Kingmakers of Oakland Keeps Youth Engaged, Elevates Youth Voices Even Amidst Remote Learning Environment
There’s a lot of people on the planet that know exactly who you are, but do you know who you are?
We actually know who you are, we see you, we love you.
-Introduction (Kings in the Making)
Earlier this month, the Kingmakers of Oakland released Kings in the Making, a collaborative album that features the voices of Black boys delivering a message of love and community. It’s an extraordinary use of music and digital tools that centers the perspective of Black male students in the midst of nationwide school closures. By fostering a dialogue between the artists (referred to as Kings) who are also Kingmakers alumni, and an audience of current students, Kingmakers encourages Black boys to communicate with each other creatively and cultivate a sentiment of mentorship and accountability among each other.
The album creation process reflects the level of engagement with which Kingmakers activities spark ownership in Black boys, as every aspect from recording, production, art direction, product development, and promotion was owned and executed by talented current and former Kings. Other Kingmakers activities led by Kings include podcasting, merchandising, empowerment workshops, music production, content creation and team-building exercises. In these creative spaces, Kings are empowered to communicate with their teachers (known as facilitators) and with each other what they are experiencing in the classrooms, at home, and in their daily lives. Further, and perhaps more importantly, Kings develop into leaders who provide and seek mentorship to and from one another.
With high levels of engagement on Facebook and Instagram, Kingmakers continues to influence narrative change and build an intergenerational community on social media. On top of promoting the music and merchandise creations of alumni, their social media pages showcase portraits of current students alongside quotes from Black artists, thought leaders and historical figures. The accomplishments of staff and community partners are celebrated in the same space, creating a thread of excellence from administrators all the way down to students. This exchange of energy and camaraderie emanating from all age groups creates a positive feedback loop for everyone in the Kingmakers community to keep excelling in their work.
The culture of Kingmakers was influenced by a founding team of leaders with experiences growing up as Black boys in a white-centric school system. They learned that cultural esteem, leadership development and deep mentorship are key to inspiring confidence in young Black male students today. The success of Kingmakers’ student-centered culture is rooted in an unapologetic commitment to engage, encourage and empower each student. The love and enthusiasm from the adults is reciprocated in the energy that students have for each other and back to the adults. CEO Chris Chatmon echoes these same sentiments in the album’s opening monologue: “There are thousands of men that have your back. In the spirit of all those that came before us, we pour into you.” As school culture evolves dramatically in the midst of school building closures, educators have an opportunity to focus on carving out intentional learning communities — one in which students are creatively inspired to lead and hold each other accountable to excellence.
Kingmakers of Oakland originated in the Oakland Unified School District’s Office of African American Male Achievement (AAMA). After 10+ years in the district, the independent non-profit now supports school districts across the country to improve the educational and life outcomes of Black boys by “healing the fish while treating the toxic ecosystem.” This multi-faceted approach is rooted in a desire to collaborate, coordinate and convene folks who are inspired to create a healthy, affirming learning environment for Black boys in the public school system. Through professional development, narrative change resources, curriculum and more, Kingmakers helps each unique district transform their school environment.
You can learn more about Kingmakers of Oakland at kingmakersofoakland.org.
For more resources to help make your learning environments more equitable, you can visit the BELE (Building Equitable Learning Environments) resource library. You can also visit the BELE Network Map to learn what organizations are doing good work in your neighborhood already.