In the summer of 2011, Berkeley High School alum began gathering at San Pablo Park for what is now known as the All Class Reunion Picnic. What began as a way to get members of the BHS network in one place is now a biennial tradition — and has grown into one of the city’s biggest cross-generational community building experiences, especially for black alumni.
This weekend will mark the fifth time that the Berkeley High community will come together to celebrate Yellow Jacket pride. The festivities kick off Friday night with the BHS All Class Social at Spats followed by the all-day picnic on Saturday Aug. 25 at San Pablo Park and then an Old School vs New School after-party back at Spats.
Orlando Williams (BHS class of ‘85) has been attending and helping to organize the reunion since the beginning. The alumni program has never been that strong, he said, but the reunion picnic has given it a big boost: “With each year we get bigger and bigger.”
Most of the organizers and attendees of the All Class Reunion Picnic (ACRP) are black, which makes it something like a homecoming for the black alumni of Berkeley High. This is especially meaningful, Williams said, because in recent years, many Berkeley High graduates and their families have been pushed out of the city (in some cases the entire Bay Area), as a result of rapid gentrification. Since 2000, Berkeley’s black population has decreased by about 30%, according to the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
The ACRP weekend is a reminder of the history and culture black people have brought to this town.
“It’s clear there has been a culture change in Berkeley,” said Laurel Carter, who serves on the board of the ACRP, and is also a member of Berkeley High’s 1985 graduating class. “I look at the way the park has changed since we began having the picnic in 2011. Many of our attendees used to park at their mom’s and grandma’s houses then walk to the park. That’s no longer the case since many of them have been displaced.”
While the reunion picnic is known as an event spearheaded by black alumni and mainly for black people, organizers of the weekend want people to know that this is an event for the entire community.
While the picnic is held at San Pablo Park, which “is the site of the rich black history of South Berkeley,” Williams said, “we want people to understand that this is for everyone. The Berkeley we know and love is a diverse place.”
The Friday night event at Spats is a social gathering, it is also a fundraiser for current BHS students who qualify for the Mckinney Vento Act, a service designed to support youth who struggle to maintain consistent housing. The picnic at the park on Saturday kicks off at 11 a.m.
Organizers are advising all attendees to use ride share apps and/or public transportation.
Carter says that people should prepare for a fun-filled weekend with a lot of joy and happiness. “You can expect a bunch of smiles, hugs, red and yellow, and a lot of jacket pride!” she said.