Looking back to the West Oakland of his childhood during the World War II era, Ed Howard remembers a place where kids felt safe roaming the streets, Black businesses thrived along 7th Street, and a flood of newcomers from the South created a prosperous, tight-knit community. His own memories present a jarring contrast to the contemporary media’s portrayal of this neighborhood as a dangerous slum. “Any time they see a group of Black people together, they say it’s bad,” Ed recalled. “But me and my friends weren’t bad. And Oakland isn’t bad.”
From his early days as community organizer based in DeFremery Park, Ed was motivated to challenge these negative messages, and as he climbed each level of his career ladder, he brought friends from his community with him. After becoming one of the first Black mechanical engineers at Kaiser Industries, he created a program to train and hire more Black workers, a model that was soon adopted by other local companies in the 1960s. Ed went on to produce “Black Dignity,” one of the first TV talk shows hosted by an African American. His resume doesn’t end there: Ed built a thriving nightclub in East Oakland, he created a consulting firm to help launch other Black businesses, he directed a documentary about Ron Dellums, and he even invented a comb specifically designed for Black hair. Now, at the age of 84, Ed is running the West Oakland Stories Positive Feeling Movement, a local history project aimed at countering persistently derogatory narratives about his home town.
In this episode, Ed Howard shares the life lessons that informed his philosophy of positivity. Considering the seemingly nonstop barrage of horrific news that we’re all now constantly bombarded with, I’ll admit I was a little skeptical at first, but Ed won me over with his pragmatic optimism. If you’re feeling depressed, cynical, and frustrated, listening to Ed share the wisdom he’s gained from overcoming countless challenges might just give you a glimmer of hope. Available on Apple, SoundCloud, Spotify or wherever you get podcasts.