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About $17 million in scholarships have been awarded over the past five years to 2,300 high school graduates from Oakland through the Oakland Promise program, which aims to be a family to students it prepares for school and career opportunities.

That’s one highlight from a recent community briefing on the program that featured Oakland-born Vice President Kamala Harris and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.

Another highlight includes the signing up of 1,000 families in Oakland Promise’s Brilliant Baby program, which puts $500 into college savings accounts for young children, providing a bit of hope for their parents and creating more equity for Oakland’s youth.

“Teachers, parents and students have had to move mountains during the pandemic in Oakland and across our country,” Harris said in a recorded statement to the group gathered for the Nov. 5 briefing. “And that is why the work that the city of Oakland and Oakland Promise has been doing is so important.”

Putting families on a firm footing

Oakland Promise aims to provide more opportunities for less advantaged residents to receive a quality education and a develop good-paying career. It also aims to be a family, which was the theme of the briefing.

Like Harris, Michael McAfee, president of the board of directors of Oakland Promise, said the pandemic made it difficult to pursue educational goals.

But the Oakland community came together to lift up Oakland youth, he said.

“And that’s what a family community is about,” McAfee said. “We have broadened the definition of family to extend beyond the boundaries of the family we were born to. An extended family.”

“We have broadened the definition of family to extend beyond the boundaries of the family we were born to. An extended family.”

Michael McAfee, Oakland Promise

Also, he said Oakland Promise is not just about college saving accounts and scholarships.

It strives to create a college-career culture identity through other resources it provides such as mentoring, workshops and other things such as conferences, McAfee said.

Oakland Promise has four programs to advance greater equity among Oakland youth — the Brilliant Baby program, the Kindergarten to College program, which provides each student with a $100 investment toward their education, the College Access program, which allows seniors to earn from $2,000 to $4,000, even up to $16,000 for some, and a mentorship program.

(Video courtesy of Oakland Promise/YouTibe)

More than the old college try

Ahmed Muhammad, Oakland Promise scholar and Stanford University student, said Oakland Promise helped him to apply to college, choose the college that was best for him and supported him through college.

“It’s really a family here,” Muhammad said.

It’s a family that’s going to check up on you, he said.

“I feel like I’m with my family,” Schaaf told those attending the briefing.

The mayor said her mother taught her, “We have a special community called Oakland that we are blessed to be a part of.”

(Video courtesy of Oakland Promise/YouTibe)

Her mother taught her that every “living entity” in Oakland was part of her family.

Schaaf loved what Oakland’s youth poet laureate Myra Estrada said about, “Wearing your hometown like a sword across your chest.

That is what Oakland inspires,” Schaaf said.

She encouraged residents to be a mentor or recruit a mentor or think about donating regularly to Oakland Promise.

“Every young person you see, especially the ones you don’t know personally,” Schaaf said, “Look them deeply in their eyes and tell them you see their brilliance, you see their amazing future.”

Every child deserves to be reminded, “You are destined for greatness,” Schaaf said.