After the Strike; Starting the Healing Process and Doing Better by Black Students

By Charles Cole III

I was a student at Oakland’s Westlake Middle School in the 90’s during the five-week strike that occurred. While I survived that strike, I worry about how we’ll come together now that the dust has settled with this latest strike. I worry about how the strike has affected all students, Black students in particular.

As a kid, I didn’t think much of the strike because I was happy to stay home. But my mother crushed my dreams of staying home and playing video games. Both my parents worked and there was no way she was leaving her son home alone in the middle of the day. She felt I needed adult supervision and that I needed to be in school learning.

And, like so many OUSD students during this year’s strike, when I arrived at school there was a long line of teachers with signs who were shouting and chanting. Perhaps like me, kids we were assured the teachers weren’t shouting at them, but I’m sure it was still a wild experience. Inside my school the building was complete chaos. Kids were running through the halls. Some classes were watching movies; some had kids playing chess. I remember fights breaking out all over campus. One of those fights led to someone getting stabbed. The adults did their best, but we were wildin’. I can admit it.

I remember telling my mom what was happening, but I think she thought I was exaggerating so each day I got sent to school. Eventually, I started cutting with my friends and playing basketball at Mosswood Park. For me it was five weeks of no learning. For kids during this strike, it was seven days of no learning—seven days too many.

So now that it’s over, how are we going to further educate Black kids?

It might surprise you to know that I was never pro or anti-strike. I’ve always been pro-Oakland and my thoughts are focused on what we do now that the union and district have come to terms, now that all the national media has left and all that remains are Oaklanders to begin the healing process. As a Black man who’s been in Oakland since he was 10, I want to know how we do better now and in the future.

I always wanted teachers to get their bread and I wanted the classes to be smaller. But I also want our district to fix the structural issues plaguing our finances. I want us to have conversations steeped in facts, but most of all, I want us to address how we are going to better educate Black kids here in Oakland. We must acknowledge that Oakland education has been subpar for Black kids for years. I want us to start our healing process by learning from our past mistakes. I want us to root ourselves in Huey P. Newton’s autobiography and take the revolutionary leader seriously when he said that Oakland’s public schools did not teach him anything relevant to his own life or experience.

One thing I do know about Oakland is that having 86 schools in a district that serves 36,000 students isn’t fiscally prudent (unless Proposition 13 gets struck down asap). For comparison purposes, Stockton serves roughly 50,000 kids with 55 schools. But the failure to educate Black kids is bigger than just stats. There are actual lives at stake. Mine was one of them.

But above all, I love Oakland; many of us do.  At the end of the day, it’s about us, our choices, and the results of those decisions. I’m ready to work together with anyone who wants us to do better for Black students. Let’s get it.

Charles Cole III is an educator and media producer focused on the advancement of youth of color, but more specifically Black males. Charles frequently blogs about education issues at Energy Convertors, Education Post, Great School Voices and others.
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