How To Find Your Community Using Hashtags

About this time last year, my husband and I hit an unexpected turn on our path that led to a 3,000-mile move across the country. Going from Philadelphia to Oakland, I knew nothing of the city I would soon call home, but three weeks after deciding to make the move, we hit the road with our then 9-month old daughter. In that decision, we left behind family, lifelong friends, and the rich community we had in our church and neighbors. It wasn’t long after our arrival in Oakland that we began to see how our community life here would look exponentially different than it did in Philly.

I’ve written several posts about community on this blog, about how it requires commitment, sacrifice, and time. I've also written a couple posts on motherhood and how I think it's hugely important for moms to have a diversified group of friends, so as to not lose sight of their identity. The question that may still linger in your mind is, “how do I find my community?”

During our time in Oakland so far, I have come to love this city. I love the neighborhoods, the art, the local businesses. I love the people I’ve met in various settings, and the cool, laid back culture everywhere I go (well...let's be real, Jersey girl still adjusting to that one). I love that this city is a hodgepodge of Oakland lifers, artists, transplants, young and old. I love that Oakland melds together the beauty of ancient Redwoods, vast rolling hills and the salty bay breeze with the downtown feel of any quickly changing, vibrant, yet forgotten city that up until recently was more likely to be known as the dangerous city across the San Francisco Bay. The city of Oakland is a beautiful place with beautiful people who make up its unique identity.

These are all characteristics I know to be true of Oakland now. But when we moved here 11 months ago, all I knew of was the reputation that preceded it of being violent and undesirable. As I set out to start this blog, I did so in large part to meet people in my new city—to find local hangout spots and feature them within my writing.

And now enter: The Hashtag (for me, mostly on Instagram):

As I set out on this project, there were a few basics I started with: #oakland, #eastbay, #oaklandcoffee, #eastbaycoffee, and #norcal. These five helped in my initial search to find local coffee shop favorites in the East Bay area.

Eventually, I discovered more specific hashtags and their associated IG profiles for locals in the city, like #weloveoakland and #Oaklandish. With these two, I began to find people online who also lived in Oakland as well as beloved local businesses, shops, coffee roasters, and events. As time went on, I had the opportunity to begin building both an online community with fellow Oaklanders as well as meet people in the community based on common interests through hashtags like #cmOak. "Cm" stands for the international organization called Creative Mornings while "Oak" stands for the Oakland branch of that organization. Creative Mornings is where creative minds get together monthly for talks on various topics.

This is where the real meat of the hashtag takes place—when it leads you out into your community, meeting others face to face. There are loads of organizations, shops, and events I discovered through hashtags and want to attend, but have yet to begin even scratching the surface on visiting them all.

As you get more specific (but not too specific) in your use of hashtags, you can begin to seek to diversify your community. By using various online forums, it would be much easier for me to attend advertised playgroups with my daughter and thereby only connect with other moms. Don’t get me wrong, there is certainly a need for playgroups and for moms to connect, but I also believe there is potential for more. Instead of stopping there, I've been able to connect with others who have a broader range of commonalities--some with children, some without, some with similar faith backgrounds, but by and large--not, some who are also transplants from the NE, but others with completely different cultural backgrounds and upbringings. The hashtag is incredibly helpful for meeting others with the added bonus of living an intentionally diverse lifestyle.

One final aspect to using these hashtags is discovering important local events; there are things happening in Oakland that I would not know about without the use of hashtags. Not even two weeks ago, a local man, Twon Shavers was shot and killed. It was horribly sad to read about this young man’s life, his love for his daughter, and his commitment to Oakland. By discovering #pray4Oakland, I was inspired by this beautiful legacy left by a man committed to seeing change in his city. Discovering a person's story, being inspired by their life, and having important conversations all based on a hashtag is an incredible resource for our current place in human history, so why not take full advantage of that?

Each of these examples led me to finding and following others who love the city of Oakland. These individuals may also be raising small children here; they may also be artists or love the outdoors. By starting broad, then honing in on local love, and eventually focusing in until I found others with more specific commonalities as myself, I've been able to find gems of places and people in a relatively short time. Everywhere I turn on Instagram and Twitter, by way of using various local hashtags, I’ve been amazed by this city, it’s people, and how quickly I’ve taken pride in calling my home.

A couple of real-life friends I’ve made by way of hashtags are from Slojoy Coffee.

They are currently sharing their roasts by way of events and pop-up shops throughout Oakland. These guys love this community. They are committed to spreading joy, to providing local roasts from small batches of coffee to their subscribers, and did I mention--they love SPREADING JOY in the city of Oakland. I love them a lot and hope you’ll check them out and SUBSCRIBE to have their coffee delivered to your doorstep.