This past weekend I got the opportunity to collect surveys for a local non-profit that is focused on improving the outcomes of Oakland Schools. On this neighborhood walk, I went door to door to ask West Oakland residents about their opinion of the Oakland Unified School District. To my surprise, not very many people opened their doors to my ring of the doorbell or knocks at the door. Of the hundreds of houses I visited, I was only able to collect 4 surveys. Though I only collected four surveys, the men and women I met were a true representation of the diversity that resides within the houses of West Oakland. These are their stories…
A Single Mother
The first person who opened her door to me was a young African American woman. As I asked her questions about the school system, her son runs to the door to see the person his mom is speaking with. After sending him back inside, she tells me that her son attends a local charter school because of her lack of faith in the West Oakland elementary schools. She believes that teachers must care about their students in order for them to succeed in the school system. At the end of every survey, we ask each participant to identify his or her top concerns for the city of Oakland. Her response to this final question caught me off guard. She identified a need to address drugs and crimes within the neighborhood. She also highlighted the lack of grocery stores in her community. Instead, she sees a liquor store on every street corner. She believes all of these issues are connected to the failure of educating the youth in her community. This woman, in one or two sentences, was able to summarize the issues that I had been researching at the Prescott-Joseph Center for the last 7 weeks. It’s disheartening to know that the community is aware of the problems in the neighborhood but yet nothing seems to change.
A Young, White Woman
As I was walking down Mandela Parkway, I saw a Caucasian woman, most likely in her early 30s, and a friend of hers cleaning up her backyard. Luckily, she conveniently strolled into her front yard as I passed her home. Though reluctant at first, she agreed to take a few minutes of her time to discuss the current issues of Oakland schools with me. Slowly, her annoyed demeanor faded away and she became more willing and eager to talk to me. She stressed that correcting the school system would have a direct effect on the condition of the neighborhood. Because there is an election this year, I asked each participant in the survey of what they would like to see in an elected school board member. Although she herself is not a parent, she believed that the official elected for their district should be a parent himself or herself. If she were a parent, she’d feel most comfortable trusting a leader who understood the love and care a child needs to be successful in the future.
An Elderly Man
I knock on a door and am greeted by an older African American man. From the start, he wanted to speak with me. When asking him of what needed to change, he mentioned how religion and faith needs to be integrated into public schools. We need to “Christianize” the schools in order to see better outcomes in the school system. At this moment I asked myself, “What have I gotten myself into?” As our conversation continued, his idea began to seem less and less extreme. What he was describing to me was a school that placed an importance on values and morals in its students. For himself, he found this in his religion and believes that this would be the most effective way to transform the school system.
A McClymonds Student
The last person I spoke to left me with a strong sense of hope. A young, 17 year old teenage girl answers the door because her mother is not available. She is eager to talk about the issues that her community faces. Like the first mother I spoke with, she reiterates how essential it is for students to know that their teachers care about them. This drives students to do more. When asking her where she receives most of her information about issues in the community, she mentions her involvement in a leadership group at her school – McClymonds High School. In the group, they talk about these issues and possible solutions for the future. Because of the guidance this group has given her, she plans to apply to colleges in the fall and vote in the upcoming election that conveniently comes a month after her birthday. Teenagers like this young women that I just met are the future of West Oakland. They can be the generation that creates change and ends the cycle of misfortune that has plagued this community.