Oakland violence spurs teens to independent research, discoveries
OAKLAND — City and
neighborhood communities are important, certainly, and have a role in
healing Oakland's sorrows, just as churches, families and couples do.
But in the end, much tragedy is caused or averted by what happens inside
one person's mind, and as one group of local teens learned to reach out
to their neighbors, they also found something new in themselves.
the Streets, a program headed by the Ella Baker Center for Human
Rights, saw its inaugural graduating class of eight teenagers proudly
complete the 10-month program July 1, in a ceremony honoring not just
the teens' material accomplishments but the changes they'd discovered
The paid fellowship demanded the students
decide for themselves what issues to tackle and how to tackle them.
Through conferring with one another, they agreed that teen joblessness
was a leading and neglected cause of violence on Oakland streets. They
planned and organized community meetings about public safety, promoted
those meetings and then ran them as facilitators, a role many of them
hope to return to in a second year at the program.
They chewed through their findings, came up with a report and presented it to City Hall.
Where decisions are made
Webb, 18, lives in East Oakland and has always been good with numbers.
She envisioned herself for years using that skill to become an
accountant. Now a student at Cal State
East Bay, she's re-evaluating her business major and considering political science.
learned there are a lot more interesting jobs than sitting in front of a
computer," she said. "Now I have this other side thing I really like
and it's starting to out outweigh the original plan."
going to City Council meetings, and meeting a legislative aide who works
in Sacramento did a lot to open her to ideas about her own life, she
"It's good to know this is the law, this is how it is," she
said. "But it's better to know how it happened. And even better than
that is to be one of the people included in doing it."
Through meeting the aide, Webb said she learned how the job is done and what she'll need to do to get there.
not sure she's down for the long hours or the complex legal writing,
Webb said, but to be in the room where decisions are made is an
experience she got a taste of and for which she found an appetite.
A poet goes public
graduate, Jerricka Page, who loves teasing Webb because Page's version
of their same first name is spelled with a "k," is also 18 and recently
moved from East Oakland to Hayward.
In the program, Page led a
focus group examining why girls and young women turn to prostitution and
young men turn to selling drugs. Like the others, she surveyed local
business owners, students and politicians.
"There's a lot to learn about where we live," she said. "I learned more people feel the same way than I thought."
Now a student at DeVry-owned Carrington College and learning to be a medical assistant, Page had a different kind of epiphany.
a long time, she said, she used writing, especially poetry, to process
the hurtful things life threw her way. That poetry has always remained a
private kind of therapy, she said, as she kept many of those
After attending an event called
Transformative Visions with the group, she saw other poets getting
behind microphones and sharing their own experiences and privacies,
which "helped with just me being comfortable, telling people certain
things," she said.
"I've been nervous about people knowing things about me," she said. "Now it's like, OK, I can probably do it."
digging through her notebook, now, finding two pieces to take to her
first public reading next month. Violence isn't just one moment
Lacy, 18, has grown up in West Oakland since she was 11 and, like her
classmates, gave a two-minute speech to the city's Public Safety
Now a psychology student at Mills College, she said the
moment of the program that stood out most for her was when a woman who
works at Highland Hospital, a frequent haven for shooting and assault
victims in Oakland, came to talk about her job.
"She worked with
families of youth who got shot," Lacy said. "She helped families get
stronger and deal with all the consequences. I didn't even know that was
a job: all you hear about are doctors and nurses, at a hospital."
Lacy wants to use her learning do similar work for a nonprofit or a school, she said.
order to help Oakland, you have to deal with the problems. People don't
want to deal with all the bad stuff, though. Everybody's like, 'Stop
the violence,' like it's a here and now thing. But I think if we look
inside, people don't just decide in a moment to make this change, join a
gang or do something violent. It comes from a person's history. And
that's how I want to help."
Crain, coordinator for Heal the Streets, said applications for the
second year of the program are already flooding in and will be accepted
"I think just going in, they didn't know the level
of investment they were willing to give into it," Crain said of the
graduates. "They felt this was really their work. It wasn't me telling
them what to do. They go to define their research, the kind of research
they wanted to do."
An early discussion among the students, she
said, revolved around the question: Everyone knows Oakland has problems,
so why hasn't anything changed?
"They knew people need to do
things," Crain said. "And then they realized, well, we are people.
That's our job the next 10 months. They went from saying, 'I wish
someone would do something,' to, 'I'm going to do something.'"
It was a change some of them said they've already begun recognizing in others.
is misunderstood," Lacy said. "A lot of people are doing good things.
In another city, they would downplay it if something bad happened, but
here in Oakland they hype it up and the good stuff is all underground.
It's not getting better because a lot of people don't know "... what's
out there. Oakland can change faster than everyone thinks."
For more information on Heal the Streets or to apply, go to www.ellabakercenter.org, and click on "Heal the Streets," or call The Ella Baker Center at 510-428-3939.