African Americans Making Connections at Merritt College in Oakland

Oakland Youth Commissioners, from right, Brionte Young and Eric Gant, respond to a question from Ryan Nicole Peters.

By Reginald James Editor

More than 300 people assembled at Merritt College in Oakland for a conference May 1 organized by Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson. The event connected community groups with activists, students with educators and entrepreneurs with each other.

“The reason for today is to reconnect and make new connections” during a time of doom and gloom, said Carson, who called for the convening. “We hear bad news, but there’s a lot of good being done in our community on a daily basis.”

State Assembly Member Sandre Swanson recalled being a student at Laney College 30 years ago when he got involved in the campaign of an African American woman named Shirley Chisholm who had the “audacity” to run for president. Swanson went on, with Lee, to work for then Congressman Ron Dellums.

“You may not see what your activism may bring,” Swanson said, “but you have a responsibility to be an activist.”

Youth were central to the program. Youth co-facilitated each of the conference’s issue area break-out sessions. There was a youth panel that included high school and college students who discussed youth obstacles, accomplishments and role models.

“Most of the time, it’s adults talking about what youth want,” Berkeley High School student Eric Gant said, “but adults don’t know what youth want. Youth know what youth want. Let youth control what the youth want.”

After the youth panel, attendees broke out into small group sessions on different issues affecting the African community. Issues included economic development, youth, housing, education, jobs, health, public safety and arts and culture.

In the education break-out session, attendees discussed curriculum development, teacher quality, learning styles and funding, while in the economic development workshop, people discussed the challenges of starting and maintaining a business, as well as other resources.

Spirited discussions were followed by a presentation by Wade Nobles, founder of the Institute for the Advanced Study of Black Family Life and Culture.

“It is not about connecting organizations, it’s about connecting people-hood,” Nobles said. He suggested organizations incorporate culture more prominently in their organizations because culture is the glue that binds African people. “Culture is the instrument you use to express your humanity. We’ve adopted and allowed other people’s value system as our own.”

The culture African people come from is one of excellence, Nobles said.

Attendees were enthusiastic and optimistic about the chance to meet new people and resources. At the commencement of the conference, Congresswoman Barbara Lee urged people to stay connected, and come together beyond one day.

“This is a great opportunity for African American organizations to learn about each other,” said Rodney Brooks, chief of staff for Supervisor Carson. “We hope at the end of the day, you’ve found at least two more allies.”

This article originally appeared on Photos by Reginald James.

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