Going into high school, I never expected to make decisions on how to solve problems within my community. I always thought adults would be the ones to make decisions for my community and not me. But, adults aren’t the only ones to be affected by the violence and problems in Oakland; adolescents too are affected. We, the adolescents, often don’t get a voice as to what should be done. Not until last year during the “Our Oakland” Project, did our class of 2014 get the chance to voice out what we thought was the biggest problem in Oakland and offer our a solution. Three big problems were voted on, and they were gangs, trash, and violence. I wanted to and got the chance to research and go in-depth about gangs being a big problem in our community. To do this, my group and I went out into the community and interviewed many people about why they thought gangs were a problem in Oakland. We also asked their opinion on what solutions might be effective. We came up with a few on our own too. The experience I had was great and exciting because it was new to me, and my ideas where expressed. However, as the project went on I found it less interesting because my group members didn’t really help me. Most of the work came from me, and I wanted their input. Without it, I got bored. Sadly, in the end, I just wanted to get it over with as soon as possible, and mistakes were made. Overall, though it is an amazing project in which high school freshman get an amazing opportunity for our often-silenced voices to be heard.
Recently I got the opportunity to interview Ms. Thomas, the one who made this project possible.
Question 1: What inspired you to come up with the Our Oakland Project?
Answer: When I was in graduate school, I read Our America [and I] really loved [it]. Lloyd and Le Allen inspired me. The fact that they were only thirteen years old and interviewed their neighborhood shed light on their situation. I felt that our students could be heard and give voice to the issues that they worried about [in] our community too.
Question 2: Please summarize the purpose and goal of Our Oakland Project.
Answer: From my point of view as an English Teacher [the goal is] for students to recognize that writing has power. And, the skills they learn: interviewing, taking notes, and summarizing – these skills actually have real world applications.
Question 3: How has the Our Oakland Project changed over the years?
Answer: It started out as a project in Math and English only. Then became science focused over many years. And, now it came back to its artistic roots of poetry, photography, and the creative process of making a book.
Question 4: What do you learn from the Our Oakland Project each year?
Answer: I learn every year that violence is the number one issue that students worry about in Oakland. [And,] there is poetry in simple everyday conversation.
Question 5: Each year, what do you hope the Our Oakland Project accomplishes?
Answer: I hope more than anything else that the project will hook students who don’t feel connected to school yet.
Question 6: Do you think it’s a successful project? Why?
Answer: Successful some years more than others because it depends on a lot of adult facilitation and coordination in order to get off campus, conduct interviews, surveys and line everything up. But, when I see students receive their published books, then it feels successful.
From the interview with Ms. Thomas, I have learned that writing truly is powerful because it has a way to influence what others will do. Truly, what we do here at Life Academy will change something one day. I’ve also learned that doing this project is teamwork between the students and teachers. The teachers organize the project, but the students make the project become real and successful. One can say that after going through this project one is changed because there will always be that thought of what am I doing in my community to change all those malignant things that I face and hear every day that is not only affecting me and my family but everyone else around me. And, as this question follows me, I can say that slowly change is happening; we may not see it right away, but soon it will manifest. Lastly, thanks to Ms. Thomas for the project. Or, better said, thanks to Lloyd and Le Allen for inspiring Ms. Thomas and to Ms. Thomas’ teacher who asked her to read Our America. But, it goes deeper than that, so as I like to say: The domino affect caused the change from the “Our Oakland’ Project and maybe more.
Edited By: Eva Oliver, Digital Journalism Teacher