Truth, Justice, and Reparations: AOK June Newsletter

We hope this finds you all well. As instigators and participants in the vital anti-racist work that must be done, the Board and staff of AOK are dedicating this newsletter to a more in-depth look at: Truth as an Opportunity, the 4 Pillars of Transitional Justice, Arts Education as Reparations, and AOK’s Arts Justice Initiative.

Thank you for your commitment to our shared work, and for all that you do to make the world a more just and equitable place.

With deep appreciation,
The Board and Staff of Arts for Oakland Kids

All images in this letter are from a collaborative mural at 14th and Broadway in downtown Oakland created during the mass protests of the murder of George Floyd; the art is being shown with permission from the lead artists. Additional information on the project and ways to support the artists can be found at the bottom of this letter.

The Truth Is An Opportunity

White supremacy has, since the founding theft of this land, denied the truth of systemic and structural racism.  The ability to ignore the truth is, of course, the ultimate act of privilege. Our country has an opportunity now to collectively face the truth, make reparations, and build a genuinely equitable society that is far stronger and more beautiful.

Arts for Oakland Kids stands in unequivocal support of Black Lives Matter and is grateful for all of the many ways this movement is working to ensure that the United States fully acknowledges and addresses the deep, intersectional, historic and ongoing harm inflicted by White supremacy. Arts for Oakland Kids further states our unequivocal commitment as anti-racist co-conspirators for all People of Color.

Until there are genuine institutional reforms and comprehensive reparations, AOK’s purpose is to address systemic inequities in Oakland’s public schools by providing reparations in the form of Arts Justice grants.

The 4 Pillars of Transitional Justice

As some municipalities begin the work of removing oppressive symbols and defunding their police, there is also a brewing question of, “How can we collectively, comprehensively address systemic racism?”

The staff of AOK met recently with international human rights attorney and Transitional Justice expert, Kathy Roberts, to learn more about proven models for dismantling structural racism.

Transitional Justice is, “The way countries address large-scale or systematic human rights violations so numerous and so serious that the normal justice system will not be able to provide an adequate response.”

Transitional Justice has four pillars:

  • Truth—giving survivors a full accounting and acknowledgement of the abuses that occurred;

  • Justice—holding those most responsible for abuses legally accountable;

  • Reparation—providing material and moral reparations to survivors;

  • Non-Recurrence—reforming state institutions and strengthening civil society to ensure that the pattern of human rights abuse is not repeated.

According to Attorney Roberts, “People often want to start with non-recurrence. ‘Let the past be the past and let’s just move forward and do better.’ That’s what Americans have been saying for decades, but that never works. You have to start with truth, justice, and reparations.

Arts Education As Reparations

In international human rights cases, education is often a key component of reparations. When survivors of the Khmer Rouge genocide were awarded reparations, their only request was that the textbooks be rewritten to reflect the truth. Malala Yousafzai famously stood up to the Taliban to demand equal access to education for women and girls.

Educational content—or the lack thereof—is often used as a tool of oppression. It is no different here.

During the budget crisis in the 1990s, Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) cut all arts funding from its schools. That action created barriers to learning for Oakland’s students of color.

It’s not a coincidence that White students are only 10% of the OUSD population but are now 60% of the population that receives consistent, in-school arts participation. White students predominantly attend 20% of the OUSD schools and their families utilize their disproportionate access to generational wealth to fund as much as $800,000+ per year for arts education through their PTAs.

Roughly 40,000 students per year attend the other 80% of OUSD schools—98% are students of color. There are rarely PTAs in these schools, and when there are they raise $3,000 or less. These students receive little or no consistent arts participation.

The financial oppression of schools attended predominantly by youth of color—and the undermining of their education—is not a coincidence.

Wealth disparities—and their connection to education—are the result of intentional, structural racism. A significant cause of wealth disparities is Redlining, which was created to oppress Black people and block their ability to build wealth.

Redlining officially began in 1934 when the Federal Housing Administration institutionalized discriminatory lending in government-backed mortgages. Redlining barred African Americans and other people of color from getting loans for property outside of designated areas.

Redlining also extends to: lower property values and the inability to get loans for businesses or higher education—all of which are key components to building wealth.

Redlined areas have disproportionately higher levels of policing, police violence, and arrests, higher insurance premiums, and significantly lower levels of infrastructure such as grocery stores and ATMs.

This isn’t something from the far distant past. Lenders and insurers have been caught using Redlining as recently as 2018.

Denying the profound advantage of an arts education to a subset of students in Oakland based on their generational wealth is structural racism.

A full generation of Oakland students has now been denied access to a complete education. We cannot fail another generation. Reparations are due.

AOK’s Arts Justice Initiative

Arts for Oakland Kids has spent the last year working to develop a high-impact funding initiative to collaboratively address the structural inequities in Oakland’s arts education offerings.

AOK’s Arts Justice Initiative is designed to provide every OUSD child in financially oppressed schools with consistent, weekly, trauma-informed arts education taught by top arts organizations from around the Bay.

To create the implementation plan for the Initiative, AOK is convening a coalition of stakeholders—including families, artists, arts organizations, school leaders and teachers, District representatives, members of the Alameda Public Health Commission, and professional evaluators. The process will center the families and teachers to provide offerings that meet the needs of each school community while also supporting the existing efforts of the District.

With the help of our community, Arts for Oakland Kids will fund $300,000 of arts education per school, plus coordination and professional evaluation. Funding will be paid to arts organizations that will provide the in-school classes in coordination with the school site. Assuming schools are fully back in session, the first Initiative programs are scheduled to launch at a pilot elementary school in the fall of 2021. AOK will add a new school every year thereafter.

If you’re looking for a way to invest in anti-racist actions that directly result in Oakland’s children and youth of color receiving the exemplary education they deserve, please consider donating here to fund Arts Justice grants.

Thank you for your time. If you have thoughts or questions about our work, we would welcome your input. We can be reached at or 510.488.3036.

With deep appreciation,
The Board and Staff of Arts for Oakland Kids

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