In this issue, Suite Life SoCal spotlights a Northern California civil rights warrior, an education advocate, and an agent of social change: Ms. Cynthia Adams, a lifelong educator and newly sworn-in president of the NAACP Oakland branch.
Adams, a retired educator from the Oakland Unified School District, spent 35 years fighting to give Oakland’s youth the benefits of a well-rounded education. A child of the South, Adams is originally from Dermott, Arkansas, and attended the University of Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Adams’ roots are from the South, but she has resided and worked in the City of Oakland for over 40 years. She has also been a part of the NAACP and its mission since 2006. This California transplant spent her career battling against the ongoing epidemic of illiteracy, low test scores, and high dropout rates; it was while fighting another educational battle that she became involved with the NAACP in 2006.
Adams was fighting against the severe downsizing effect Bill Gates’ misguided and disappointing Small Schools Initiative had on Oakland schools, especially in the Flatlands area of Oakland. The schools were losing many programs beneficial to our Black and Brown students, such as music and R.O.T.C. Adams went to churches and school board meetings, rallying students and teachers to attempt to convince the schools not to go the Small Schools route. At a mayoral candidate forum in her church, she ran into then NAACP President of the Oakland branch, Mr. George Holland, Sr. She mentioned problems with the Small Schools Initiative to him. They did not win that particular battle, but the struggle continued, and since that candidate forum in 2006, Adams has been engaged in the fight as a member of the NAACP Oakland branch.
During our conversation, Adams mentioned “the fight” to bring education to Oakland’s Black and Brown kids. It was apparent she was very much up for the fight and enjoyed educating Oakland’s youth during her time as an educator, but at the same time, I got the feeling it was a fight she also lamented. For the simple reason that it shouldn't be this hard to educate a child. Though I believe no matter how hard the fight gets, Adams will be involved in the struggle of educating the young people of Oakland in some way for the duration.
Though today as president of the NAACP Oakland branch, Adams’ attention has turned to a different arena. A different problem has shown itself in Oakland — election recounts. After last year's November elections, discrepancies were shown in the counting. In early January, several entities called for a recount, including the NAACP itself and Alameda County, just to name a couple, not to mention the people of Oakland.
There were two races under the microscope. According to The Oaklandside, in the closely run race for Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), District 4, the candidate Nick Resnick was certified as the winner, though candidate Mike Hutchinson proved to be the actual winner. “In late December, the County Registrar admitted to a ‘major error’ due to using ‘the wrong algorithm.’” Recently though, Candidate Resnick resigned from the race, leaving Hutchinson as the newest board member of OUSD District 4.
The other important race people hope to recount is the Oakland Mayoral race between candidates Sheng Thao and Loren Taylor. Thao was declared the winner by only 677 votes. For many, this margin is miniscule and therefore suspect or, in other words, too close to call. According to The Oaklandside, 677 votes are “less than half a percent of total votes.” And on top of the admitted error made in the OUSD District 4 race by the Registrar's office, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted in the affirmative for a recount.
Adams stated: “The NAACP is about voting rights….it’s not about the mayor or the winner, it's about the process.” During our conversation, Adams recited a litany of major problems that Oakland is currently experiencing. Still, she mentioned the reasons why she stays in and loves the Bay Area: “Oakland is in pain….our mayor just fired our chief of police in January, Oakland is under federal investigation, we’re going through calls for an election recount….we need to make a change, we need to move forward, but we are experiencing pain….it’s a big mess in Oakland, but we gotta come home! I love Oakland…I love the people…I enjoy my church…I enjoy the weather…I loved every minute of my job…the Bay Area is like a family; everybody knows each other.”
Finally, I asked Adams about her new post as president of the NAACP Oakland branch and what she hoped to accomplish during her time. “We need to bring business to Oakland, we need to put education back on the map, we need homes, and we need to solve this homelessness problem.” For Adams, it all comes back to education. “If your education system isn’t right, concerning test scores, big business doesn’t like to come into your city because they have to bring families into your city, and when most families come to your city, they look at the test scores to see what school is doing good and what school is doing badly. And that's why education is key to whatever you do.” “Ultimately,” Adams stated: “My goal is to bring Oakland together as one big family…one of our sayings in the South says when you work together, you stay together.”
Overall, Oakland and the NAACP have the right woman on the job; with her passion for education, civil rights, and the people of Oakland, it wouldn’t surprise me if she accomplished much more than she set out to accomplish. Adams has educated generations of students in Oakland, including a member of the House of Representatives. She’s been in the struggle her whole adult life, and her willingness to fight the good fight will serve her well in her new post in the country’s oldest and largest existing civil rights organization on the “bright side” of the Bay.