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I am Oaklandish: PEACE

The I Am Oaklandish campaign features true Oakland originals from all walks of life. They give our city its oddball spirit, its passion for justice, and its creative vigor. They lift us up with laughter, peace, nourishment, and authentic hard work. They make us proud to call this town our home. They are Oaklandish.

There's no such thing as too much peace in Oakland. Our town's anti-violence campaigns have gained national recognition for their effectiveness — with the right funding and support, they have the power to heal our city.

How do they do it? Most of these educators grew up in the flats of East and West Oakland — they've been personally impacted by violence, and learned the hard way that it doesn't solve anything. They spread that message to students, help injured youth access services and escape gang life, and offer support to families who have lost loved ones. Sometimes it's as simple as driving someone to a doctor's appointment, or helping a grief-stricken family member fill out complicated paperwork. Other times, it means showing up in the emergency room to talk a victim's friends out of retaliating with more violence.

Some might say they have the toughest jobs around, but they don't see it that way. They're saving and changing lives, and to them, there is no better reward.

RAYNA SMITH is a Silence the Violence peace ambassador with the Urban Peace Movement. This program trains young people from East, West and North Oakland’s flatland neighborhoods. Over the course of 9 months, they are trained to identify cultural indicators of violence and to foster a culture of peace through community service and cultural events. They receive in-depth trainings on healing and reconciliation, communication skills, community transformation, and social justice leadership.

MARILYN WASHINGTON HARRIS is the founder of the Khadafy Foundation for Non-Violence. In 2000, Marilyn's son Khadafy was shot and killed while riding his bike in West Oakland. The crime remains unsolved, but Harris's experience inspired her to provide support to other grieving families. In the aftermath of a homicide, people can turn to the Khadafy Foundation for help with everything from funeral expenses to grief counseling, food, and child care. Since 2003, the program has served over 800 local families. In addition, they work tirelessly to stop the cycle of violence by preventing crimes and retaliation.

NICOLE LEE is the founding executive director of Urban Peace Movement, an Oakland-based organization that works to transform the mindset and culture of urban violence. She is a fourth-generation Oaklander and has spent the past 12 years in working on economic and juvenile justice issues.

Tell us what you do, and why you do it.

I am the director of Urban Peace Movement. The mission of Urban Peace Movement is to transform the culture and conditions that lead to urban violence. Our goal is to build the leadership of communities hit hardest by street violence through fostering non-traditional youth leaders who are the key to ending the crisis of urban violence.

What's your favorite part of your job?

My favorite part of my job is to watch the young folks that I work with step into their own power — to watch them discover who they truly are. As they discover themselves I, in turn, discover myself — because at the end of the day, we are all connected.

What do you love about Oakland that you can't find anywhere else?

Oakland is my home. It's where my family has lived for over 4 generations. Oakland people are strong, creative, resilient, and colorful. We are trendsetters. We come back when all the odds are against us. Oakland is the home of the Raiders, the birthplace of the Panthers, and a true cultural center.

What does it mean to be Oaklandish?

To be Oaklandish means to think and live outside of the box — to be creative.

RICHARD McCLENDON is a peer educator with Youth Alive. Peer educators work within their communities to present alternatives to violence. The program gives students intensive training on how to speak about the impact of violence on their lives, and act as positive role models in their communities. Nearly 100% of youth who go through this training end up graduating high school — even in schools with overall graduation rates of 40%. Richard was once a victim of violence — Youth Alive helped get recover and enroll at Merritt College. He and his coworkers reached over 1,200 students this year through their nonviolence education work. He loves his family and wants to make Oakland a better place for his kids to grow up in.

CAHERI GUTIERREZ works with Youth Alive to educate students about the impact of violence in their communities. At 18, she was sitting in her car in East Oakland when a stray bullet crashed through her window. With the help of Youth Alive, she recovered from her injuries, finished school and went on to educate kids throughout Oakland on alternatives to violence.

Tell us what you do, and why you do it.

I am a Violence Prevention Educator for Youth ALIVE! As an educator I run an afterschool program year round at Castlemont High school. Our goal is to teach the high school students a curriculum that talks about everything from gang, turf, gun, family and dating violence. It teaches them the consequences and alternatives. I also teach this curriculum to many middle schools in the Oakland Unified School District.

I do this work because it is very personal to me. When I was 18 years old I was shot in the face. I learned a lot from that incident and I don’t want it to happen to anyone. Teaching violence prevention has been a passion since then.

What's your favorite part of your job?

My favorite part is working with young people. I love working with youth because I can relate very much to them. I know that I impact them because I come from the same community and have struggled with the same issues growing up. Many people think that young people are the problem when it comes to violence, but I think they are the solution.

What do you love about Oakland that you can't find anywhere else?

We are so diverse and the food culture is GREAT here!

What does it mean to be Oaklandish?

To be Oaklandish means to be filled with knowledge, both street smart and book smart. When I think Oaklandish, I think Oakland soldiers fighting to show the best in our city. I think cultured and strong.


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