Black History Event: Black Youth: Exploring the Road to Success

L-R: Kiki Devoramonifa, Oral Lee Brown, Michelle McAfee, and Ron Whittaker. Photo by Billy Reinschmiedt

NOTE: You can now view a full-length video of this event by scrolling to the bottom of this page!

On February 2nd the Friends of the Library presented its second annual panel discussion for Black History Month in the Main Library’s Stafford Room. This year’s topic was “Black Youth: Exploring the Road to Success.” Kiki Devoramonifa moderated the discussion with the same skill she displayed at last year’s event, asking evocative questions which drew out the expertise and experience of the three panelists, Oral Lee Brown, Ron Whittaker, and Michelle McAfee.

Oral Lee Brown is a nationally recognized benefactor of school children, who has helped several entire classrooms of underprivileged kids attain higher education. Ron Whittaker is a founding parent and Board Member of the Academy of Alameda charter school. Michelle McAfee is a teacher at Park Day School.

A chance encounter with a second grade girl started Oral Lee Brown on her mission of helping disadvantaged kids. In 32 years she has shepherded over 85 children through to higher education. Problems in one of Alameda’s elementary schools prompted Ron Whittaker to join other parents in founding the K-8 Academy of Alameda in the West End, which is thriving after 10 years. Michelle McAfee turned dissatisfaction with most of her own teachers and inspiration from her parents into a 26 year teaching career, and a strong focus on African American history

In summarizing what factors lead to success for Black youth, each panelist mentioned something the youth themselves need to be or do, such as “Believe in yourself,” “Don’t let anyone stop you,” and “Be fearless.” But from their own stories it was clear that having the help of committed and caring adults can be just as important.

Further information and resources can be found at Destiny Arts Center, Youth Speaks, Black Teacher Project, Kanju Girls (@KanjuGirls) Twitter, Youth Radio, East Bay Youth, Outdoor Afro, Black Girls Code, the Boys and Girls Club, Girls Inc. of the Island City, the Oral Lee Brown Foundation, the Hidden Genius Project, and Black History Everyday (managed by Kiki).

— David Beall