When The Oaklandside launched in June 2020, we did so with a commitment to collaborate with other local media organizations and journalists who are also working to inform Oakland residents. One of the organizations we’ve been most proud to partner with is Oakland Voices, a journalism training program led by the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education. Regular readers of The Oaklandside have probably seen their articles published on our site, and we’ll be co-reporting some important election stories together in the weeks to come.

What readers may not know is that Oakland Voices was launched in 2010 as a community news project by the Oakland Tribune. Back then, the program aimed to train citizen journalists in West Oakland to report the happenings in their own backyards—stories that would go unreported otherwise.

Operating in those early days out of the West Oakland Public Library, veteran reporters trained participants, and the stories were published on the Tribune’s website. Christopher Johnson, a former National Public Radio journalist, editor, and producer, oversaw the program and longtime Tribune journalist Brenda Payton was the Oakland Voices coordinator. The Maynard Institute provided the curriculum and Martin Reynolds, now co-executive director of the Maynard Institute was at that time the Tribune’s editor-in-chief. Reynolds also currently serves on the board of directors for Cityside Journalism Initiative, The Oaklandside’s parent organization.

In the 12 years since the program launched, Oakland Voices has hosted 10 cohorts and trained about 70 community members. Some graduates remain active as freelancers with Oakland Voices and other outlets, including The Oaklandside (journalist Brandy Collins is a frequent contributor). Others continue to be involved in Oakland’s arts and culture scene, like Marabet Morales Sikahall, who recently joined Chapter 510, a youth-writing and publishing nonprofit, and Ayodele Nzinga, who became Oakland’s first poet laureate

In 2019, Oakland Voices welcomed two new faces to its leadership team: journalists Rasheed Shabazz and Momo Chang, who now co-direct the program. Shabazz supervises the current cohort members, while Chang works with alumni.

With the pandemic raging in  2020, Oakland Voices could not host a cohort, so the organization pivoted to working with former program members on COVID-19 coverage. The program returned last year with a new cohort and virtual classes. This fall, Oakland Voices will open applications for its 2023 session.

Emerging from the pandemic with a new look

From Left: Oakland Voices alumni Marabet Morales Sikahall and Tony Daquipa meet with Norman “Vogue” Chuck and his wife Gloria Contreras at their studio. Credit: Kat Ferreira

As the organization has evolved, so too has its look. The latest change came earlier this summer with the introduction of a new website design and logo that harken back to the organization’s roots; the logo pairs a Tribune-style font (used for the word “Oakland”) with a vibrant street-art style font (for “Voices”) designed by veteran aerosol artist Norman “Vogue” Chuck of the Bay Area street art collective, TDK crew. 

In 2017, on the heels of the Ghost Ship fire that took the life of 36 people, Vogue created a mural to honor the lives lost. Kat Ferreira, who was then part of the Oakland Voices program, reached out to Vogue and others to write a story for KALW about how the community got together to honor the fire victims. 

For co-director Chang, getting alumni like Ferreira involved in the process of how to revamp the site and the logo was crucial. “Alumni have a lot to say. They live in Oakland and have been using the website even since before Rasheed, and I joined,” Chang said. “It was truly a community and collaborative effort to get the new site done.”

Ferreira joined the Maynard Institute in 2021 as its marketing and communications director. She played a role behind-the-scenes in the work that led to Oakland Voices’ new look.

“When I moved to Oakland in the ‘90s, the ‘Oakland is proud’ [mural] was such an iconic mural in my mind, especially in East Oakland,” Ferreira said. “And with the TDK crew being so elemental to East Oakland street art, tapping the TDK crew and getting to work with Vogue just felt like a natural fit.”

The logo aims to illuminate the core values of Oakland Voices, and why the program exists: to help community members tell their stories through the written word, similar to how street artists tell stories through murals.

For the website redesign, Oakland Voices enlisted the help of Rick Elizaga and Roberto Delgado, who worked to modernize the site and make it easier to read and navigate. The redesign had been in Ferreira’s mind since her days as a program member.

“There were just things about the accessibility and usability that were long overdue, and it’s been really exciting to be able to make these stories more accessible to other Oaklanders in a way that the older site just couldn’t,” Ferreira said.

Even before contracting with Elizaga and Delgado to overhaul the site, co-director Shabazz did a lot of work behind the scenes to make key improvements. The small but significant changes paid off, with Oakland Voices’ COVID coverage reaching a wide audience.

“I would be surprised if Rasheed’s article about COVID hitting East Oakland so hard would have gotten so viral if he hadn’t already made those changes,” Ferreira said.

With a more user-friendly site and a fresh new logo, Oakland Voices hopes to continue being a platform for local writers and for other community members to find compelling stories by and about people like them.

“Oakland Voices is not necessarily for someone wanting to become a full-time journalist,” Chang said. “They want to be storytellers about their community. The idea is to keep people engaged and [tell] stories that may not be reflected in other outlets.”

Azucena Rasilla is a bilingual journalist from East Oakland reporting in Spanish and in English, and a longtime reporter on Oakland arts, culture and community. As an independent local journalist, she has reported for KQED Arts, The Bold Italic, Zora and The San Francisco Chronicle. She was a writer and social media editor for the East Bay Express, helping readers navigate Oakland’s rich artistic and creative landscapes through a wide range of innovative digital approaches.