The world looks very different right now. From the COVID-19 pandemic and wildfires that have destroyed parts of the West Coast to growing social unrest, we’re facing a lot of uncertainties. But one thing has unfortunately stayed the same — the abysmal literacy rates for Black and Brown children in Oakland.
In the midst of fear, scarcity, and uncertainty, those who are the closest to the pain are often the most creative and resourceful. So, before the school year began, I asked myself, — what would happen if underserved communities had some slight relief? What would happen if we bet on our community and placed our faith in Oaklanders?
The People’s Literacy Fund is a $100,000 initiative that will provide mini-grants between $500 – $5,000 to Oaklanders to improve literacy in our community. We want to lift up the voices of people from our community that are finding innovative ways to ensure more children are reading at grade level while offering some type of relief during a global pandemic. It is an opportunity for all of us to get a lesson in creativity and resilience while being a good neighbor during these challenging times.
The People’s Literacy Fund is very personal for me. When I moved to the Bay Area, I was 10 years old and had an uncertain future ahead of me. My family and I would eventually live in four shelters — two in Oakland and two in San Francisco.
My parents did the best that they could and even through rehab and jail stints, they were still able to raise a Black boy who never left the honor roll and would someday become a doctor, author, and entrepreneur.
Here’s the thing, though —no one ever asked how they did it. No one ever asked just how they made it work for me. What people miss is that Black and Brown families teach their kids to thrive academically despite all of the barriers we’re up against.
We are not blessing these families by offering relief through this money — they are blessing us with ingenuity, resilience, and a brilliance most people will never possess.
Again, the people of Oakland are our biggest asset.
Any person who is figuring out how to live in an ever-changing Oakland with red skies, insanely expensive rent, a crazy homeless problem, massive gentrification, and schools failing Black and Brown children while still teaching their kids how to read are true innovators that we can learn from.
Creating a more equitable public education system is more than just about funding. It’s about shifting our perspective on what and who we value.
I expect nothing less from the land of the Black Panthers.
Dr. Charles Cole, III is an educator focused on the advancement of youth of color, but more specifically Black males. The author of Beyond Grit and Resilience and founder of Energy Convertors, Cole is a national speaker and a writer. He is currently a board member of UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, and co-host of the 8 Black Hands Podcast.