Director Hinton Hodge Talks Environmental Justice in the West, Her Dreams for Mack, and the Critical Role of Community

A Guest post, part of our State of Black Education in Oakland (SoBEO) Rants series hosted by Dr. Charles Cole III

“for folks who care about black education across this country, support SoBEO. But support the people in your community that are working on behalf of black children all over the place. Speak up, speak out. Do your own rants, as best you can, wherever you need to be. Because you need to be heard. Our voices need to be heard about our children and our parents and our families.”

Check out the SoBEO rants podcast below

or you can read the full transcript here,

Charles:                Welcome to season two of the SoBEO Rants podcast. So, so excited. Now listen, this first episode, we brought back one of our favorite people, Jumoke Hinton Hodge. Now the audio isn’t what it would normally be, but there were some major things that happened in Oakland and we needed to just do the episode at that moment. So I think I was in an airport on my iPhone headphones and we had Jumoke. But most of most of our shows will be mastered a little bit differently. But we wanted to really bring this to you as soon as it happened because it was still so raw. So please enjoy and we hope that you continue to join us for the rest of the season two of SoBEO Rants, peace!

Charles:                Welcome back to the second season. Second season, season two of SoBEO Rants. And we have our co founder, our amazing leader out of the West who’s just amazing and one of my favorite people. We have director Jumoke Hinton Hodge. How you doing Ms. Jumoke?

Jumoke:               I am doing, I’m full, I’m good. Appreciating this day.

Charles:                There’s a lot happening in your world. So we about to give you the floor. Jumoke, what are we ranting about today?

Jumoke:               Cool. Wow, there’s this school system. But I do want to, I want to acknowledge the memorial that’s happening today for Kobe and his beautiful daughter, Gianna, Gigi. And so, just know that that process, 8 Black Hands did something on it. Everyone has really talked about the two of them impacting our lives. And in particular his leadership and just who he was as an athlete. But clearly as a father, we’ve learned so much about him in both of their passing. So, a tragic loss in our community. But as always, we know, I always think, we just got some powerful angels and ancestors now. Rolling for us at a whole different level in playing. So excited about that. So actually in this rant I want to make sure that as I ran, I also come up with a solution.

Jumoke:               And interestingly enough, Kobe and Gianna are actually some inspiration for me around some solutions. So, the question was what? What I got to rant about?

Charles:                Mm-hmm (affirmative), tell us what’s on your mind.

Jumoke:               I work, I live, I’ve raised babies in the West Oakland community. My family migrated from Texas to West Oakland in the forties, late thirties, forties. My mama went to Prescott Elementary School, which is where my daughter also went to school as well. And there’s just some realities about a town or a space, a community that is full of migrants, right? Folks that are coming from other places. And oftentimes they’re leaving what was hard and harsh. But also coming into a space where they have hopes and dreams and aspirations to rebuild. And that’s been true for West Oakland, for whether it was an Italian migrant population in the 1900s, early 1900s, et cetera.

Jumoke:               So it is definitely a place where it’s about, again, hope It’s about rebuilding. It’s about restoring life in a certain kind of way. And so it’s been a pleasure and an honor to serve this community. But also in that it has just been a space where no matter how much money a school system has put into it. Even no matter how long leaders have been in their positions It’s been stagnant in terms of real movement and real growth. And this is also a space where you can’t talk about education and not talk about the inequities around housing. Right? You can’t talk about the environmental justice issues. West Oakland is surrounded by four freeways, major freeways, right? To get to San Francisco, to get to further in the East Bay. To get out to Richmond. We’re surrounded by that space. And it has impacted our learning. It has impacted our mental health. It has impacted our physical health, right?

Jumoke:               Our children and our adults have serious respiratory problems and issues. And so in this last week we’ve had to deal with addressing and remediating a problem around some levels that showed up with a chemical. No panic, you’ve got to go into these things and you got to be thinking and listening and learning what’s going on. So we have a problem with the ground water in our region and in our area. And there are traces of TCE that are showing up in McClymonds, right? But that means it’s showing up in the house next door and it’s showing up in the house three blocks away. What we know is that I got to see SI today.

Charles:                Can you let us know what TCE is?

Jumoke:               And I’ll be able to share that on Twitter, on SoBEO. And showing that like we have toxic sites, right? Like old auto mechanic spots, old dry cleaners where we were using harsh chemicals in our environment. And that has impacted the quality of our lives and it’s impacted our environment. And so today I’m feeling this energy around black folks in an environmental justice issue. And a campaign and a movement that we’ve got to be really clear that that is our movement, that that is our work that we have to do to care for this planet. And to be really holding governmental entities accountable for the cleanup and the remediation and also the detection, right? So we found the TCE looking for something else. We didn’t find the leaking oil, which was a great thing. However, this TCE showed up. And so, we’ve gone through days of testing and has comeback positive. In that it has been negative results and negative traces. Zero detection of TCE in our air and the air that our babies are breathing.

Jumoke:               Now outside is a different issue. But we know that the wind will dissipate things, et cetera. But we do know that we have a source that we’re going to have to get to and we’re going to have to address. It’s bigger than the school district. It’s got to be the City, it’s got to be the State, it’s got to be the federal government as well. And so we know, again, our history, right? Is that we’re going to be the last on the list. But what I do believe has happened is that we’ve activated folks. And I just, I want people to get … The emotion is there and it’s real, but we’re going to have to also move ourselves into a place of real strategy, really thinking about some things and really thinking. And aligning ourselves with whoever that is, the right targets that have the right information to help and support us.

Jumoke:               So just, feeling for our community and our babies that are having to kind of disperse themselves into other environments so that they can continue their learning this week. But I talked to the young people and they’re cool. My hope and vision is that we get some environmental justice activists, we get some engineers out of this, we get some folks out of this that are going to study and cure cancer. It should activate us into really healing and being woke about what is happening for us and our communities. And how schools can be the center of that piece, right? So that’s my rant on that one.

Charles:                Thank you for that. I had a quick question around that. So what would you want to say to the parents, the students, the community? That right now are afraid, that are angry, that are upset, and just generally trying to figure out what’s happening? As an official here. what would you want your message to them to be? Because I’m sure many of them will listen to this rant.

Jumoke:               It’s critical. I come with two heads. I’m going to actually come from my, mama, black woman, in this system, my own level pushing around accountability. And one of my favorite phrases from one of my good friends, you Charles, Dr. Cole, is, we on our own. Be really clear that we are on our own. And so it becomes critical that we are investigating, that we are again learning and listening and getting the information that we need for ourselves. And that is for everyone. That is for students to be very, very clear about, this is their education process. And what is happening around them has a great impact. And so again, our young people need to be asking these questions. They don’t need to be shuttled to a space that said, “Oh, this is a clean air space and you’re going to be fine and we just going to teach you.”

Jumoke:               These young people need to be pushing back and asking the questions around what is in their environment. And also what it means to change up in your learning environment. What are the expectations for me? Because this week I’m now going into a space that is not normal for me. There’s going to be some different challenges for me to actually get to school now. I might have to be doing a couple of extra blocks. I may not be able to take care of my family in the way that I could when I was just going to that site. How am I going to be eating this week? It’s just all these elements that are going to be changing for folks this week. And so you got to, one, take care of yourself, right? And be really conscious of what are your needs and being able to articulate that.

Jumoke:               And to the families, always it’s back to this idea that your child’s education, you have some power in that. You need to know who is responsible and who is accountable. And I think that the opportunities to organize yourselves and coalition yourselves is going to be a really important piece over the next, just in this next week right now where I feel like we’re activating ourselves. And then over the long term, really look at like what does it mean to stay on top of these kinds of issues. And again, how this impacts what we eat? How is this impacting how we’re learning? How is this impacting our relationships, our mental health? These are going to be things that people need to be really super conscious of.

Jumoke:               And I would say that actually, Brother Charles, you also have another, I think you’re part of another solution. Because on our campus we have a children’s hospital satellite clinic. And so families need to be taking advantage of that. I don’t care if you’re not insured or whatever the case may be, utilize that service as best you can. Go to your healthcare providers that you do have and make sure you’re getting, you’re looking at your health. And not just your physical health but also your mental health. As a black folk and as a people, we have trauma. What comes up is that there’s going to be a re-harming of us in some kind of way.

Jumoke:               And then the last thing, and then this has come up for me on my heart over this last week and a half, is that, we’ve had two tragic deaths of young people who died of leukemia, just in the last two years, at McClymonds. And one brother actually was fighting it since middle school, went into remission, got into high school, and it reoccurred again. And so one of the things that’s I just felt deeply as I … We were, meeting with a hundred parents in one night. And one night it was 75 parents in the room. And people are testifying that they have cancer or that they’re survivors of cancer. And these are sister-friends. Brother Charles, you know some of these mamas, right? And not recognizing and realizing like, “Oh, wow. Maybe that’s why they weren’t showing up and they weren’t doing something.” In our communities we grapple and we struggle and we’re resilient and we resist. And our health is real.

Jumoke:               But it just came to my heart that we actually need to create some spaces for us that are survivors of this. The mamas and the babas that have lost children or the aunties and the grannies and the brothers that are going through chemo, going through radiation, and still trying to show up and be present for their families. Have a new perspective on life because of this illness. And so I just feel like what … And I actually talked to someone at Children’s Hospital, one of the mental health therapists on that campus. And we talked about, can we create some healing spaces for this? Because we got a lot of anger, we got a lot of trauma, but there’s going to have to be some space that we dedicate to our healing and to lowering our stress in some kind of way. Figuring out who our community is. Who’s struggling with this stuff at the same time.

Jumoke:               So, that’s what I’m feeling. That as a community, we’re going to use this as a way to heal ourselves. We can actually do that.

Charles:                Well, I wanted to just thank you for that. I think there’s a lot in there. And for the people that’s listening. Normally I’d be doing this for my studio, AKA having a microphone. But this was just such a pressing topic that even though I’m out in the wild, Jumoke and I thought that this was just really important to get out there and to talk to people about. Just in closing, I do agree that I think we are on our own. I think environmental racism is rampant. I think any place where there is a plurality of black people, I think we could dig up some dirt in any of those places and test it. Richmond was known as cancer alley when I was in … I remember studying environmental racism when I was an undergrad. Because of Chevron and all that stuff.

Jumoke:               That’s right.

Charles:                These things don’t just happen. They happen for a reason. And so, as Jumoke said, as I normally say, we are on our own. The other thing I want to make very clear, and I want to ask you for clarity, Jumoke. Because people on social media are talking about this like this is something that’s just impacting the school. And if there’s a groundwater issue, what I seem to understand is that we discovered it at the school, but that means that the entire area, the entire region is impacted.

Jumoke:               That’s right.

Charles:                So it’s not just like, “Oh, the school was being negligent.”

Jumoke:               That’s right.

Charles:                This is more of an environmental justice issue in our city. Is that correct?

Jumoke:               Yeah. To that end, we’re going to have to do really a much better job, I think, around communicating. There’s a human element of us that like we awful-ize, as our other good brothers says a lot, on what’s happening on community. And there’s some awful stuff, for sure. And we have to call it out. But we have to look at, again, the totality of it. So we were doing some testing for something totally different, to make sure that an old tank was not leaking oil, petroleum oil. It was not. But in that process we see the TCE. And I’m going to put this out here, and I’m not a scientist, and I’m a simple woman.

Jumoke:               What I had clarified for me was these levels of TCE. And so what happened was, it showed up at a 20, that was the parts per particle that were seen. So of course you want a zero or 1.2 is really the highest that they want you to have that. So we were at a 20, I’m sorry, 30. So that triggered doing more testing, more investigation. But in that investigation we found that there was no detection. In the dirty sites that we know exist within a mile of our schools, there’s three of them, they are reporting at parts 19,000 parts. So the difference between 19,000 and 30 is quite a bit. And yet we wanted to do this safety precaution of still looking and investigating. And that came from the state regs, etc. Right? Regulations of, we’re going to check on this. So we did due diligence. And we’ll continue to do that.

Jumoke:               But just to your point. If there’s three sites in a mile or two radius, yeah. Mcs’s showed up because we’re doing something but what is happening down the street with it? And so to that end there’s going to be, the city council is really on point and is moving. The County’s on point around this. And so there’s going to be environmental justice town halls. And I have to also shout out to my good friend Margaret Gordon and Brian Beverage in West Oakland. And I think anyone in the nation who’s looking at their community and looking at environmental justice issues, West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project is on the map. It’s nationally recognized. It’s recognized in the state. And Ms. Margaret and Brian, they’ve been hammering this for 20 years. So this ain’t new. And so again, this activation in parents is a wonderful thing. And there’s information up there and you know you need to get with it.

Jumoke:               I don’t know if you have another question for me, but I definitely wanted to talk about another little piece that I want to lean into.

Charles:                Well, I wanted to hold it for the next rant. Is it related? If it’s related, let’s do it. But if it’s not, I wanted to hold it so I can get you back on and have a whole new one.

Jumoke:               Well, you can always get me back. Well then, can I tease? Because it is definitely a longer conversation. But one of the things that is coming up in California right now in general, and this is again a national issue around schools. Our schools are falling apart. For the most part, there has not been that investment in the infrastructure of our buildings. And so on the March ballot, there will be something called Proposition 13, which is kind of weirdly named. And some people don’t like Prop 13. But you need to vote for this Prop 13 because this going to put billions of dollars into reconstruction of schools. And so there are some politicians out there that are saying, “If this passes, McClymonds going to be top of the list. And we going to rebuild it as a new school.” And I’m for that and we’re going to make sure we hold people accountable around here, even if we have to go through the bureaucracy.

Jumoke:               But clearly there’s going to be resource that we need to be mindful of. We need to vote for it, we need to support it. And then the other thing is that the district’s tend to do its own bond as well. And so I’ve been on that tip, before there was a state bond that we should be rebuilding the school. And so, the rebuild, that’s what we’re going to tease to bring me back on. Because I want to talk about how we build off the legacy of McClymonds, which has had a strong sports athletic program. And so I really want to get into designing a sports and wellness school. And the wellness part is about this environmental justice piece. It’s about being a food insecure neighborhood and community. So how is it that you feed yourself as an athlete, right? To be at your best when you’re eating from the corner store or there’s not a grocery store in your neighborhood.

Jumoke:               And so we’re going to take wellness and that idea of, again, our mental health, our physical health and what it takes to be an athlete. But then also look at the sports industry, because we know not every kid is going to carry a rock. Is not necessarily going to be on the court or be on the field. But there are multiple jobs. This is a bazillion dollar industry. And our young people need to be focused and taught in that way. And so, that’s my vision for when we rebuild the new school, it’s going to be focused in some ways on what has been the heart and soul of the school. But an opportunity now, I think, to manifest it in a way that young people are going to be taking again, ownership and agency around their learning around things that they love. But also connected to their community in a way to make sure, again, that they’re activated and moving really differently.

Jumoke:               So excited about talking about new school design at McClymonds and West Oakland.

Charles:                Great. So, well that’s a great teaser. I’m sure people going to have a lot of questions for you around that. If people want to reach you, in closing, if folks want to reach you, what’s the best way for folks to connect with their director?

Jumoke:               Right. I have a very long email address. It is my whole name. There is a dot in between it. And it’s [email protected]. So hit me up. Yeah, hit me up that way.

Charles:                Perfect, and we’ll-

Jumoke:               I’m on Twitter a little bit, @hintonhodge4oak.

Charles:                And we’ll put it in the description too. And we got you, we’ll put it in the description for anybody that wants that email address and to reach out. Jumoke, thank you so much, you helped me ring in-

Jumoke:               Thank you, Charles!

Charles:                You helped us ring in season one.

Jumoke:               Appreciate this. I’m happy to be a part of season two.

Charles:                Absolutely.

Jumoke:               I’m kicking it off again. And just out to this community, for folks who care about black education across this country, support SoBEO. But support the people in your community that are working on behalf of black children all over the place. Speak up, speak out. Do your own rants, as best you can, wherever you need to be. Because you need to be heard. Our voices need to be heard about our children and our parents and our families.

Charles:                I think that sounds great. Thank you so much.

Jumoke:               Thank you. Peace out!

Charles:                You all have been listening to SoBEO rants. And what you can see that will be a little different this year is we’re going to have video. We got some more conversations. If you want to be involved, feel free to leave a comment or share or reach out to us. All that information will be in the description. Thank you very much. Peace!

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