|Funny: A 'White-Hispanic' didn't hunt down these Oakland blacks; blacks in Oakland supplied the killing stroke|
There were just six weeks until the end of the school year at Castlemont High in Oakland, and every week seemed to bring another milestone for the 17-year-old senior. His last track meet was coming up. In a few days, he'd attend prom.
And there was the moment he'd strived after for four years, the reward for all the work achieving a 3.5 grade point average and a place near the top of his class of 140: graduation.
It had not been easy. Nothing was in East Oakland. For a young black man like Thomas, just surviving the crime and poverty that permeated his daily life was an achievement.
In this city, boys of his race are more likely to miss school; be suspended; graduate late, if at all; or be incarcerated than their white, Asian or Latino peers.
Since 2002, the number of African American men killed on the streets of Oakland has nearly matched the number who graduated from its high schools ready to attend a state university.
The fates of the three young black men echo the statistics of so many like them.
From 2002 through the end of 2012, 787 black boys and men in Oakland were victims of homicide. During that same time, just 802 graduated prepared to attend either a California State University or University of California school.
In 2009, about 600 African American males started high school in the Oakland school district with Thomas and Olajuwon. Of those, an estimated 80 to 100 graduated college-ready. Another 200 were expected to get their diplomas, but not with UC or CSU admission requirements. Others took the GED, or would continue in adult school. Still others spent time in jail.
During those same four years, 31 Oakland public school students ages 11 to 19 were killed across the city. Most of them were shot and most were African American males.
After seeing these unyielding statistics for Oakland's African American males, the Oakland Unified School District decided it had to do something dramatic to try to change them.
In 2010, it became the first school district in the United States to create a department dedicated to altering the fortunes of black boys.
Through its African American Male Achievement Office, the district has created classes and programs specifically for these young men. Their aim: to help them navigate their lives in and out of school by providing teachers who understand them, mentors who can guide them, disciplinary alternatives to suspension and strategies to make good decisions.
The office's goals are ambitious: double black boys' graduation rate; eliminate the achievement gap between black males and white or Asian peers; reduce suspension and absentee rates; and cut incarceration rates in half. There are three years left in a five-year plan to get there. Success, if it comes, will cost at least $2 million per year, with most of that funding from foundations and grants.
The effort has drawn vocal support from the Obama administration, but some of its actions have spurred controversy, including the hiring of noncertified teachers and the sponsorship of a charter school populated solely by black boys.The pre-1954 world returns to Oakland. It's the only logical conclusion to one where a post-1954 world has ravaged every city it touches.