July 18, 2012
This sweet story has been forwarded to Tricycle more than a few times. It appeared in Oakland Local's "Community Voices" almost a month ago. You can click the following link to read the original piece, by Dan Stevenson, in its entirety: "Saving Oakland's 'Favorite' Buddha."
For years the street divide of 11th Avenue in Oakland, where Stevenson lives, was a mess. Garbage and mattresses were dumped there illegally and constantly. It was a favorite spot of graffiti taggers, drug dealers, and public urinators. But because of the city's slow response time to neighborhood complaints, Stevenson and another neighbor were left with the responsibility of cleaning up the trash, human waste, and graffiti.
Until one day in 2009, when Stevenson took a trip to ACE hardware, buying a small garden statue of the Buddha and installing it on the divide. Stevenson writes,
The garbage and mattresses didn’t stop arriving but the dumping occurred on the other end of the street divide from where Buddha sat. Buddha just sat there and never said a word.
Within the first year the graffiti was reduced by 50% and the drug and urination problem was lessened as well. And all the Buddha did was sit there. It was well into the second year that someone painted the Buddha a beautiful soft white and a short time after that offerings started to appear.
At first, oranges and pears. Then flowers and candy. And then large flower arrangements and bowls of fruit and finally the incense.
For a long time I did not see anyone bringing the offerings. They just appeared. Along with all this new activity the area continued to change and the illegal dumping all but disappeared.
Many neighbors started to pick up and clean the area more. And due to people being present at different times of the day the drug and urination problem ended.
Buddha just sat there saying not a word. As time passed the immediate neighbors and extended neighborhood tended to stop and view the Buddha. Whether they were walking their dogs or taking an evening stroll they would stop and seem to ponder and many times get into conversations while viewing the Buddha. People talking to each other.
Eventually, another neighbor offered to build the Buddha a "little house," which you can see in the photo at right. The statue, Stevenson says, has completely transformed the neighborhood, making it friendlier, safer, and cleaner.
For a while the powerful statue was endangered by the City Public Works department, who planned to remove the Buddha on the basis of a single complaint about it. Luckily, an outpouring of support has saved it for the time being, and there are currently no plans to remove the statue.
Image: The Buddha on 11th Avenue, by Dan Stevenson. From Oakland Local.