African American girls and young women are finally beginning to get their due. There is a palpable energy coalescing in Oakland. I felt the pulse this week at the “Community Forum on the Aspirations of Black Girls” a packed house on a Tuesday night, listening to, and planning action around improving the schools for one of our most vulnerable, powerful, and oft overlooked or misunderstood populations.
This is what I love about Oakland, the community, working out our issues in our ways. Amidst the national angst, and the local budget drama, it’s been a tough few months for schools and those who work with them. But this night was different.
The data on need is compelling. I covered some of it before. But I don’t want this to be about dysfunction. It’s about better defining and moving towards highly functioning spaces for young women. And that was the energy in the room.
Coming together for changes
There was power in the room; the elders, the founders of some of this work, the Brothers from OUSD’s Black male initiative, parents, staff, and most compelling were the young women themselves. They shared powerful stories of being both unseen and mis-seen, and the roles that schools and some staff play. Simultaneously, they shined as progressing models of persistence and power.
There was poignant testimony about the critical role that adults can play, the importance of healing, and relationships. The reality is that many staff members (mostly Sisters) have taken it on themselves for years to informally or formally cater programming to Black females, holding down a kind of double duty, as a regular teacher and also a specialized counselor. We need to take some of these lessons, crystalize, and spread them.
We also heard an urgent need to change school climates, and the tacit or active acceptance of sexual harassment, stultifying gender roles, and stereotypes by both staff and students.
And as one Sister said, “we don’t need a study to tell us these things, we know this.” It’s more about what we do.
This has started, with listening, and a bringing together of community, educators, the district, foundations, non profits, and some resources to focus more systematically on this challenge. looking at the data and thinking systematically about what we can change in both policies as well as cultures.
The West is the best
West Oakland is where my Oakland work started, and it was incredible coming back 20 years later and seeing many of the same folks I worked with back then, still doing this work. Mama Celsa, Baba David, Mama Jumoke, and others from 20 years ago, still here still doing it. And also hearing the testimonies of third and fourth generation Oaklanders, still in the community, still working for it. And we are making progress.
With all the drama, I haven’t been feeling great about things. But when I go to schools and engage with the community, and have nights like that one, I am reminded of that which I know.
The questions and answers will always be here, not outside of us, not from DC or OUSD, but from the community. And if we build community well (which yes is messy and sometimes contentious), it really doesn’t matter that much who sits atop any of many thrones. We are the masters and mistresses of our destiny.
And we need to take better care of each other, and our sisters and daughters.
It’s time for community forums to transform to sustained community action.