Kingmakers of Oakland Aims to Improve the Lives of Young Black Men
Stories@Gilead - September 20, 2022
Growing up in Oakland, Alonzo Henderson didn’t have a lot of teachers that looked like him. As a young Black man, he says he felt isolated and thought the educators around him didn’t understand his experiences or interests. But when he reached Oakland Technical High School, he enrolled in the Manhood Development Program (MDP) specializing in African American male achievement that changed his outlook.
“I was taught about my history, my heritage and the importance of everything that I may come across as a Black man,” Alonzo remembers. “It made me care about my education that much more because I felt like I was cared about as a young Black boy within the system.”
Today, Alonzo is the Media, Communications and Technical Assistant for Kingmakers of Oakland, and through the organization he’s working closely with the same MDP program as the one he benefited from. He’s even gone back to visit MDP students at Oakland Technical High School, but this time as a mentor.
The Kingmakers of Oakland is a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of Black youth in public school systems. Born out of the Oakland Unified School District Office of African American Male Achievement, the organization launched as an independent nonprofit in 2019. Its programs focus on improving curriculum, educational opportunities and shifting problematic narratives.
“We offer something that is really unique,” says Chris Chatmon, Chief Executive Officer of Kingmakers of Oakland. “It centers around those furthest from opportunity, but it also engages the mindsets of the adults who are around them. We do this to show the need to create a place where they see the beauty, brilliance and innate greatness of Black boys.”
Putting this bold vision into action takes a lot of work. Kingmakers of Oakland holds workshops for youth and educators, organizes college readiness programs such as The Fellowship Initiative, pushes for curriculum changes, and through media programs that include music, film and the arts, helps young people leverage their voices.
It’s proven to be successful – in Oakland, the graduation rate for Black students has improved from 42% to 57% and average grades are 25% higher for those who participated in their programs. The program has recently been spreading across the country. Five years ago, Anthony Shoecraft brought the skills and lessons from the organization to Seattle, a city which he said had a serious gap in resources for Black youth.
“There is no school district in this country that was born and constructed to serve Black boys,” says Anthony. “School systems are not cultivating their talents and their core genius to be our next CEOs and community leaders.”
But through Kingmakers of Oakland, Anthony says Seattle is trying something different. The city of Seattle was so impressed by the programs, it invested in expanding them across the whole school district through 2025.
A recent Gilead Foundation Creating Possible Fund grantee, Kingmakers of Oakland will be able to fully fund its programs like MDP, furthering the work it can do between facilitators and students. Research shows that disparities in education mirror disparities in health, and the Creating Possible fund is devoted to providing resources to organizations aligned with Gilead Foundation’s vision of promoting education equity to achieve health equity. It also has a specific aim of building a sustainable pipeline of Black health leaders.
“I'm excited about the opportunity to be in a community with Gilead Foundation’s other grantees and learn from them and act as a movement,” says Chris. “How do we leverage this collective genius and double down on this investment to go farther, faster?”
For Kingmakers of Oakland, it has always been about amplifying its efforts to make a big difference.
“It’s about everyone’s commitment to being bold and unapologetic in declaring that the lives of Black boys matter,” says Anthony. “Focusing on the needs of Black youth will help us achieve our universal goal of educational equity.”