland-based creative agency, assumed the multifaceted role of the project’s lead artist. They breathed life (and color) into the project, overseeing all aspects of project management, creative direction, narrative strategy, artist recruitment and community participation.
Together, they united to develop a cohesive art concept for the triangular pedestrian plaza at the Telegraph, Shattuck and 45th Street intersection in the Temescal district. Despite evolution (we received the grant during the pandemic, after all), one thing remained true and unifying for all parties involved—fervent passion and dedication to see this project happen by any means necessary.
The Community Engagement Process And Results
Within eighteen months we hosted, produced and participated in five events, engaging more than 600 community members. The journey commenced with a collective brainstorming session, which set the project’s tone and direction. Then, each partnering organization hosted a community conversation.
Temescal Telegraph Business Improvement District kicked it off with Neighborhood History: Returning to our Soil, a conversation between Katie Larson, the district’s former Executive Director; Harry Yaglijian Jr., owner of the original Kasper’s Hot Dogs; Kufue, a muralist who has beautified the Kasper’s building with art in its dormancy; and Rickey Mccullough, co-owner of a nearby business, Root’d in the 510. The historic Kasper’s Hot Dogs building shares a deep connection with the Black Panther Party, since founder Dr. Huey P. Newton and several other Party members were frequent patrons of the neighborhood eatery that first opened in 1943.
Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation hosted The Panther Legacy: Honoring our Roots to uncover how to best depict the Party’s legacy. This conversation was moderated by Dr. Xavier Buck, Executive Director of the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation. It included Party alum Clark Bailey and Katherine Campbell; Fredrika Newton, Co-founder and President of the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation; and Dana King, sculptor of Oakland’s Dr Huey P. Newton Bust.
Finally, Made in Color hosted Collective Imagining: Planting New Seeds, which opened a dialogue among Oakland artists who have honored the Party through their work. Artist Tion Torrence and I co-moderated a conversation between artists Refa1 of Aerosoul; Senay Alkebu-lan of Madow Futur; Malcolm Ryder, photographer of the Oaktown exhibit; and Timothy B. Art.
These conversations helped the project collect substantial community insights and ideas to shape the artistic concept. An extensive proposal request process had nationwide artists vying to lead the project. Ultimately, Oakland artists Gavin Grant, Dana King and Shomari Smith emerged as the finalists.
In October 2023, we presented their concepts at Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation’s third annual Pantherfest. Attendees were enthused to see this project come to life and offer feedback. Ultimately, Shomari Smith’s 10 Points to Liberation incurred a majority vote from the panelists and more than 380 community members, with 57% in favor.
Five Strategies To Maintain Collaboration And Alignment
Executing a project of this magnitude requires alignment. Here are strategies that helped us maintain collaboration:
- Establish a game plan. A shared timeline provided clarity by outlining our milestones and deliverables. This was integral to respecting the process and celebrating our successes, especially when we reflected on month 18 and saw all the items crossed out!
- Make it identifiable. We undertook a design process to develop a thoughtful visual identity that facilitated a consistent and cohesive promotional campaign.
- Organize. We shared an online repository for all assets, documents, photos and notes, streamlining communication and record-keeping.
- Respect zones of genius. We constantly accepted that there was a lot we didn’t know. Each partner ultimately played to their strengths, leaned on others for their expertise and brought in external reinforcements often.
- Create a “yes, and” environment. Based on the improv storytelling principle, we cultivated a “yes, and” environment conducive to ideation, connections and problem-solving. This empowered all parties and the community to actively contribute to the project’s development.
Celebrating And Supporting A Collaborative Triumph
The Temescal Roots Project journey was fueled by a shared determination to honor the Black Panther Party’s legacy, foster inclusivity and amplify the voices of our community.
The Temescal Telegraph Business Improvement District, Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation and Made in Color partnership has proven to be an unstoppable force. Each entity played a unique role, enriching the project with expertise and passion. Together, we demonstrated that when microeconomies come together, we have no limits to what we can achieve.
As we stand on the brink of bringing this monumental art installation to life, we invite you to join us in celebrating this collaborative triumph. The Temescal Roots Project is a testament to the power of community, partnership and a shared commitment to preserving the legacy of the Black Panther Party. We can’t wait to see the impact of this project on Temescal, Oakland and beyond.
Gratitude Always Follows
A special thank you to all the community members who shaped this ambitious project with their ideas and the artists who invested time, energy and creative genius into conceptual designs.
Additionally, this effort would not have been possible without the dedicated individuals and businesses who supported us, including Amir Aziz and the Onus Media team, the City of Berkeley, Clark Bailey, It’s All Good Bakery, Jordie Bornstein, Jean-Paul Zapata, the Made in Color creative team, Noah’s Bagels, Oakland Venue Management, Park Day School, Teas With Meaning, Oakland Museum of California, Root’d in the 510, Roses Taproom, Selena Davant, Shifra de Benedictis-Kessner, Sorrel Tsui, Tion Torrence, Temescal Works and The Logan.
Thank you for being a part of this remarkable journey, and we look forward to unveiling the Temescal Roots Project to the world.
About The Author
Hailing from the Bay Area, CA, Jena Dominique is a Creative Director and Co-founder of Made in Color, a Storyteller and a DJ, transcending conventional boundaries with her talents.
Beyond these titles and accolades, Jena is an accomplished anthropologist whose global explorations have shaped her perspective. She embodies empathy, foresight and articulate communication. She carves safe havens for marginalized creators and lights the way for underserved audiences. In a world craving audacity and innovation, Jena Dominique emerges as an embodiment of ambition, creativity and allure.