Yohana came back to the Bay last year to help her family. She was a college dropout, alone, jobless and often felt hopeless. She wanted to get into fine dining where bartenders and servers at upscale restaurants can make as much as six figures but it was a distant dream. She says all the bartending courses she found cost over $1,000 – money she didn’t have.
Grover was unemployed. As an older African American man, he often found the doors shut to employment for him. He managed to get a few odd jobs here and there but steady employment remained elusive.
Debra is a mother of five. She worked hard as a janitor and cleaning houses but yearned for higher paying opportunities.
All three had their dream fulfilled this week graduating from bartending classes and on their way to positions in fine dining through a program called ROC the Bay. The organization trains low income people of color for free in fine dining professions at the same time that it fights for better wages and working conditions for all restaurant workers. Their focus is on the positions “in front of the house” organizer Maria Moreno explained like maître D, wait staff, bartending and management where the better wages are.
The program would be impossible without restaurants who believe in racial equity and good conditions for their employees. Copper Spoon located on Broadway and 41st in Oakland offers a variety of gourmet dishes from lamb burgers to scallops and an array of vegetarian choices. It’s known for its creative cocktails, reggae gatherings and Sunday brunch day parties. It is also historic and recognized as a gathering place for the Black Panthers in the 70s. The owner Vita Simone welcomed the graduates inviting them to apply for jobs at her establishment. “We are more than just employees,” she shared. “We love each other. We hang out together and we are like family.”
Reems on 12th Street in Oakland offers traditional Arab street food with California Love. “It’s a delicious roasted chicken with a twist, hummus plus, and a little Damascus lemonade,” Hai Vo, the representative described. The restaurant’s mission is “to lift up our community through providing community benefits, living wages, jobs with career paths, and supporting local businesses and farms. Reems also hosts farmers markets and a bakery and is expanding this year.
The manager from Miss Ollies, an Oakland Caribbean establishment told graduates that they are hiring now and are happy to train them further to be successful. Miss Ollies boasts a pan Caribbean menu with specialties from Jamaica to Barbados. It’s food is so distinct it’s been praised in media ranging from the New York Times to the gourmet food magazine Bon Appetit.
Next year ROC the Bay will join a coalition of organizations and open a full-service restaurant where people can train and work. It is also fighting now in support of legislation to stop forced arbitration and make it optional. “Forced arbitration means that you lose your rights to go to court if an employer violates your rights,” Maria explained.
The ceremony was co-hosted by KBLX on air personality Jazmyn Summers. “It was so moving,” Summers said. “I was honored to salute the graduates who have worked so hard and overcome incredible obstacles to seek a better life.”
Some of the graduates teared up when given their diplomas. “I am so blessed today,” said Deborah. “It’s the beginning of a new life for me. I see a beautiful new horizon ahead.”
Posted by 102.9 KBLX on Thursday, June 14, 2018