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Oakland Unified School District

OUSD Celebrates Black History Month 2024

OUSD Celebrates Black History Month 2024


​Friday, February 9, 2024


Dear Oakland Unified Community,


There is so much Black History to celebrate here in Oakland. Of course, we can always point to the Black Panthers and all they did for our society, or to Ida Louise Jackson who was Oakland’s first Black teacher and the first Black woman to teach high school in California, or to Vice President Kamala Harris who was born at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland. But this Black History Month, I want to celebrate people who are here in our district right now or products of OUSD. Let’s start with our amazing staff. 

 

Few people have more history in Oakland Unified than Dr. LuPaulette Taylor, teacher at McClymonds High School. She graduated from McClymonds in 1966, has been working in the District since 1970, and at the school since 1974. That’s half a century! She has mostly been a teacher, but she also served as a small school principal, and an assistant principal. “You want to come back and make it better, and to keep the good things going, and to bring in other things to benefit the students. I think that’s the whole thing. To help the students and bring in other resources, and programs and experiences… I had a good childhood in West Oakland. And so I think I know the culture, I know from whence they (students) come. I know how the parents think, that they want their kids to go here and get the best.”

Dr. Taylor was recently honored as an Impact Warrior by the Golden State Warriors, an award that highlights remarkable contributions to education and community empowerment in the Bay Area. Also honored by the Warriors was Jerome Gourdine, who has been in OUSD for 27 years. He started as a teacher, was principal at what was then called Frick Middle School (now Frick United Academy of Language), and he is currently the Director of Targeted Student Achievement. Gourdine’s leadership in the African American Male Achievement program and the Manhood Development Program highlights his dedication to creating educational environments where students can thrive and be empowered. He has also been instrumental in leading many community initiatives including the African American Educational Leaders Network through UC Berkeley.  

 

“There’s this phrase I’ve been using for a long time,” said Gourdine. “It’s synonymous with the tree in Oakland: ‘We are consistently planting seeds for the trees that will provide the shade for the generations that we will not see.’ This is my life, this is my purpose. This is why God put me here. I’m going to do this until I transition. I feel extremely blessed to be in the position I’m in to consistently help improve the life outcomes for our Kings, Queens and non-binary Royalty. It’s to really provide the example of what it means to be a contributing member of our society. My whole thing is I’m doing this for our generational wealth - not just money - how to exist in a meaningful way, to make things better for our next generations that are coming.”


Here’s an example of newer history being made in OUSD. Keonna Bellot (pictured alongside her mural) is a nutrition services assistant at Hoover Elementary. She started at the school in 2005, but that was as a student. She was part of the Hoover Hawks track team, and with an AAU track team, she competed in the Junior Olympics, placing 7th in the nation as a seven year old. Now, she’s part of a mural on the Hoover campus. Bellot graduated from Oakland Tech in 2015 where she ran track, and played basketball, volleyball, and softball.


“OUSD did shape me, to be more tough and be more empathetic and sympathetic. I’m more conscious of people's feelings and their demeanor in a physical way, a spiritual way. At my job, I do serve food, but I also make sure I talk to the kids, make sure I make them smile in some way, laugh in some way. If they're frowning, I ask what's going on, try to help them figure out why they're feeling that way or if someone is messing with them,” said Bellot, adding what she learned as a student at Hoover has made a big difference in her life. “There were a lot of cool opportunities I got from Hoover. We had after school programs where we learned how to swim. There was a farmers’ market as well, so we learned how to garden. Pretty much everything a child would need to be successful in life… I want the children of Oakland to succeed because they deserve the world.”

 

Even more recent Black History is what Ahmed Muhammad (pictured with his nephew) is making. He was the 2021 Oakland Tech Valedictorian, the first Black male Valedictorian in the school’s history. He’s now a junior at Stanford University where he is majoring in mechanical engineering. A lot of Muhammad’s success is manifested in the non-profit science company he created as a high school junior called Kits Cubed. It builds and distributes science experiments to elementary students to foster a love of science in young minds. Kits Cubed hosts a science fair every summer at Oakland Tech that brings out thousands of students and families, and it has done science days in OUSD schools including REACH Academy.


“My younger nephew (6) and niece (8), I was babysitting them, and they told me that they hated science, and they were bad at science and that they could never be scientists,” Muhammad explains. “And that was really sad to hear as their uncle and as someone who loves and cares about them, because at such a young age they had rejected themselves from so many opportunities from the whole field of STEM. So, I went to my room and got different materials and designed some science experiments with stuff we could find around the house. We made a potato battery the first time, we made pop rockets with film canisters and Alka Seltzer. Stuff you could find around the house to show them that science is all around them, and more importantly, that they can be scientists if they so choose. So, that sparked the creation of different science kits, and I ended up sharing them with other kids in my neighborhood, other kids in Oakland and surrounding cities. And that turned into Kits Cubed.”

 

Here’s a former OUSD student who is well out of college and doing amazing things in the community. Trina Thompson grew up in Oakland, attending the former Willow Manor Elementary School for kindergarten and Markham Elementary through fifth grade. She finished middle and high school in Vallejo, and now, she is a Federal Judge in San Francisco. Despite attending just elementary school in Oakland Unified, Judge Thompson says her time in Oakland schools played a critical role in her academic and social development. “There were always high expectations for me as a student in Oakland, and none of my teachers ever expected anything less from me. Our school community was always involved and it instilled early the importance of community and access to positive role models who provided exposure and taught me soft skills that I still use and embark on with others today.” 


In 2002, Thompson was elected as Alameda County Superior Court Judge in Oakland where she became the first African-American woman elected to the court. In 2011, President Barack Obama appointed Judge Thompson to serve on the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. And in 2022, Judge Thompson was confirmed by the United States Senate to the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, becoming only the third Black woman among 61 federal trial court judges in California.

 

Of course, our current students are doing big things, as well. In December, two students from EnCompass Academy elementary were highlighted at the EL Education National Conference in Denver, Colorado. 5th grader Thomas Williams, along with 4th grader Julieta Rodriguez Angel, were student Keynote Speakers in front of 1600 people. Their presentation addressed EL Education's national Better World Day, for which EnCompass Academy students illustrated that a Better World "starts with self" in the culmination of their schoolwide "My Compass Guide" project. Williams and Rodriguez Angel received a standing ovation after their powerful presentation, which you can see here.


EnCompass Academy student Thomas Williams along with Julieta Rodriguez Angel were student keynote speakers at the EL Education National Conference in Denver. Click here or on the image to watch the video.

 

Lastly, we lost some of our Black History recently with the losses of two beloved former staff members. One was the unexpected passing of Earl Crawford (pictured with Alameda County Superintendent Alysse Castro), former Oakland Unified teacher, former assistant principal at Dewey Academy, and principal for Court Schools at the Alameda County Office of Education. He was working to get his Doctorate with plans to become a Superintendent, and I have no doubt that he would have accomplished all that and so much more. He passed away last weekend at 41 years old.


And last month, we lost Sandra Gaines (pictured on one of her many international trips), who worked at Coliseum College Prep Academy (CCPA) for nine years as a paraprofessional and after school art teacher. Gaines had a remarkable life. She graduated from Mills College where she was Student Body President. She traveled the world, visiting many countries, and she worked in politics, supporting such leaders as Shirley Chisholm, who was the first Black woman elected to Congress. She even appeared on TV on Bay Area PBS station KQED in the 1970s with Maya Angelou. All that happened after what she called a "horrendous upbringing" which included her taking a train and then a bus from Houston, Texas to San Francisco by herself at 12 years old to live with her grandmother and aunt. “Ms. Gaines subbed for me at Elmhurst Middle School on 98th Avenue… We continued to work together there for several years, and she transitioned to CCPA when I did. And, cementing our destiny, I coincidentally moved next door to her five years ago, so I continued to see her frequently.  Ms. Gaines is one of the women I have looked up to and sought guidance from repeatedly,” said CCPA Principal Amy Carozza. Sandra Gaines passed away at 82 years old.

 

My love goes out to Gaines’ and Crawford’s families, friends, and all the people they helped along the way.

 

Celebrating Black History Month in February is important, but there is so much Black History here that I celebrate it every month. It’s critical that we recognize in classes and extracurricular activities, and in our own lives, the history, heritage, and contributions of Black people who make our nation and world what it is.

 

I wish you a wonderful Black History Month.

 

In community,

Dr. Kyla Johnson-Trammell

Superintendent