Sometime during the pandemic, during distance learning, Nelda Kerr felt that her middle school students were experiencing Zoom fatigue. To keep them engaged, she decided to reach out to some local living legends in Oakland to speak in her classroom.
During this time, she invited Oakland novelist Tommy Orange, Mark Trautwein of KQED, and artist Emory Douglas. Not only did her classroom hear from the speakers, but the larger school participated as well.
“I wanted to give students a reason to get excited to show up for Zoom school,” Kerr, who is in her third year teaching at Edna Brewer and her 7th year teaching overall, told Oakland Voices. “We got lucky because everyone was quarantining, and they had time to get on Zoom with us.”
As an English teacher, Kerr saw how students engaged with the speakers and the thoughtful questions they asked, and wondered, why not expand it into a show for others to see? Thus, “The Town Talk” show was created.
Kerr reached out to her friend Richie Nuñez to host the show. Nuñez runs the local La Segunda podcast. “I don’t see young people having dynamic conversations,” Nuñez told Oakland Voices. “We need that.”
In collaboration with KDOL, OUSD’s TV station, they launched “The Town Talks” as a public access broadcast show on KDOL. The shows are also viewable on YouTube. The producers have plans to release episodes as a podcast as well. KDOL station manager Mario Capitelli said he was happy to partner with the project: “whenever we get a chance to amplify student voices, we do.”
The show invites guests from the Bay Area to sit down with OUSD students to talk about history, activism, art, culture, and more.
The first episode features Oakland artist and activist Emory Douglas, best known as the former Ministry of Culture for the Black Panther Party.
“Since we’ve talked to Emory Douglas and we’ve learn more about him, I’ve learned that I want to be more active in the community, whether that’s now or in high school or when I grow up,” Edamevoh “Mevoh” Ajayi, an 8th grader at Edna Brewer, told Oakland Voices. “He’s kind of inspired me with making paintings and was really impactful. That’s made me want to help this Oakland community and just make it better.”
A brand-new episode just dropped, featuring Ay’Anna Moody, Director of Social Impact at the Golden State Warriors, and Elisha Greenwell, CEO and Founder of the Black Joy Parade.
The students who have worked on the show say they enjoy learning about different cultures. Sixth grader Elle Armstead says, “I learned that Oakland is a very welcoming place for others,” and “I get to learn about other people cultures and what they are interested in.”
Another student very aptly describes the magic of Oakland: “[What] I learned about Oakland [is] that it’s a place you can grow yourself as a person, while letting people in,” Coyo Tena, an 8th grader at the school, said. “It really values community. You yourself can make so much change. [Oakland is] small enough you can wrap your arms around it. When you do something, everyone hears about it. You can make an impact.”
Zuri Ben Taleb, a 6th grader, says she was excited to learn more about Oakland and Oaklanders. “I wanted to learn about other people and learn about other peoples’ backgrounds and talk about how special Oakland is.”
They’ve already booked the next speaker: Amy Schneider, Jeopardy star and Oakland resident. That show will be out before the end of the school year, so stay tuned.
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