Yesterday I visited a fantastic place here in Oakland. It’s Youth Uprising, a youth center located in a renovated grocery store right next to Castlemont High School on MacArthur Boulevard. Last year Patty and I donated some money to help their ongoing outreach to the kids of Oakland. We want to donate this year as well and our meeting yesterday was to learn more about their current needs.
These contributions are part of an initiative we began following the 2004 elections where, as we think, our country went down the road toward madness and reelected George Bush as president. George Bush has been promoting large tax cuts as good for our country. We think that these tax cuts are actually taking money away from critical public programs, including education.
Our initiative comes from this idea: Bush may try to give us tax cuts, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept them. Instead we can calculate the extra money we have as the result of the tax cuts and direct that money where it’s needed to keep our country running. Please check out the website I’ve developed on this idea, which we call Tax Re-Fund for America.
So today we went to Youth Uprising to learn what needs they could particularly fill with our donation. We met with their energetic and inspiring leader, Olis Simmons, as well as their Development Director Evette Brandon.
There was a lot of discussion of how the center is doing now, roughly one year after it opened its doors. The answer is that it’s hopping. They now have over 1,900 members (kids who’ve signed up for one or more of YU’s services). They’re finding more and more ways to have a positive impact on the troubled east Oakland community.
One possibility Olis talked about really attracted us. That is to start a fund to help kids who are going to college. This won’t be a straight scholarship fund, but rather an emergency fund that can be used when young students don’t have the resources for some of the incidentals that aren’t always covered by traditional financial aid. These could include bedding, stationery, or backpacks, and might extend as far as short term funds to guarantee housing. We left the uses of the funds fairly open because we can’t tell all the emergencies that may come up as these kids go to college. I certainly know from my family’s experiences that there are always little things that come up for kids away at college.
This need became apparent to Youth Uprising over the course of the past year as youngsters from YU have begun college. In particular a group of 5 started school at Langston University in Oklahoma. The staff at YU discovered many of these students didn’t know or have the funds to get all the necessities they were going to need to begin life at a university half a continent away.
Our donation will help fill this need. And in addition, YU will develop a program to help future students be better prepared for the transition to college life. Returning collegians will make presentations to new enrollees on what they can expect and pitfalls to avoid. And YU can develop a resource guide to help make the transition to college a smoother one.
This was yesterday’s exciting topic number one. Topic number two was what other ways we might be able to help Youth Uprising. We explained that, as older white folks, we don’t exactly have an easy time connecting with the streetwise kids who hang at YU. Olis and Evette were quick to say that what they really need is for us to help them connect with other people like us, to help those people see how helping underprivileged black and latino youth is in their interest. Their plan is to sponsor house parties to introduce folks living in the more affluent areas of the city to the good work being done by Youth Uprising and the kids who go there. We happily signed up to host one of these parties sometime this fall or winter.
As to why a couple of older white folks would care about the welfare of young black and latino youth in the first place, I’ll have more to write about that in a later post. Stay tuned….