For more on The Center's story and vision, please watch the video below. After the video, you'll find a moving testimonial in support of The Center from Mary Maultsby-Jeffrey, a retired Castlemont High School teacher and co-owner of a West Oakland business, as well as words of support from OUSD Garden Education Specialist Grey Kolevson.
My name is Mary Maultsby-Jeffrey, and I am a retired teacher from Castlemont High School and a Co-owner of a business located at the corner of 27th and San Pablo Avenue in Oakland. I represent 35 merchants whose businesses are located in the community of the proposed project.
I have seen the leadership of Oakland Unified struggle to make decisions that would be beneficial for Oakland students for years. I have seen good decisions and bad ones. I have over the years seen too many decisions that the school district has made that were not in the best interest of the students but in the interest of big business, personal status or gratification, or ill informed community members. I am here to advocate on behalf of the conversion of Marcus Foster to a Central Kitchen, Instructional Farm and Education Center.
This Project is, without doubt, the best proposed project I have heard of for this district and this community.
This Project will fulfill many of the needs of our students of whom 70% qualify for free lunch. As a teacher I encountered hundreds of students on a daily basis who were hungry. Many of these students came to my class room to get food at the end of each day to take food home to their hungry sibling. These students had no idea about nutrition but they knew that the cafeteria pre-packaged meals were not fulfilling their nutritional needs.
The profession that the majority of my students desired was to be a chef. Several of them have gone on to achieve their goal. Had a program such as this proposed project been in existence when I was teaching, I am certain that many more students would have gone on to be successful chefs, entrepreneurs or workers in the food industry.
This proposed project would not only open up careers for students who wish to go on to college, it would offer choices to those who feel that they are not currently ready for college but are ready for a career in food service. Many of those students will go on to own their own restaurants or food trucks or even work in high end food establishments.
As a high school student, I had an opportunity to expand my knowledge and cooking skills through a similar program in Orlando, Florida. I went on to graduate from graduate school, have a substantial interest in a restaurant and own a food truck that I use to feed the homeless. Had my school not offered me this opportunity, I would not be where I am today.
As the wife of the owner of the Oakland Print and Copy Center which has been located at 27th and San Pablo Ave for over 20 years and is the largest Black owned print shop in Northern California for 32 years, I know the needs and desires of the people of this community. I interact with residents daily who have been left behind educationally and career wise. The majority of these people express desires to work in the food industry and many come in seeking help to fill out application for work in this industry.
By adopting this project, the school district will open opportunities for success to students from the lowest level of academics to the highest level of academic achievement. It would be remiss and negligent for the school board to deny this project.
I hope that you will not allow the threat of a frivolous law suit that may or may not be brought by a few disgruntled neighbors to deny the youth of Oakland this opportunity to become productive and healthy citizens.
I challenge the community representatives who are here advocating against this project to bring suit against the liquor stores where shootings are occurring monthly if not weekly and drugs are being dealt on a daily basis in this, THEIR neighborhood.
Please don’t let the threats of a few trump the needs of our students.
Testimonial from Grey Kolevzon
My name is Grey Kolevzon, I am the garden education specialist, in the science and the wellness departments.
If you don’t mind, please take a moment to forget your surroundings and think back to a time early in your life when you were somewhere beautiful outdoors. Very likely, one of the things that made this memory so vivid to you is that you became connected to the world itself, through observing plants and animals, harvesting fresh foods, cooking and eating shared meals, or hearing the stories of elders. I would guess that even many years later, the memories of being there come right back to life. That is a reflection of how important they are to us, these memories of our direct connection to the living world itself.
Over the past 20 years, I have led outdoor education programs with over 5,000 Oakland students, and one thing I have noticed is that each year, the percentage of students who have these memories of their own to share gets smaller and smaller, and generally if they have them it is because they spent time in another country. Parents have little time to take their children anywhere, public transportation is inadequate, neighborhoods are dangerous, and structured opportunities to go to places where we can actually experience things in a living context are cost prohibitive for our schools and for the majority of our families.
Yet, a young person’s motivation to understand and to engage with the world around them is the basis for their desire to learn and grow, without which any of our goals for college and career readiness are just words in a document. Our science department is a state leader in implementation of NGSS standards, all of which seek to engage students in problem solving in a living, place-based context, with an underlying foundation of environmental literacy. However, the vast majority of our flatlands students have had almost no opportunities to study or interact with an ecosystem, or to see firsthand what a food system is, unless they are of the 10% fortunate enough to have a school garden program. This reality is the single largest barrier to accomplishing our state-mandated goals, and to fulfilling our moral obligation as human beings whose societal health depends on daily stewardship of the living world.
The Center will be a facility that enables us to build a programmatic foundation for reweaving our students’ lost connections to life itself, and for reconciling our schools’ disparate abilities to provide for our kids what is an essential part of the human experience. Students will be able to study ecosystems first hand, without taking an expensive trip out of town; they will see how food systems work, and how they impact personal and community health; they will gain experience in practical skills related to the design and engineering of living systems, that the current facilities at their school sites cannot offer in any meaningful way. They will become connected to their own community in a way they never have, and see their own city in a different light. Most importantly, the Center will enable them to have these same kinds of memories that we are fortunate enough to be able to evoke, a deep personal connection to the living world that will support their growth as human beings throughout their lives.