Young people have always played an important role in shaping culture, whether it be in the arts, sports, or politics. From Black Lives Matter to the DREAMer movement to Occupy—they’ve been the ones at the vanguard, pushing for change. In Oakland, youth have taken the lead recently on protesting police brutality, making public schools safer, giving 16 and 17-year-olds the right to vote in school board elections, and fighting climate change.
On June 22, our arts and community reporter Azucena Rasilla will be sitting down for a live conversation with three talented Oakland young people—Ixchel Arista, Xavier Tillery, and Erin Sellers—who are making The Town a better and more interesting place to live, each in their own way. We’ll get their perspectives on what it means to represent Oakland, and how growing up in the city has shaped their worldview and their respective pursuits as a political organizer, violence prevention specialist, and student-athlete. We’ll also be treated to a live music set by Paris Nights, a rising star in Oakland’s rap scene.
These events sell out, so be sure to purchase your tickets in advance. Read on for more information about our guests.
Arista is an organizer with the youth leadership and advocacy nonprofit, Oakland Kids First. She began organizing other youth as an Oakland High School freshman at a campus after-school program and later joined the Youth Organizing Council, an education equity and social justice group, where she helped to pass Measure QQ in 2020. The ballot measure gave 16- and 17-year-olds in Oakland the right to vote in school board elections, although the law has yet to be enacted. She continues to organize with others to pressure local officials to implement Measure QQ in time for the next city election. Ixchel is also a dancer with the Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company and a proud graduating member of Oakland High’s Class of 2023.
An Oakland native, Tillery has been a youth leader with the Teens on Target program at Youth ALIVE!, a community-based nonprofit focused on violence prevention, intervention, and healing. Over the past four years with the organization, Xavier has facilitated virtual and in-person violence prevention workshops for youth at more than eight different Oakland middle schools, including his old stomping grounds, Frick Middle School. He is a graduating member of Castlemont High School’s Class of 2023 and will be attending UC Merced in the fall on a full-ride scholarship.
Sellers is a graduating member of the Oakland Technical High School Class of 2023. A basketball player since the age of around 6, Erin went on to become captain of the Tech girls basketball team that won three state championships and went undefeated during last year’s playoffs. Sellers will be attending the University of Alaska Anchorage in the fall, where she received a full-ride scholarship to play basketball.
Since she was a kid, Paris has been expressing herself through dance, theater, and illustration. It wasn’t until being introduced to rapper Nicki Minaj at age 11, however, that Nights found her true passion: music. Minaj’s song “Itty Bitty Piggie” was the first time Nights had heard a woman rap on a solo track, and she was impressed by the rapper’s delivery, cadence, and flow. She continued to explore music by artists like Mary J Blige, Ashanti, Keyshia Cole, and Beyoncé. Nights began rapping on her own tracks with a childhood friend in East Oakland, and after catching the ear of local producer DaBoyDame, the duo was signed to Motown Records. Paris has since gone solo and continued to grow her fanbase by releasing mixtapes with KMEL 106.1 FM DJ Big Von, gaining her recognition from established rappers like Yo Gotti, E-40, Saweetie, and G-Eazy, among others.