In a tap, the phone screen is filled with video. A sizzling pan full of eggs sits on the stovetop as music plays in the background. In the foreground, a man holding the camera addresses the audience through the screen. One more tap, and the scene changes as a group of volunteers hand out boxes filled with breakfast meals to those in need. Each volunteer dons a black shirt with a small logo of a hooded figure in the corner. Under the logo reads “Tha Hood Squad”: a collective of activists and artists working to better the Bay Area through art, rallies and social media.
Created in 2014, Tha Hood Squad spawned from a project to create a news program — Tha Hood News — that would include the often-overlooked narratives of people of color in the Bay Area. What began as Tha Hood News soon developed into Tha Hood Squad, as the members decided they wanted to expand their reach beyond journalism. Tha Hood Squad, now labeled as an art collective, continues to produce Tha Hood News alongside organizing community events, protests and various forms of “art-tivism,” or activist-based art.
“We have events, like community-building events, that are focused on creating a loving, peaceful community that is in harmony and balance with itself and one that believes in justice because there’s a lot of injustice in the world, and so we need a community that really cares and is going to be standing up for the right thing,” Tha Hood Squad founder JT Faraji said.
Through these community events — such as city-wide barbecues, vigils, protests and free meals — Tha Hood Squad hopes to create a bridge between Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and Stanford. In the coming months, the organization plans to host art festivals and rallies, in their effort to mesh the Bay Area art scene with current political events. Through a weekly breakfast program, Tha Hood Squad also provides meals to the homeless.
Beginning in March 2020, the breakfast program serves the homeless in East Palo Alto weekly. In order to create a sustainable breakfast program, Tha Hood Squad purchased their own chickens and began selling their eggs in order to pay for the meals. As the breakfast program began gaining traction, the organization received enough money to keep more eggs and make more meals.
Beyond helping the homeless, Tha Hood Squad also targets issues such as police brutality at the local level. On June 25, the collective led a protest against Facebook for the company’s role in funding the Menlo Park Police Department. In 2017, Facebook donated over $9 million to fund a police unit that would cover Facebook’s Menlo Park location. Operating near historically Black and Latinx communities, the “Facebook Unit” raised issues of racial profiling and policing ethics after a Hispanic man was wrongfully arrested for stealing company property.
For Faraji, Facebook’s involvement with local government has become an obstacle for change because of its immense influence over policy-makers.
“Facebook is the entity that is really in charge of the [Menlo Park City] Council, of the police department,” they said. “… So it’s not enough to go to the city council and say, ‘Hey, can you stop?’ because you actually need for their boss to stop and their boss is Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook.”
Using their social media platforms, Tha Hood Squad spread information about Facebook’s history and government involvement. The collective also posts about other protests in the area, as well as videos of racially-charged conflicts in order to shed light on the prevalence of racism in the Bay Area.
In a video posted on June 26, a member of Tha Hood Squad documented an encounter with officers of the Palo Alto Police Department. The caption explains the officers’ conduct during a call to investigate an alleged fight after the June 25 protest. According to the caption, the officers approached children to ask about the fight instead of speaking directly with adults nearby in an attempt to criminalize the children and involve them in an active investigation.
As Tha Hood Squad continues to grow, they hope to raise awareness in the community and represent those who lack a voice in mainstream media.
“This is going to be a long fight,” Faraji said. “Civil Rights did not happen overnight, it took years. So we would like for our Stanford community to stay engaged with us, keep showing up for us, keep donating, keep sharing our GoFundMe, keep caring, keep coming to our events. We welcome the energy and we love our community.”
Contact Laura Malagrino at laura.malagrino ‘at’ gmail.com.