The 16 racial justice organizations that are currently part of Akonadi Foundation’s Arc Toward Justice Fund (ATJ) are building collective power to shape the policies and systems that affect communities of color in Oakland. We are lifting up the work of our ATJ grantees through our monthly spotlight series; for our June installment, we feature two of our grant partners: Bay Area Black Workers Center (BABWC) and Black Organizing Project (BOP). We spoke with BABWC’s Danielle Mahones and and BOP’s Jackie Byers about their organizations’ work in Oakland.
Danielle Mahones, Bay Area Black Workers Center: We want to build a world where everyone has an opportunity to live, work, grow, and support our families with access to good jobs, benefits, great schools, and wonderful neighborhoods. We do that by investing in Black people. Often, the struggles that Black workers face are not visible. When you have a headline talking about unemployment rates being in the single digits, the reality is that in many Black neighborhoods in Oakland, the rate is in the double digits. The way in which Black people have been pushed out of Oakland is another harsh reality that guides our urgency. How do we actually get real jobs to folks so that Black people can stay and thrive in Oakland, and not feel like they have to leave the city that they love?
Our strategy at BABWC is centered around organizing people who are most impacted by these issues to be at the table, to come up with solutions, and to engage in the fight. It is very important that we work to build power and challenge the systems that are harming all of us.
Jackie Byers Black Organizing Project: Our vision is very simple in terms of what we want. We believe it is possible to have liberation and freedom. We want our families and our communities to have individual and collective self-determination and to be able to live without the constant threat of state violence and racial oppression. That means that young people can graduate from good schools and are able to create and follow their trajectories and dreams as innovators, in higher education, as artists, organizers and scientists. It means that – young people are able to achieve greatness because they’ve graduated from schools that invested in them, nurtured them, educated them and saw them as whole individuals. Our schools and communities would look very different, and the young people would then continue to invest back into our city, because we have invested in them as valued members of a thriving community. That is what we are working toward. We think achieving liberation is possible if we can build the collective leadership of the people in our communities who are most marginalized. There are better options for us all, and we can achieve those goals through organizing, collective visioning, building power and healing.
What campaigns are you currently working on?
Danielle Mahones, Bay Area Black Workers Center: We are an anchor organization for the Justice Reinvestment Coalition of Alameda County, and we are helping to lead the 1,400 Jobs campaign. The goal of the campaign is to remove barriers for people with felony convictions and ensure that they can secure jobs with good wages and benefits in order to be able to sustain themselves, support their families, and stay out of the system. Alameda County is a large employer with a workforce of over 9,000. It is important to see Alameda County take affirmative steps to hire people who were formerly incarcerated, and to lead other employers to stop discriminating against people who have records. We think that the county should lead by example. We won the commitment from the county; now, we need to see that commitment materialize in actual jobs and hiring. We feel like the momentum is increasing and we are expecting to see results.
Another coalition we are part of is Fair Labor Oakland (FLO). FLO is a group of organizations in Oakland making sure that workers are aware of Measure FF, which increased Oakland’s minimum wage and provides paid sick days for workers. There are employers who hire formerly-incarcerated people but then try to cut corners through wage exploitation. Because of people’s status as formerly incarcerated, they are in a vulnerable situation at work. Through Fair Labor Oakland, we are conducting “know your rights” trainings and making sure that people who are experiencing wage theft have the tools and information to take action.
Jackie Byers, Black Organizing Project: We are continuing to fight for a future where police will be 100% out of schools. We have a vision for 2020 where our schools will be more invested in authentic restorative justice, counselors, afterschool programs, and positive school culture rather than in police. While we have won some critical reform policies in Oakland, we are now fighting for implementation, accountability, and transformation every step of the way. It takes continual organizing on our part at the school and district level to implement new policies.
In coalition with Justice for Oakland Students (J4OS), we have been working on a more equitable OUSD budget and deeper transparency. At the same time, we are seeing the need for regional expansion of our programs. With Black pushout and migration due to gentrification, BOP is getting more and more calls from parents and school districts in Antioch, Pittsburg, and other East Bay cities. They are seeing high rates of suspensions and police calls, but they don’t have the same advocacy structures as Oakland or San Francisco. In partnership with Coleman Advocates and DSC Bay Area we hope that we can support families who are being impacted by the School to Prison Pipeline by targeting some of the most egregious districts with the worst racial disparities across the bay.
Are you working in partnership with other Akonadi grant partners in the Arc Toward Justice Fund?
Danielle Mahones, Bay Area Black Workers Center: The 1400 Jobs campaign could never have happened with just one organization. What makes the coalition strong is the deep partnerships with other ATJ grantees, including Ella Baker Center, All of Us or None, Urban Peace Movement, CURYJ and Eastside Arts Alliance. We are also excited to be sharing new office space with Black Organizing Project in East Oakland. In the past, we have collaborated with BOP on organizing training. Now that we are sharing space together, we are really looking forward to increased collaboration.
Jackie Byers, Black Organizing Project: Among other examples, we have been in a coalition with Bay Area PLAN (Parent Leadership Action Network) through J4OS around the superintendent search and budget transparency, and we are also working with them to do do a training on how to engage at district and and school site levels. CURYJ, GSA Network and Public Counsel are some of the groups in DSC BAY. We recently opened an office in East Oakland with BABWC and we are excited to deepen our organizing efforts in East Oakland. We are exploring collaborative member exchanges and we are looking at how we can share more resources, and expand access to jobs for all of our members.
Akonadi Foundation strives to eliminate structural racism that lies at the heart of inequity in the United States. We work towards a racially just society by funding organizations and leaders fighting on the ground through grassroots organizing, culture shift and policy change. Find out more about Akonadi Foundation’s Arc Toward Justice Grant Partners here.