Students at McClymonds High School in West Oakland will now be able to grab a snack or a cup of tea, learn about pan-Africanism from Merritt College faculty, check out a biography of John Lewis or a graphic novel, and screen print a design they created, all in their new Library Innovation Technology (LIT) center.
McClymonds held a grand unveiling this week to present the elegant new space, showcasing the library, a “maker space,” the MACK Cafe, and the Africana Center that are housed there. Funded by bond measures B and J, the LIT Center is the result of years of renovations, planning, and input by McClymonds students and the West Oakland community.
“We wanted to have a space that encouraged ideating and creativity—a space where students felt happy and joyful,” said Leah Jensen, McClymonds’ teacher-librarian who oversees the space. “When students come in here, they change how they act and how they are, compared to classrooms that haven’t been updated in years, with furniture that is dull and has no color.”
Tuesday’s grand opening brought the community together for a celebration of the school’s legacy, and to anticipate what the future could bring.
McClymonds is the last historically Black high school in Oakland that still primarily serves Black students. The school has undergone a number of changes over the past decade, and has an active alumni network that continues to advocate for Oakland Unified School District to invest in the school’s facilities and maintain its Black heritage.
In a district where Black student enrollment has fallen from about 47% in 2000 to 20% this year, Black student enrollment at McClymonds has remained at 75% or higher, even as overall enrollment at the school has dropped. McClymonds alumni and the school community are hopeful that the new renovations, and forthcoming projects funded by Measure Y, will help enrollment rebound.
Not every school in Oakland has a functioning library, due to budget cuts over the years. Many schools’ libraries are closed or run by part-time staff or volunteers. Some schools fundraise to keep their libraries open, while others are supported in part by parcel tax funding from Measure G. McClymonds is one of only two comprehensive high schools in OUSD—the other is Life Academy, a 6-12 school in Fruitvale—with a fully staffed and operational library, Jensen said.
“Imagine, you can go kindergarten to 12th grade in Oakland and never receive any library skills,” she said. “These spaces are really important for our students.”
Part of Jensen’s role as a teacher-librarian is to curate the library collection and keep it current, and offer research and media literacy sessions for classes that visit the library. The school is still seeking a sponsor for the Mack Cafe—a business that can supply it with snacks and drinks that otherwise will have to be paid for out of pocket by McClymonds staff, said Jensen.
The library features a mural on the back wall, painted by Oakland artist Daniel Galvez, who created the artwork after surveying McClymonds students about what images they wanted to see in the space. The result is a piece of art that reflects Black history at McClymonds and in Oakland: depictions include Black cowboys and DeFremery Park, Lake Merritt and the city’s downtown skyline, students reading and working, a sports team, and prominent Black figures like McClymonds alumni Bill Russell and Frank Robinson, Angela Davis, Huey P. Newton, Barack Obama, and others.
“There’s nothing better than a mural in a library. This is my gift to librarians,” said Galvez, who added that he is married to a librarian.
The library now also includes the new Africana Center—an Afro-centric space where students can be surrounded by African art and history, modeled after a similar area of the same name at Merritt College. McClymonds partnered with Merritt on the project, which was led by Siri Brown, a professor of African American Studies at Merritt who also helped design the Africana Center there. Merritt College has its own ties to Black history; Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale were both students there when they started the Black Panther Party.
In the Africana Center at McClymonds, students can use iPads loaded with a curriculum created by Merritt College professors and designed for McClymonds High School that covers four topics: classical African civilizations, the Maafa (a Swahili term referring to the trans-Atlantic slave trade), pan-Africanism (a movement that promotes solidarity between people of the African diaspora), and Oakland’s Black history.
“Mack High is in West Oakland, where we have such a rich history. As we’re battling gentrification here, it’s important to dedicate this space to our history and culture,” Brown said. “We’re still here and we’re not going anywhere.”