Whoever broke into the offices of the Oakland Peace Center on a recent Sunday knew the setup. They knew how to get into the building owned by First Christian Church of Oakland undetected by the surveillance camera. They kicked in doors and dropped through a tile in the ceiling. They knew where to find the keys that allowed them access to the upper-floor offices. They ripped open mail and rifled through donation checks. They stole computers. They even made off with the church offering from earlier that day.
It was all, as Oakland Peace Center Director Sandhya Jha said, "Very mission impossible."
When Jha and the staff from other nonprofit tenants arrived at the building tucked away on a quiet street near Pill Hill, they were greeted by smashed windows, doors kicked in and offices ransacked. The damage was in the thousands of dollars.
If you've ever had your home or place of work burglarized, you know what a traumatic experience it is. The scary feeling that your personal safety has been compromised. Burglary may not involve physical harm, but it is still very much an act of violence.
It is a sad statement that nonprofit organizations working to promote nonviolence in Oakland and throughout the Bay Area should themselves be victimized by that very violence.
Jha, co-pastor of First Christian Church, founded the Oakland Peace Center a year ago on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. It provides office space and spiritual support for community organizations and individuals working to promote peace and social justice in the Bay Area. The budding organization is attempting to build a grass-roots movement focused on preventing young people from dying in homicides.
"It just kills me that people would do this to the Oakland Peace Center when they see what we are trying to create in the community," said Belinda Gilchrist-Day, founder of Project Darreis at TGN Foundation.
Project Darreis is one of 40 Oakland Peace Center partners.
Gilchrist-Day started Project Darreis to honor the memory of her son Darreis Toyfoya. Darreis, a well-liked mentally disabled man who had a habit of bringing homeless people to his mother's house for food, was shot and killed in the Grand Lake neighborhood in 2006. He was 18. The killing was never solved. Project Darreis gives food, clothing, furniture and other necessities to mentally disabled people, frail seniors and struggling parents with nowhere else to turn.
Whoever broke in and vandalized the Oakland Peace Center wasn't thinking about the people who depend on Gilchrist-Day's donations or who benefit from the wide range of services offered by the other nonprofits.
A lot of people would have thrown up their hands and quit.
But the Oakland Peace Center partners came to the conclusion that the break-in only further demonstrated the need for their work addressing the root causes of violence.
"They can't get what they want through an open door, so they have to break open doors," said Angela Urata, operations manager for the Niroga Institute. "To live in that kind of world where you have to fight for everything must be hard. I don't excuse the action, but I try to see the humanity in the other person."
The Niroga Institute teaches meditation and yoga in schools, juvenile halls, homeless shelters, cancer hospitals and rehab centers -- skills to help people transform their lives.
The Oakland Peace Center groups aren't naive. They met with the Oakland police to learn how they can better secure their building. They are installing an alarm system. No one will be hanging out in the building at night.
However, the one thing they will not be doing is running for the hills.
The Oakland Peace Center is seeking donations for repairs and improvements to secure its building. To make a tax-deductible contribution, send a check payable to FCC Oakland (OPC in memo line), 111 Fairmount Ave., Oakland, CA 94611. Donations may also be made by PayPal at http://oaklandpeacecenter.org/.