Serving up Literacy with the Currys—Eat. Learn. Play. BUS and the Oakland Literacy Coalition

Several smiling people stand casually in front of a colorful mobil bus.
Oakland Literacy Coalition’s Cassie Perham, Sanam Jorhani, and Julia Sen with the Currys. Credit: Kelly Sullivan, Getty Images.
People stand on top of a colorful bus with their hands raised.
Photo credit: Kris Lopez, Cruising Kitchens.

Fabulously multi-colored and splashed with scenes from across Oakland, Stephen and Ayesha Curry’s new BUS catered to every taste when it rolled out at the East Oakland Youth Development Center earlier this month. 

Some 60 young people enjoyed meals prepared by the Town’s many gourmet chefs. Kids practiced jump shots on the fold-down basketball hoop where Steph, the Golden State Warrior’s point guard, was the only one who could dunk.

On one side of the BUS, a handful of parents picked up fresh produce and fixings for several meals served up by the Alameda County Community Food Bank. On the other side, backed by the tunes from a world class sound system, the Currys talked to kids about books displayed on rotating shelves—brand-new, culturally-relevant and age-appropriate books covering every interest—and enough so that each young reader took an armload of favorites home.  

The BUS is the Curry’s latest vehicle to drive home their Eat. Learn. Play’s core message of promoting healthy, joyful living for the body and mind—especially for children. The bright murals are painted by local muralists from the Illuminaries.

Rebounding quickly from COVID after their foundation’s start-up a little over two years ago, the Currys joined forces with the food bank, local chefs, and Oakland Unified School District to distribute a dizzying 17 million meals, 4 million pounds of fresh produce, and enabling 130 restaurants to keep 850 employees on the job.

In the same way that they forged working relationships to deliver healthy food to 37% of the Oakland’s children in 24,000 food insecure-families, Eat. Learn. Play pivoted to take aim at early childhood literacy. “If anything, we’re a partnership-driven organization,” Jose Corona, Vice President for Programs and Partnerships, said. “We in no way think of ourselves as literacy experts. Our approach is to seek out experts.”

One key expert and partner, Oakland Public Library Associate Director Nina Lyndsay, told him that the library “always had a vision for the library to have a mobile library and they feel like this realizes their vision.”

Eat. Learn. Play’s full court press throughout Oakland’s educational community also pointed it to the Oakland Literacy Coalition (OLC), according to Corona. “They’re aligned with what we’re trying to do, very knowledgeable, and we knew that they could really guide us in our journey to really understand where we wanted to make the biggest impact within the early childhood literacy space.” With Literati—which provided high quality, low cost books—OLC curated and helped kids choose books at the bus’ launch.

Several smiling people stand casually in front of a colorful mobil bus.
Oakland Literacy Coalition’s Cassie Perham, Sanam Jorhani, and Julia Sen with the Currys. Credit: Kelly Sullivan, Getty Images.

Next up, Eat. Learn. Play is teaming up with OLC to co-sponsor its upcoming two-day, citywide virtual literacy symposium, Oakland Literacy Symposium on October 1 & 2.

OLC Co-Director Cassie Perham calls the BUS “unique, powerful, and visionary.” By bringing resources directly to neighborhoods “it just makes it that much easier,” Perham said. “And you can’t ask for better reading champions than Steph and Ayesha. They were so warm. They have real conversations with kids about what they like to read. Just having their platform and voice behind it brings joy to reading and makes it cool.” 

Beginning in 2014, the Oakland Literacy Coalition has become the lead playmaker among its 28 member groups that work to advance early childhood literacy. OLC shares the successes and best practices of reading advocates across Oakland and funds literacy events up to $1,000 for any organization that works with children. Since the pandemic, OLC has distributed 30,000 new books to diverse groups, from urban farms to health clinics, including the Oakland Unified School District’s popular (OUSD) “grab and go” meals. The coalition has worked with OUSD to develop family-friendly “academic milestones” while pushing the school district to improve student reading outcomes by signing onto NAACP’s formal administrative petition’s eight specific demands. 

Perham is urgent when she describes Oakland’s literacy crisis. “Only about a third of students are reading proficiently,” she said. “The spread is not equitable with real equity gaps for students living in poverty, especially students of color. We know that improving student literacy can only be addressed through a sustained, multidimensional approach. It’s got to be family, schools, and community partners, all working from different angles.” 

Eat. Learn. Play’s Jose Corona says it’s time for everyone in Oakland to “get on the bus.” “The symposium comes for us at a good time,” he said. “It’s really a convening of thought leaders and best practices on how we can really move the needle to get our kids ready for learning so they can be reading at grade level by 3rd grade and throughout their schooling. It becomes another learning moment for us to see what we can do.”  

The Oakland Literacy Coalition and Eat. Learn. Play are teaming up to do just that by co-sponsoring this week’s two-day, virtual literacy symposium. “It’s not about pointing fingers.” Perham said. “It’s about saying that literacy is a civil right and we all, in whatever role we claim, have the responsibility and power to have an impact.”

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Information about the two-day, citywide virtual literacy symposium, Oakland Literacy Symposium, on October 1 & 2.

The program tips off this Friday with UC Irvine Professor of Education Julie Washington’s keynote, Literacy, a Liberatory, Civil Right, followed by a dozen workshops presented by an all-star line up of experts, teachers, and community leaders. Topics range from incorporating math into reading storybooks at home and the classroom to managing systemic change. The in-person kick-off mixer takes place at Kingston 11, 2270 Telegraph Ave, Thursday, 9/30, 5:30-7:30 pm. Registration and RSVP required. 

You can sign up for the inaugural Oakland Literacy Symposium: Literacy and Justice for All here. Fulcrum, a literacy project closely aligned with the Oakland NAACP, is covering the registration fee for OUSD teachers. Oakland teachers outside OUSD are eligible for a 50% discount.

Author Profile

Bill Joyce is a retired Berkeley teacher and 2016 alumnus of Oakland Voices.

1 Comment

  1. Love the reading focus. Let’s see if we can get something similar going in Pittsburgh.

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