In tough Oakland neighborhoods, a bold project builds public safety — and hope

photo credit: Brandon Sánchez Mejia/UC Berkeley

May 1, 2024
The Possibility Lab at UC Berkeley is tapping the expertise of hundreds of residents to learn what helps them feel safe in their everyday lives.

Annette Miller has lived much of her life in a two-story clapboard house in West Oakland, and through the decades she has seen the fortunes of her neighborhood rise and fall. But surging violence here has left a devastating personal impact: one son murdered, another son shot in the head and permanently disabled.

It seems impossible, but Miller has built strength from these tragedies, and has emerged as a community leader and educator honored for her volunteer work. And so, when she was invited to join in a novel neighborhood safety project organized by the Possibility Lab at UC Berkeley, she embraced the opportunity.
“When I got involved in safety in our community, it was all around losing a child to gun violence,” she said in a recent interview on her front porch. “It comes from understanding the value of your kids, and the pain of our community.

“My main focus has been making sure that the community gets the opportunity of being comfortable and safe. When people come to me, I’m educating them on getting crosswalks, keeping the parks clean so kids and people can come out and enjoy the space, working with the seniors.”

Miller’s approach closely parallels the strategy envisioned by the Firsthand Framework for Policy Innovation, a program launched by the Possibility Lab. In dozens of focus groups and meetings across some of Oakland’s most troubled neighborhoods, the project has looked beyond police patrols and arrest rates to understand how residents themselves think about safety and security.

“Fundamentally, our idea is that the people who are closest to social problems have a unique expertise that we can tap into in order to solve the problems,” said Amy E. Lerman, the lab’s executive director. “When we don't include them in the conversations around how to understand the problems they face, or how to solve those problems, we're really losing this incredible, rich source of knowledge that comes from their everyday lived experience.”
Read the full article in Berkeley News