We’ve been shaken by tragedy over the weekend with news of a horrific fire at a warehouse in the Fruitvale. The Unity Council has a role to play in the aftermath of this disaster, as a community leader and advocate. The victims of this tragedy were artists, makers, and musicians in our community who contributed to the cultural vibrancy of this neighborhood. Many of us knew someone immediately affected by the fire, and we encourage all of our staff, volunteers, and neighbors, to take whatever time they need to grieve and process their emotions now and in the future.

We have worked in this community for over 50 years, with artists, teachers, musicians, organizers, and advocates. We are incredibly heartbroken by the news of the Fruitvale Fire and are exploring ways that we can be most effective in responding to this tragedy. While we are not crisis responders, we are well suited to provide safe, accessible spaces for community healing. We are making plans for holding a community memorial event at the Fruitvale-San Antonio Senior Center in the Fruitvale Village, an ADA accessible space with a commercial kitchen and a large dining room. We will work to provide grief counseling and art-making supplies so people can come and process their emotions in peace and community. In addition, we are working with local artists in the neighborhood to construct an altar to the victims, in the style of the Dia de los Muertos altars which adorn this neighborhood.

We are incredibly grateful to The Warriors Community Foundation for their confidence in our work in the community, but we have directed their gift of $50,000 to the official Fire Victims Fund. We are continuing to work with them, the Mayor’s office, and other local foundations to coordinate incoming funds.

Many people are asking what they can do to support the artist communities that make the Fruitvale District so special. As a place-based community organization, we believe that community development organizations are best suited to develop creative spaces that are accessible, safe, and dedicated to the most vulnerable members of our society. Renovating old buildings to be live/work spaces is incredibly labor intensive and expensive, and requires in-depth knowledge of the intricacies of city zoning and permitting regulations to be compliant. It is no wonder that artists and makers go underground to create their own environments, at a cost to their own safety. An investment in organizations like The Unity Council unlocks the power to create incredible mixed-use spaces for everyone, no matter their income or identity.

As news starts to circulate about building codes, criminal charges, and displacement, let’s keep in mind the incredible tragedy that our community faces today: the loss of at minimum 36 lives, with the final toll still not fully known. Our full support and condolences go out to the victims and their families.

If you would like to donate to the memorial services for the victims, that donation can be directed to the Fire Victims Fund hosted by Gray Area Foundation for the Arts. If you have any questions about making a tax-deductible contribution to The Unity Council in support of our response to this tragedy, please call our Development department at 510-535-6924 or email development@ucouncil.wpengine.com.