No matter who is elected President, life in Oakland is not a reality show, especially when it comes to our public schools.
Our reality is that every day our system is failing thousands of children. Our reality is that resources are scarce and the list of needs is long. Our reality is that we have incredibly talented people – across the city – who work together every day on behalf of all students.
It’s times like this when I especially appreciate being part of our vibrant Oakland public education ecosystem, with so many like-minded souls. Since the election, when I’ve asked, “How are you doing, really?” people know exactly what I mean. In the hugs, tears, and conversations that have ensued, I have found inspiration and motivation from the wisdom of our community:
Deep love for our children. Every educator I’ve met has stories of children bursting into tears, worrying about themselves or a loved one being deported, or simply being genuinely confused about what the election says about classroom lessons on compassion and respect. I’ve seen or heard about teachers and school leaders across this city demonstrating incredible thoughtfulness and purpose, finding ways (in and out of the classroom) to show students they are cared for and protected. Our students protested peacefully, our Superintendent shared useful resources to support educators in talking to their students about the election, and teachers have been reaching out to families. The conversations have only begun, and we must foster these fertile discussions.
Empathy and selflessness in community. Around the city, I’ve seen countless individuals set aside their own emotions about the election to attend to the needs of others. Managers have jettisoned time-sensitive agendas to provide space for employees to reflect, and people have nurtured their colleagues and friends with hugs, humor, and food. The day after the election, here at the Impact Hub (the co-working space where Educate78 is based), the founders spontaneously organized a community conversation that culminated in each person talking with someone they didn’t already know to ask, “What do you need and how can I help?” In emails and on social media, I’ve even seen posts from Clinton supporters urging empathy with Trump supporters who voted the way they did because they have felt misunderstood, marginalized, and disenfranchised. It’s a good reminder to those of us working for more opportunity in urban areas: there are people who have been left behind in our society all over the country in places that look very different than here.
Fierce determination and persistence. Many of my conversations with our elders, especially people of color who were active through the Civil Rights era, have been grounding. They have reminded me of our country’s history: progress followed by set-backs, forward movement followed by backlash (or “Whitelash” as Van Jones so eloquently put it), decisions to increase equity followed by injustice. They reinforced that over the long run, our country has grown into a better place for all racial, religious, and ethnic groups. They also reminded me of what it takes to ensure continued progress: all of us need to advocate for our principles, for greater justice and equity for all. A friend reported that none other than Marian Wright Edelman said, “You can take a moment for tears, but then go get some rest and get back up in the morning and keep fighting for the children.” I heard versions of this from other elders in our community, and am inspired by their steely determination, continued commitment, and willingness to walk the talk their entire lives.
Optimism about local progress. Here in Oakland, we are also fortunate to have plenty of state and local wins to be grateful for: voters approved money for schools (CA Prop 51 and Prop 55, Oakland Measure G1) and reversed the ban on bilingual education. We elected a new state senator for our region, Nancy Skinner, a proven progressive with whom I look forward to working. The three Oakland housing affordability measures our Teacher Advisory Group members wrote about last week all passed with over 70% of the vote! We taxed sugary beverages; our kids’ teeth and overall health will benefit. And we re-elected the school board leaders that have been working towards a shared vision of quality education across Oakland’s 78 square miles.
Many of these local races were heated, I know, and it’s healthy that we don’t agree on everything here in Oakland; but overall this election was a reminder that we have much more in common than not: a shared commitment to move towards a more just community where all persons – regardless of zip code, skin color, religion, sexual orientation, or disability – are treated with dignity and respect.
Whatever happens nationally, we are determined to continue to act locally: to support our educators, embrace our families, engage in respectful debate, and work together to ensure that every child in Oakland has access to a great public education. Our future depends on it.