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Community Mobilizes to Save Holy Names University for Students and Future Students

Steps are already being taken to mobilize support for HNU. Oakland Councilmember Carroll Fife and Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan have introduced a resolution, scheduled to be heard by the City Council at its December 20 meeting, “Recognizing The Enormous Importance of Holy Names University to the Oakland Community and Urging the University’s Administration to Work Collaboratively with Faculty, Staff, Students, Elected Officials, and Community Partners to Resolve the Issues Facing the Institution with the Goal and Intention of Maintaining It as an Independent Institution.”

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Many Oaklanders are committed to preserving the Holy Names campus as a diverse center for higher education that grants bachelors’ degrees and trains teachers, health professionals and social workers.
Many Oaklanders are committed to preserving the Holy Names campus as a diverse center for higher education that grants bachelors’ degrees and trains teachers, health professionals and social workers.

By Ken Epstein

As Holy Names University in Oakland struggles with deep financial difficulties, local elected officials and community leaders are coming forward with offers to help find ways to resolve the problems and save the city’s primary remaining university.

Rumors are swirling around the campus that the university could close at the end of the school year in May 2023, dispersing many of its students to colleges in nearby cities.

Some Oakland leaders are exploring alternatives that would benefit the Oakland community and its students. If HNU actually closes, some are looking at turning the campus into a home for one of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), which are known for welcoming white, Latino and Asian-American students, as well as African American students.

Many Oaklanders are committed to preserving the Holy Names campus as a diverse center for higher education that grants bachelors’ degrees and trains teachers, health professionals and social workers. Several people told the Oakland Post they will do whatever they can to prevent the beautiful hill campus from being sold to developers to build exclusive private residences.

The Oakland Post attempted several times to contact Steven Borg, chairperson of the HNU Board of Trustees, but was unable to reach him before the newspaper’s deadline. In addition to his position on the board, Borg is an independent marketing consultant.

Here are the questions the Post texted to Borg:

  • There are people in the community, including political leaders of the City of Oakland, who want to support HNU to resolve these issues.  Have you met with them, or do you plan to meet with them?
  • I have also heard that the Board dissolved its fundraising committee five years ago. Is that true? Why was that?
  • Do you have fundraising plans?
  • Will you talk to city officials who want to help?
  • What steps do you plan to take to protect HNU and its longstanding role as an institution that is crucial to the education of thousands of local students and educational and medical professionals that serve the community?
  • There are rumors that some are considering offering the HNU campus to real estate developers. Are you considering that?

At a meeting with the Holy Names community Thursday afternoon, Board President Borg said that HNU would continue offering classes for the Spring semester but cannot say anything else. He also announced that the university’s president, Michael Groener, was on leave of absence, and Sister Carol Sellman, long-time HNU administrator, has taken over as “Senior Administrator.”

Steps are already being taken to mobilize support for HNU. Oakland Councilmember Carroll Fife and Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan have introduced a resolution, scheduled to be heard by the City Council at its December 20 meeting, “Recognizing The Enormous Importance of Holy Names University to the Oakland Community and Urging the University’s Administration to Work Collaboratively with Faculty, Staff, Students, Elected Officials, and Community Partners to Resolve the Issues Facing the Institution with the Goal and Intention of Maintaining It as an Independent Institution.”

Aniya Bankston, head of the HNU Black Student Union (BSU), and a second-year pre-nursing student, said she had some idea of the problems at HNU over the past few months but that there was a lack of transparency that left most students feeling insecure about what is happening at the institution.

“If I weren’t in the BSU and student government, I would feel blindsided,” explaining that many students are fearing that Holy Names was on the verge of moving or shutting down, she said.

She said that she and some other students are willing to do what they can to support the survival of Holy Names during this difficult time, though many are worried about their educational futures and are busy filling out applications and exploring ways to transition to other educational opportunities.

Paul Cobb, publisher of the Oakland Post, who was awarded an honorary Doctorate Degree in Humane Letters from HNU, spoke to Borg and Groener about presenting some financial solutions and a plan to keep the HNU programs in Oakland adjacent to Golden Gate Academy where Cobb graduated.

Cobb said he will meet with the students, the governing group of sisters and the faculty members to present plans to bring investors to the campus. He also said he has received inquiries about possible city, county and national non-profit institutes seeking to support, create a joint venture or bring an Historic Black College Campus to that site.

“I want to reassure the sisters that the university’s spirit and mission of student involvement in Tutwiler, Miss., would be maintained by partnering with a Black university,” he said. “We could also involve the Peter Claver Society and others to seek the sisters’ support for the educational endowment’s continuous commitment to diversity since HNU’s student mix is nearly two-thirds Black and Brown. I am hopeful and look forward to meeting with the students. When I was the commencement speaker, I challenged the students to continue the struggle to keep HNU the most diverse college in America.”

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Activism

Call to Protect Geoffrey’s Inner Circle from Threatened High-Rise Development

Geoffrey’s, located at 410 14th St., is part of the city’s Black Arts Movement and Business District which was formed in 2016 by reso-lution of the Oakland City Council to protect Black-owned businesses and enhance a downtown district that would encourage the historic African American legacy and cul-ture of Oakland.

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By Ken Epstein

Geoffrey’s Inner Circle, a downtown Oakland Cultural Center that has featured live jazz and served music lovers and the Black community for decades, is now under threat from a proposed real estate development that could undermine the stability and future of the facility.

Geoffrey’s, located at 410 14th St., is part of the city’s Black Arts Movement and Business District which was formed in 2016 by resolution of the Oakland City Council to protect Black-owned businesses and enhance a downtown district that would encourage the historic African American legacy and culture of Oakland.

Now, the Oakland Planning Commission is considering a high-rise building proposed by out-of-town developers next to Geoffrey’s, which would jeopardize both the survival of the venue and the Black business district as a whole.

In addition to running a business that has been a crucial institution in the local community and the regional arts scene, Geoffrey Pete, founder, has utilized his business to offer meals for thousands of unsheltered individuals and hosted countless community events.

The following petition is being circulated in defense of Geoffrey’s and the Black Arts district (To add your name to the petition, email info@geoffreyslive.com):

“The African-American community in Oakland has been seriously damaged by developers and public offcials who are willing and sometimes eager to see African Americans disappear from the city. Black people comprised 47% of the population in 1980; now they make up only 20% of said population. In response to this crisis the 14th Street Corridor from Oak to the 880 Frontage Road was established as the Black Arts Movement and Business District by the City Council on Jan. 7, 2016, in Resolution 85958.

Tidewater, an out-of-town developer, is proposing to build a high-rise building at 1431 Franklin, which will damage the Black business district and the businesses in the area including the iconic business of Geoffrey’s Inner Circle at 410 – 14th St.

We demand that the Planning Commission and the City Council reject this predatory building proposal and proceed with plans to fund and enhance the Black Business District.”

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Activism

16th Annual MLK Day of Service on the Richmond Greenway

The 16th annual MLK Day of Service in Richmond honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  was held Jan. 16 with a day of service to the community and activities for families on the Richmond Greenway.

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“…Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The 16th annual MLK Day of Service in Richmond honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  was held Jan. 16 with a day of service to the community and activities for families on the Richmond Greenway.

The event was hosted by Urban Tilth and the City of Richmond. Event partners were Groundwork Richmond, Rich City Rides, Moving Forward, Hope Worldwide, The Watershed Project, Contra Costa Resource Conservation District, Building Blocks for Kids, City of Richmond, Cal Cameron Institute, Friends of the Richmond Greenway; and Pogo Park.

The celebration made possible with the support of the Hellman Family Foundation, City of Richmond, and hundreds of individual donors.

The day’s schedule included volunteer projects along the Richmond Greenway and a Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial and community celebration at Unity Park.

Among the community service projects were opportunities to take part in projects to transform and beautify the Richmond Greenway Trail, like tending to the Greenway Gardens, trash pickup, and planting native plant and trees.

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Activism

Sheng Thao Sworn in as New Mayor of Oakland, Pledges New Direction for the City

Mayor Thao provided a few minutes on the program to introduce to the community Dr. Kimberly Mayfield, the newly appointed deputy mayor, who has served as vice president of external affairs and dean of the school of education at Holy Names University, a leader of the Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) and a member of the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc.

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Mayor Sheng Thao, sworn in as the 51st Mayor of Oakland, is flanked by her son Ben Ventura and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, Jan. 9, 2023. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.
Mayor Sheng Thao, sworn in as the 51st Mayor of Oakland, is flanked by her son Ben Ventura and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, Jan. 9, 2023. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Mayor Thao appoints HNU’s Dr. Kimberly Mayfield as deputy mayor

By Ken Epstein

Sheng Thao, a daughter of Hmong refugees who overcame homelessness and domestic abuse to attend university and build a life for herself and her family in Oakland, received the official oath of office Monday afternoon as the new mayor of the City of Oakland.

Sworn in at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Oakland by California Attorney General Rob Bonta, she stood on stage surrounded by friends, family, and staff members. She was flanked by her son Ben Ventura, who performed a musical piece on the cello, and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao.

The mayor called on Oaklanders to join with her to create a more humane, inclusive, and just city. She spoke about her commitment as a progressive to significantly improve the quality of life for residents, making the city safer and cleaner, building 30,000 units of truly affordable housing, fostering jobs, promoting economic development, supporting small businesses and providing solutions to homelessness that recognize the dignity of the unsheltered.

“I know what we can do together, Oakland,” she said. “Our city’s’ best days are still to come. The Oakland that we all know is possible and within our reach.”

Newly appointed Deputy Mayor Kimberly Mayfield (left) with Mayor Sheng Thao. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Newly appointed Deputy Mayor Kimberly Mayfield (left) with Mayor Sheng Thao. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Mayor Thao provided a few minutes on the program to introduce to the community Dr. Kimberly Mayfield, the newly appointed deputy mayor, who has served as vice president of external affairs and dean of the school of education at Holy Names University, a leader of the Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) and a member of the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc.

In her remarks, the mayor focused on the city’s long fight to become more inclusive and equitable.

“We believe everyone deserves a seat at the table, not just a few, not just the wealthy, not just the well-connected,” she said.

“Sometimes, we take our shared progressive values for granted, our advances toward justice and equality,” said Mayor Thao.

She reminded people that “a…century ago, our city was dominated by members of the Ku Klux Klan (where) Klan members burned crosses in our hills and marched through our streets. As recently as the1970s, freeways were made possible by tearing down thriving Black, Latino, and Asian communities,” she continued.

“We recognize what we have overcome together to remember what is worth fighting for every day…(and) to take stock of how far we still have to go.”

Promising a “comprehensive” approach to public safety to make all neighborhoods in the city safer, she said she would bolster anti-crime programs like Ceasefire and “we will fill (police) vacancies with home-grown police officers who know our community, who look like us.”

At the same time, she said, the city must increase opportunities for young people, reinvigorating the summer jobs program (for youth) and enhance the school-to-work pipeline so young people can gain experience and job skills.

She said she would beef up the many city departments that are currently operating on skeleton staffing, promising to fill the staffing vacancies that “plague our city.”

Mayor Thao said she herself is a renter, and that she “will fiercely protect Oakland renters. If you are a renter in Oakland, you’ve got a mayor who’s got your back.”

Speaking about the Oakland A’s proposed waterfront real estate development promoted by former Mayor Libby Schaaf, Mayor Thao said the city will continue negotiations to keep the team “rooted in Oakland.”

“Working closely with the A’s, I’m hopeful we can reach a good deal, (based) on our Oakland values,” she said.

The former mayor’s plan for building the proposed waterfront real estate development at the Port of Oakland was dealt a major setback this week when Oakland failed to secure more than $180 million in federal funds to help pay for infrastructure development for the project.

Speaking of the importance of the appointment of Mayfield as deputy mayor, the Mayor’s Office explained her role in the new administration:

“Mayor Thao was thrilled Kimberly Mayfield agreed to join her team because of her tremendous and longstanding leadership in Oakland. In recognition of her vast experience, it was decided that the best role for her would be as deputy mayor where she will be an instrumental part of the leadership of both the Office and Oakland.”

In her introduction at the Paramount Theatre, Mayfield said, “Today is not about political agendas…It’s about the power of the people…it’s a recognition of the rejection of the status quo. This new chapter begins with a mayor that understands how to build a culture that works for everyone. Thank you, Mayor Thao for the opportunity to serve.”

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