I grew up in the Black church. It is where I gave my first public speech, wrote my first articles, and gained basic leadership skills. Families made decisions around education together there as well. For me, it was the center of my news I got. They help localities accountable and was my entrée into civic engagement. The Black church has always been a source of power for Black folks.

However, it feels like things have changed along the way and the power the Black churches once wielded in Black communities started to shrink. At the same time, education here in Oakland has been rough for Black folks to say the least. We need you now more than ever. Here are four ways the Black churches in Oakland can get back in the game in a meaningful way.

Become a beacon for families again regarding Black education. The history of the Black church in Black communities is long. For decades, the Black church has served as the intermediary between local governments and the people. It has been the location of respect and dignity where all sides show some form of respect. As a kid, we wouldn’t even curse in front of the church. However, in Oakland at least, it has felt like the churches as a whole have been less engaged as funding issues and low achievement for Black kids run rampant.

However, the church can fix this. Invite out the superintendent and leadership to come speak with the communities. Mediate a respectful conversation where learning happens. Get back to making demands on behalf of the Black community like before. No one wants an angry mob led by the Black church to come shut down a school board meeting. This is a call for our churches to get their ears back to the ground.

The more Black students Oakland loses, the more congregation Black churches lose. The Black church and Oakland schools are more intertwined than many people may think. As Oakland families continue to get pushed out, they take their local church membership with them. It is only so long after moving to Antioch that the family continues to commute to Oakland every Sunday.

Gentrification is not the only thing causing Black families to leave though. Many are leaving in search of better education options for their children. Pastors should be standing with arms linked directly to Black parents working to ensure Oakland has quality education — not just Black schools, but quality Black schools.

The Black church has always been a source of power for Black folks.

Help Black parents register their kids early. Part of the reason Black children are not getting the top quality spots in the city, is because they miss out on the enrollment and choice process (which is open right now). Far too often, Black families are missing the registration deadlines and not getting their first choices of schools.

Churches also have the ability to have local up and coming schools have an audience to introduce their revitalized school to the community. This happens sporadically through the community, but not nearly enough.

Churches can be trained to become registration sites for parents. Both Oakland Unified School District and the majority of Charter schools are willing to set up registration opportunities at local churches. For technical information regarding OUSD, click here or email Manisha Patel ([email protected]) and for Charters, click here or email Ashley Renick ([email protected]).

Host tutoring and other school events. And finally, the basics. Get some folks from the congregation to support our local schools by tutoring. Sometimes, the best thing is the simplest thing. Many of these schools struggle to get homework support and if you look at the test scores of many of our Black schools, achievement is seriously lacking. Making a commitment to even help kids with homework weekly adds a great deal of value.

If there are any church leaders that are trying to establish a better relationship regarding education and need help, please feel free to email me at [email protected].

This post was written by Charles Cole III, an education advocate from Oakland, CA. He founded Energy Convertors, an organization that lifts the voices of students to improve education in Oakland.

Dr. Charles Cole, III​ is an educator focused on the advancement of youth of color, but more specifically Black males. This passion comes from his experiences growing up without proper support, including being homeless and attending more than ten elementary schools across the country while his parents battled addiction and incarceration. Throughout that experience, no adult, no group, no organization ever asked him how he was achieving success nor how he was surviving. Schools were not a place where students in similar predicaments were learning. This experience helped lead to the publication of his first book, ​Beyond Grit and Resilience. As founder of ​Energy Convertors​, Charles comes from the community and has shared many of the students’ experiences. Previously Charles served as a social worker, a Director for Teach for America, the Vice Chair of the California Young Democrats, Black Caucus and at a director’s level with various youth-focused nonprofits. n addition to founding Energy Convertors, Charles is a national speaker and a writer, and he can be found in Oakland and around the country working with youth on how to equip themselves appropriately to lay the groundwork for a bright future. Charles is currently a board member of ​UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital​, and co-host of the ​8 Black Hands Podcast. Charles’ life goal is to better the communities he grew up in, which include Chicago, Paducah, KY, and Oakland.    


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