By: Charles Cole, III
In my work as the Community Engagement Specialist in West Oakland I often get to do some pretty amazing things. I get to spend ample time in the neighborhood I went to school in and interact with people that live there. I get to hear about their hopes, fears and dreams for their children. It’s humbling and amazing.
Last week was extra special though. I got to get some amazing 1:1 time with the GREAT Elaine Brown. Ms. Brown was the Chairwoman of the Black Panther Party and a force in the movement. She hasn’t slowed down one bit. Among the many things she’s doing is building the skillset of ex-cons through gardening programs in Oakland. Our paths would cross as I have been working to engage the community around new edifice that will feed more than 30,000 OUSD students.
We saw an opportunity to bring one of the main reasons our country has a breakfast program into the folks of what we are trying to do in Oakland public schools around food justice. My excitement around having a legend involved with us to help feed children while she’s also building skills for formerly incarcerated people at a rate of $20/hour was immeasurable. After we discussed how we could utilize the greens and herbs her team produces she spent an additional hour schooling me on social justice.
Now I’ve read a ton of books on the Panthers, watched documentaries…the whole nine yards. But having Elaine Brown breakdown things you’ve read about in detail with real emotion is an out of body experience. Ms. Brown wanted to know my story about growing up homeless and having parents that were constantly on drugs and in and out of jail. She was brought to tears when I discussed how those experiences have been my fuel for the social justice work I do. She also gave me some great advice that won’t be shared. The summation is to just do the right thing. Her raw honesty was inspirational. After the meeting I had a ton of energy like I wanted to go out and change the world in the next hour.
The conversation got me even more excited for the work we are doing as a school district with The Center (Central Kitchen). For so many kids, the food they get at school will be their main source of nutrition. Creating a facility that allows us to prepare better food in larger quantities is simply the right thing to do. Can’t wait to see what we all create together.
I just needed to share my experience with a legend. Thanks for bearing with me.