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Protests Surge as District Moves to Close Black and Latino Schools

This Saturday, there will be a rally for members of Oakland communities and affected school communities to fight against the closures beginning at 10 a.m. at Prescott Elementary at 920 Campbell St. in West Oakland. Prescott, which celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2019, is one of the predominately Black schools facing closure in June. The school community has pushed back against the district for years as central office administrators tried to suppress the school’s enrollment, urging families not to enroll their children at the school.

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Day 8 of a hunger strike continues as Oakland Unified School Board is slated to take a vote Tuesday on a controversial proposal to close 16 schools. (Video: ABC 7)
Day 8 of a hunger strike continues as Oakland Unified School Board is slated to take a vote Tuesday on a controversial proposal to close 16 schools. (Video: ABC 7)

By Ken Epstein

More than 2,000 outraged teachers, parents and community members attended a Zoom school board meeting Monday evening to speak out against the closures, consolidations and mergers of 15 predominately Black and Latino schools this year and next year.

Some Oakland schools facing closure this year are (From top, clockwise): Prescott, Horace Mann, Brookfield, Westlake, La Escuelita and Grass Valley. Photos courtesy of OUSD.

Some Oakland schools facing closure this year are (From top, clockwise): Prescott, Horace Mann, Brookfield, Westlake, La Escuelita and Grass Valley. Photos courtesy of OUSD.

The meeting lasted until 3 a.m., with hardly a speaker supporting the closures, as hundreds of speakers opposed these draconian measures, demanding that school and community voices not be ignored. The board majority, led by Board members Gary Yee and Shanthi Gonzales, may be hoping to avoid prolonged protests by rushing to a vote at a special board meeting next Tuesday, Feb. 8 to finalize the closing of the schools in June.

Only Board members VanCedric Williams and Mike Hutchinson are opposing the closures.

This week’s Board meeting may have witnessed the largest turnout at a school board meeting since 2003 when State Receiver Randy Ward took over the reins of the school district and announced he was unilaterally closing about 25 schools.

At that time, thousands filled the street in front of the administration building and packed the hallways and boardroom, forcing terrified overseers to significantly reduce the numbers of schools on the chopping block.

The affected schools are now mobilizing their communities and reaching out to broader communities in Oakland. On Tuesday, Westlake Middle School students and staff walked out and marched to the district headquarters at 1000 Broadway, where several Westlake staff had started a hunger strike. Families, teachers, and students at La Escuelita also walked out and marched to the district office.

This Saturday, there will be a rally for members of Oakland communities and affected school communities to fight against the closures beginning at 10 a.m. at Prescott Elementary at 920 Campbell St. in West Oakland.

Prescott, which celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2019, is one of the predominately Black schools facing closure in June. The school community has pushed back against the district for years as central office administrators tried to suppress the school’s enrollment, urging families not to enroll their children at the school.

The school board and the district administration, while turning a deaf ear to the community, is seeking to satisfy the demands of the Alameda County Superintendent of Schools L. Karen Monroe and state-financed nonprofit agency, Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT), which are demanding school closures and as much as $90 million in budget cuts.

FCMAT made its position clear in a Jan. 4 letter, which was sent to the district, calling for “affirmative board action to continue planning for, and timely implementation of, a school and facility closure and consolidation plan that supports the sale or lease of surplus property.”

Some activists point out that Oakland schools are caught in a vicious cycle at the hands of the state, Monroe and FCMAT. Saying the district was in fiscal crisis, the state and its representatives moved in and took over in 2003 and since then has never left.

While some hold out hopes that officials will someday be satisfied with the endless cuts and closures the state is demanding, it appears they don’t ever plan to give up their behind-the-scenes power over Oakland schools, say school observers.

School activists are also asking how the district can achieve the elusive goal of “fiscal stability” as long as these officials are the ones running OUSD’s finances and continuously moving the goalposts of the nebulous standards of fiscal health.

Since FCMAT arrived in 2003, it has been pushing for closing schools, according to observers of the school district. At first, FCMAT did not justify closures as a way to save money. They said there was a state formula for how much real estate a district should have per student at elementary, middle school, and high school levels — and the district was not aligned with this state formula.

In this writer’s experience, the story was going around the school district administration building in 2003 that there was a plan to transform the district of 58,000 students and over 100 schools into a district that was small enough “to fit in your hands.”

That’s when the rush began to bring charter schools into Oakland, reducing the public school student population by over 13,000 and placing more than 40 charters in the city, costing the district an estimated $57 million a year.

Activism

Respect for Marriage Act Passes in U.S. House with Help from Bay Area Representatives

California District 13 Rep. Barbara Lee, who voted for the bill, also stated it was “a key step forward in House Democrats’ fight against the right-wing assault on freedom.”  Representative Eric Swalwell of District 15, which includes cities of Dublin, San Ramon, Livermore and Hayward simply tweeted, “Kevin McCarthy and the majority of @HouseGop just voted against same-sex marriage. As backwards as they are, we are not going backwards with them.”

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Tweet from U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington. Twitter photo.
Tweet from U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington. Twitter photo.

By Sarah Clemens, Oakland Post Intern

The House passed the Respect for Marriage Act on July 19, 2022. The bill, which was originally introduced in 2009, would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and recognize same-sex marriage on a federal level.

The reintroduction of this bill comes not long after Justice Clarence Thomas’ called for Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 landmark Supreme Court ruling that declared the right for same-sex marriage in every state, to be overturned. Thomas declared Obergefell v. Hodges, along with other landmark rulings, to be “demonstrably erroneous decisions.”

While all of the House Democrats voted for the bill, it also garnered some bipartisan support, with 47 Republicans voting in the affirmative as well. Notably, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, whose anti-gay marriage statements were immortalized in 2018 Best Picture nominee “Vice,” voted in favor of the bill.

Cheney also denounced her previous statements in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, stating, “freedom means freedom for everybody.” However, the Republican Party’s top two representatives, Kevin McCarthy of California and Steve Scalise of Louisiana, voted against it.

While the House vote is a big victory for supporters of the Respect for Marriage Act, it is still not a law. Whether it will be approved by the Senate is unclear. Chuck Schumer of New York, Democrat and Senate majority leader, stated he wanted “to bring this bill to the floor, and we’re working to get the necessary Senate Republican support to ensure it would pass.” That mentioned Republican support would be a minimum of 10 affirmative Republican votes.

Democrat support remains strong, with many citing potential codifying of the bill as a counterattack in the wake of the overturning of Roe vs. Wade. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, whose congressional district lies within San Francisco, spoke about the recent ruling on the House floor and stood behind the bill, saying, “as radical Justices and right-wing politicians continue their assault on our basic rights, Democrats believe that the government has no place between you and the person you love.”

California District 13 Rep. Barbara Lee, who voted for the bill, also stated it was “a key step forward in House Democrats’ fight against the right-wing assault on freedom.”  Representative Eric Swalwell of District 15, which includes cities of Dublin, San Ramon, Livermore and Hayward simply tweeted, “Kevin McCarthy and the majority of @HouseGop just voted against same-sex marriage. As backwards as they are, we are not going backwards with them.”

While according to White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, President Joe Biden has been urging the Senate to send the bill to him soon, the process has instead been delayed.

Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, who became the first openly gay person to be elected to the Senate in 2012, told NPR that “we don’t want to bring it to the floor until we know that we can pass the legislation.”

Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, has stated that he’d “delay announcing anything on that issue until we see what the majority leader wants to put on the floor.”

As Democrats attempt to gain support from across the aisle, and Republicans make few statements on the bill publicly, the future remains unclear.

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Activism

William Wells Brown, Personifying the American Dream

William Wells Brown personified the American dream. He’d become an internationally renowned antislavery activist and writer who resided in and traveled widely across the northern United States and the British Isles. He penned a series of remarkable books including the first Black novel, the first printed Black play, the first Black travelogue, and the first Black panorama displayed in Britain.

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William Wells Brown. Wikipedia.org photo.
William Wells Brown. Wikipedia.org photo.

By Tamara Shiloh

The minstrel shows of the early 19th century are believed by some to be the roots of Black theatre. However, they were written, acted, and performed by whites for white audiences. The first known play by a Black American was James Brown’s “King Shotaway” (1823), but the first Black play published was William Wells Brown’s (ca. 1814–1884) “The Escape; or, A Leap for Freedom.”

While “Escape” was published in 1858, it was not officially produced until 1971 at Emerson College. It was one of the earliest extant pieces of African American dramatic literature.

Brown, whose mother was a slave, was born on a plantation outside Lexington, Ky. He would become a Black antislavery lecturer, a groundbreaking novelist, playwright, and historian.

According to the New Bedford Historical Society (NBHS), he is “widely considered to have been the first African American to publish works in several major literary genres, and widely acclaimed for the effectiveness of many of his writings.”

Bought and sold several times before age 20, Brown spent his childhood and much of his young adult life as a slave in St. Louis, Mo. There he was hired out to work on the Missouri River which, at that time, served as a major thoroughfare for the slave trade. This location allowed him several chances to escape. It was New Year’s Day in 1834 that he slipped away from a steamboat and finally became successful.

Brown landed in Cleveland, Ohio, where he began educating himself and reading antislavery newspapers. He later worked as a steam boatsman on Lake Erie and conductor for the Underground Railroad. On arrival at Cleveland, he’d taken shelter with Mr. and Mrs. Wells Brown, a white Quaker family and later adopted their names.

By 1843, Brown had become a regular on the Western New York Anti-Slavery Society lecturing circuit. He was also deeply committed to speaking out on women’s rights and temperance laws (laws banning the sale of spirits in less than 15-gallon quantities). It was Brown’s speaking that led many historians and scholars to provide the trajectory for his later career as a writer. By 1845, he’d published “Narrative of William W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave, Written by Himself.”

Brown personified the American dream. He’d become an internationally renowned antislavery activist and writer who resided in and traveled widely across the northern United States and the British Isles. He penned a series of remarkable books including the first Black novel, the first printed Black play, the first Black travelogue, and the first Black panorama displayed in Britain.

Focusing on his own historical works, Brown penned two histories of the Black race, a history on Blacks and whites in the South, and a rare military history of Blacks in the Civil War. He eventually settled in Boston, where he practiced medicine until his death from cancer in 1884.

Learn more about Brown’s compelling story through his classic American slave narrative: “The Narrative of William W. Brown a Fugitive Slave.”

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Activism

COMMENTARY: The Power of the Vote

Voting has not always been a given, in fact, just the opposite has been the practice in society for the marginalized. In the midst of so much media coverage that shows how some national lawmakers want to suppress the voting strengths of Blacks, Latinos and the formerly incarcerated, we must seize this moment to exercise our citizen right to vote.

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We as a people constantly need to work in unison to erect positivity that increases the day-to-day living challenges for the betterment of all; not just for a few.
We as a people constantly need to work in unison to erect positivity that increases the day-to-day living challenges for the betterment of all; not just for a few.

By Richard Johnson

The Formally Incarcerated Giving Back (FIGB) org. is launching a voter drive to protect and encourage democratic participation while seeking educational, economic as well as social opportunities to reunite families.

Our goal is to focus on potential voters who have been overlooked in the voting process as a class due to ultra-restrictive policy measures meant to discourage voter turnout.

Recently laws that allow those with criminal records to actively participate in the voting process on all levels have changed. This would give those underserved citizens a voice in what happens in their communities.

Voting has not always been a given, in fact, just the opposite has been the practice in society for the marginalized. In the midst of so much media coverage that shows how some national lawmakers want to suppress the voting strengths of Blacks, Latinos and the formerly incarcerated, we must seize this moment to exercise our citizen right to vote.

We can help ourselves and make changes by voting with our full strength.

We of the Formally Incarcerated Giving Back (FIGB) will be canvassing throughout our communities to register this obscure neglected class of prison returnees and their families. We will also join with other organizations, churches and the Post News Group, along with other media to spread the message of our mission. FIGB will also help contact and sign all other unregistered voters to impact change at the polls. We will collaborate with other groups, voting blocks, and entities to increase awareness while raising the turnout at the polls. We are asking all churches, institutions, and social clubs to join this endeavor by engaging with FIGB.

During the next two months we will regularly publish the results of our coordinated efforts to put boots on the ground in this column.

Change is an inevitable phenomenon; however, the right changes are not. We as a people constantly need to work in unison to erect positivity that increases the day-to-day living challenges for the betterment of all; not just for a few. Let’s be clear, nothing should be taken for granted. Just as one is seated, so can one be unseated. Let the voices of the underserved be heard loud and clear. The policy of exclusion must be replaced with inclusion.

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