African American Young Men 
Oral History Project

Oakland’s young African American men have stories to tell; and two years ago the Center for Healthy Schools and Communities began to capture these stories. The African American Oral History Project was born from the Center’s acknowledgment that personal and community health are enriched through storytelling. Health professionals and educators agree that sharing stories is a way to connect people, bridging the gap between ages, races, and culture.

The Griots of Oakland is the first of a series of community preservation projects undertaken by the Center in an effort to empower families and youth, grow a community’s capacity to affect change, and link health and education institutions to achieve equity.


Griots Book and Exhibition

Join us for  The Griots of Oakland Exhibition Opening and Book Release!

Saturday, November 16, 2013 from 4–7 pm

African American Museum and Library at Oakland
659 14th Street, Oakland CA

Exhibition: November 16, 2013 through March 1, 2014

For more information, contact:

Angela Zusman I Project Director

Hilary Crowley I Media Coordinator

In partnership with Story For All, Oakland Unified School District’s Office of African American Male Achievement, and the African American Museum and Library at Oakland. Funding provided by Center for Healthy Schools and Communities and the Cal Humanities.


Now available in hardback and paperback at

Advance Praise for The Griots of Oakland Book

“Hope and pride ring through in the voices of the young men who have shared their stories with us through this beautiful book. The Griots of Oakland showcases the resiliency of our young African American men living in some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the Nation. The determination of these young men to succeed against all odds, even when the path is unclear and unsafe is an act of faith, a demonstration of the power of hope. The Alameda County Faith Advisory Council is inspired by this collection and energized by the spirits that echo from the pages of this book.”

— Pastor Raymond Lankford
Director, Alameda County Faith Advisory Council


"The Griots of Oakland tells the story of Oakland's contemporary vibe - one of surprising hope and optimism from its unsung future leaders.  Oral history and storytelling reaches back to the beginning of time, and in this case shows our capacity as humans to overcome temporary environments while always looking to the promise of opportunity that the future holds."

— Alex Briscoe, Director
Alameda County Health Care Services Agency


“One of the most important obligations of a diverse democracy such as ours is that of listening to and hearing the diverse voices of all of the people in order to figure out what is right and the right thing to do.  For far too long, the images and voices of African American men have been distorted and muted through the lenses and microphones of the mass media.  Efforts such as The Griots of Oakland are critically important to the listening and hearing that form the foundation for understanding, concern, and care that lead to the actions necessary for us to improve the life outcomes of African American boys and men.  The Griots displays the pain, the power and the promise of young African American men that should make us act.”

— Junious Williams
Chief Executive Officer
Urban Strategies Council


“It is important for us to tell our stories as we have lived them - without commentary from censoring and judging forces.  It’s extremely important for young people, especially young black men and women who are disproportionately incarcerated in the United States, to tell their stories so that others can learn from them, be inspired by them, and be uplifted by them.  If we don’t tell our stories then we stand the chance that someone else will.”

— Ericka Huggins
Member of the Black Panther Party from 1967-1981
Director of the Black Panther Party’s Oakland Community School
Professor of Sociology for the Peralta Community College District


 “Bravo and congratulations to Alameda County's Center for Healthy Schools and Communities, Story For All, the Oakland Unified School District Office of African American Male Achievement, and the African American Museum and Library at Oakland on the completion of this two-year endeavor.  The Griots of Oakland is a great example of our community's ability to collaborate and share compelling insights regarding Oakland's African American youth that inspire hope and pride and address the critical issue of equity.”

— Assemblymember Rob Bonta
District 18


“It is not often a project can so accurately capture the voices of a traditionally voiceless people with such creative authenticity.  This project has provided us, the readers, with insight, reason and purpose to continue the fight for systematic equity while demanding communal change.”

Jamaal Kizziee, MS, MFTI
School Based Behavioral Health Consultant
Center for Healthy Schools and Communities


“Our beautiful black boys cease to be invisible with this honest portrayal of their humanity.  What a gift they've given to Oakland.  This should be required reading for all educators, law enforcement and service providers.”

— Hon. Linda Handy
Trustee, Area 3
Peralta Community Colleges


“As the Director of the Alameda County EMS Corps, a program that prepares young men for careers in Emergency Medical Services, I appreciate the knowledge, wisdom, and creative expression that the Griots of Oakland represents.  This project offers you insight into the thinking of a today’s generation of young black men striving to create a better life for themselves.  It’s a book that should be read by anyone interested in empowering the lives of young Black men.”

— Michael Gibson
Program Director, EMS Corp.


“When people engage in thinking and feeling their way through the tangled web of social injustice, it becomes crystal clear that we need new narratives about those who consistently fall into the category of "other".  Certainly, the false perceptions about black males run rampant throughout our society.  This must change.  We must connect the dots among the kinds of stories that are available to us in this book (title).  It must be circulated widely so that we can truly "see", respect and admire the strength and courage that more accurately informs who are black brothers are.  We can use these powerful stories as building blocks to reshape a cultural narrative that has been unjust and inhuman for far too long.  Thank you for this project and let us welcome the continuation of the powerful griot tradition as part of our contemporary world that is in need of love, truth and justice.

— Shakti Butler, Ph.D.
President and Founder
World Trust Educational Services


“Oakland has long been a home to an inspiring, courageous community of African Americans with a wide range of life experiences. We are a City that has produced countless African American leaders, from judges and mayors and members of Congress, to social justice heroes, to great artists, scholars and athletes. Instrumental to the success of African American men as been the central role of education, which continues to demand our continued support. We are inspired by those who excel, but we are also inspired by those who persevere. Oakland is also home to a community that refuses to be marginalized, and who demand to define themselves and their own destinies.  Many have also faced decades of great hardship and tragedy. Their resilience, their determination to overcome generational violence and poverty, is among the great unrecognized stories in the history of our nation. This project and others like it are an opportunity for us all. In listening to these stories, we begin to unlock the great promise of Oakland and its renowned diversity. We learn from one another. We come to understand and love one another. We begin to overcome prejudice and callousness, and we become fuller human beings. We find that humility and compassion lead us to tremendous strength. The young men who tell their stories in this volume have given us all a great gift. It is a reminder that life in Oakland is a constant opportunity to learn and to rise together. Let us take their inspiration to heart, and let us cherish the lives of all our neighbors in this place we call home.”

— Jean Quan, Mayor
City of Oakland