There's a 61-year age gap between Aaliyah Carney and Ron Copeland, and one of them lives in the hills and the other in the flats. But both East Oakland residents cared enough about their community to devote the better part of Saturday afternoon to helping Mayor Jean Quan establish priorities for her new administration.
More than 200 residents of District 6 attended Quan's second town hall meeting, held at the Havenscourt Middle School campus at 66th Avenue and International Boulevard. Quan asked them to define the most important issues in the community, and they obliged. The mayor left with a very long list.
After short welcoming remarks and introductions of key city staff, residents were urged to participate in several smaller workshops on the topics of youth, education, health, public safety, jobs, and ways to grow, support and retain local businesses.
Quan sat in on the youth issues workshop, where students and adults discussed the lack of after-school activities, the need for more female mentors for young women, cuts to education and the quality of education, the need for more respect between teachers and students, and improving the relationship between police and the community.
Carney, 16, a member of the mayor's youth caucus, said the narrow focus on youth who are in trouble can also shortchange kids who are doing well.
"I don't feel it's fair or right that if you do bad, or if you are in the juvenile justice system, that there are so many opportunities for you, but if you are a youth on the right path or doing the right thing, there is nothing for you," Carney said. "I heard there was a program that pays you for (good grades on) your report card. The lady asked if I was in foster care. I said no. She asked if I had been in juvenile hall. I said no ... I felt bad and I felt discriminated against. Right there I felt the system was made for us to fail."
The frank discussion was just what Quan wanted. She has said all along that she cannot solve Oakland's problems without help, and her first order of business as mayor was to put out a call for 2,000 volunteers to reach kids who are truant or getting into trouble.
Akeem Hayes, 16, a sophomore at Coliseum College Prep Academy, which shares the campus with Havenscourt, stepped up. He's one of 20 students who have volunteered to mentor elementary school students, similar to a big brother.
"The key (is) to reach out to the youth right now, start to get into their heads and show them a positive route instead of a negative route," he said during one of the breakout sessions. "We need to reach out and show them a better path because they can be in the generation that can save all of us."
Quan singled out Athelean Jones, 87, as an example of someone who took it upon herself to reach out and involve herself with the youngsters in her neighborhood through the years, with amazing results. Jones said the children on her block got extra attention that helped them stay out of trouble, a formula that will work anywhere.
"Everybody needs to look after everybody's kids," Jones said. "I'm everybody's granny."
Copeland, 77, a resident of Sequoyah Hills, sat in on the jam-packed public safety workshop and left with information about neighborhood crime prevention contacts. He said people shared many of the same concerns, from better communication between police and residents, better lighting and more crosswalks, to increased communication about community crime issues.
"The right questions were raised, there just was not enough time to address them all adequately," he said. "I live in the Oakland hills and there is not enough police patrolling the area. Crime is increasing, burglaries, car thefts, but I understand there is more crime in other areas so they get more attention and the police department is limited because of lack of funds. But something has to be done."
Quan was clearly in her element, especially when introducing key city staff so the residents know who to call about problems such as broken streetlights and potholes. The residents said they appreciated her efforts.
"We've never had a mayor who is so diligent in going door to door and hearing what people have to say," Jones said. "She's going to try to make a difference, but it takes people to help her."