At our most recent Culture Makers event on June 22, we heard three remarkable young people weigh in on activism, sports, gun violence prevention, and a range of other topics. And we were joined by musical guest East Oakland rapper Paris Nights.

Rapper Paris Nights was the musical guest at June’s Culture Makers. Credit: YouthBeat

Ahead of the conversation, audience members also got to listen to a curated playlist featuring Oakland musicians. Make sure to give it a listen

Organizer with Oakland Kids First Ixchel Arista, Oakland Tech basketball state champion Erin Sellers, and Youth Alive leader Xavier Tillery talked about their experiences growing up in Oakland, how the pandemic and remote learning affected their high school classes, and where they’re heading next.

Arista will be attending UC San Diego, Sellers is off to the University of Alaska Anchorage, where she will continue her basketball career, and Tillery will be attending UC Merced on a full scholarship.

As part of the event, audience members submitted questions for the panelists. We didn’t get to all of them at the live event, but our guests were gracious enough to answer them in the days since, and we’re presenting their answers below in a Q&A format. 

Enjoy, and we hope to see you at our next Culture Makers when we’ll be talking to Oakland authors about their writing process and how The Town inspired their stories. More on that soon.

Questions for all three panelists

What opportunities do Oakland youth need the most?

Youth organizer with Oakland Kids First Ixchel Arista. Credit: YouthBeat

Ixchel: Programs like the ones me and Xavier are a part of, as well as more funding and equipment for OUSD sports teams. Student-athletes feel better about playing their sport when they have new, quality equipment to work with. Having good sports equipment motivates teams and the schools they represent. Also, offering several extracurricular, community engagement programs at school (like REAL HARD and Youth Alive) can open pathways for students to become civically engaged, socially aware, interested and involved in their community and beyond.

Erin: More clubs, flat out. More rec centers, places where kids can feel safe and feel right at home. I think we, as a whole, do a pretty bad job of being attentive and supportive of those who are younger than us. If we provided more spaces for volunteering, community engagement, and things of that sort, we would have a totally different outcome than what we started with.

Xavier: We need more after-school programs and paid internships in areas that interest young people. I also think Oakland youth need the opportunity to express themselves and get things off their chest. They see and hear a lot and often do not have an outlet to discuss how they are feeling because youth in general, are highly disregarded.

What are you concerned about as it relates to young people’s lives?

Oakland Tech basketball state champ Erin Sellers. Credit: YouthBeat

Ixchel: I’m concerned that youth won’t be encouraged enough to advocate for what they’re passionate about. I’m concerned that students won’t be made aware of the power they have to make real, tangible changes in schools and their communities.

Erin: I worry that too many young children will fall into the trap and repeat the cycle because they have no alphas to follow behind. 

Xavier: I’m concerned that the youth will often tell themselves “no” and not pursue their dreams in spite of fear. Fear is normal, there is nothing wrong with it, but it can also hold someone back. I just hope they pursue their dreams no matter what.

What are you hopeful for?

Youth Alive’s leader Xavier Tillery. Credit: YouthBeat

Ixchel: I’m hopeful for the Oakland Youth Vote and that my team’s efforts will come to fruition when students in high school can show up to the polls and submit a ballot on Election Day. I’m hopeful that the students that come after me will continue to organize and spearhead movements in and outside of school.

Erin: I’m hopeful for the fact that I know my name will always be remembered in Oakland. I’ve left a mark way bigger than just myself. I left history with the girls I grew up with; we made a family. With history comes opportunity, and for this, I will always be hopeful.

Xavier: I’m hopeful that one day, we can come together as a community and stop fighting and killing each other over blocks we don’t own. Also, the cycle of violence that is repeatedly happening and how it is normalized at this point.

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.