The world looks very different right now. From the COVID-19 pandemic and wildfires that have destroyed parts of the West Coast to growing social unrest, we’re facing a lot of uncertainties. But one thing has unfortunately stayed the same — the abysmal literacy rates for Black and Brown children in Oakland. 

In the midst of fear, scarcity, and uncertainty, those who are the closest to the pain are often the most creative and resourceful.  So, before the school year began, I asked myself, — what would happen if underserved communities had some slight relief? What would happen if we bet on our community and placed our faith Oaklanders?

In September, my organization Energy Convertors, which focuses on building the agency of the end-users of public education, partnered with Educate78 to create a fund that builds on that bet. The People’s Literacy Fund is a $100,000 initiative that will provide mini-grants between $500 – $5,000 to Oaklanders to improve literacy in our community. We want to lift up the voices of people from our community that are finding innovative ways to ensure more kids are reading at grade level while offering some type of relief during a global pandemic. It is an opportunity for all of us to get a lesson in creativity and resilience, while being a good neighbor during these challenging times. 

The People’s Literacy Fund is very personal for me. When I moved to the Bay Area, I was 10 years old and had an uncertain future ahead of me. My family and I would eventually live in four shelters — two in Oakland and two in San Francisco. My parents did the best that they could and even through rehab and jail stints, they were still able to raise a Black boy that never left the honor roll and would someday become a doctor, author, and entrepreneur. Here’s the thing, though —no one ever asked how they did it. No one ever asked just how they made it work for me. What people miss is that Black and Brown families teach their kids to thrive academically despite all of the barriers we’re up against. 

We are not blessing these families by offering relief through this money — they are blessing us with ingenuity, resilience, and a brilliance most people will never possess. Again, the people of Oakland are our biggest asset. Any person that is figuring out how to live in an ever-changing Oakland with red skies, insanely expensive rent, a crazy homeless problem, massive gentrification, and schools failing Black and Brown children while still teaching their kids how to read are true innovators that we can learn from. Creating a more equitable public education system is more than just about funding. It’s about shifting our perspective on what and who we value.

I expect nothing less from the land of the Black Panthers.

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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