When The Oaklandside launched in June 2020, we did so with a commitment to partner with other local media organizations and journalists who also work to inform Oakland residents. One of the organizations we’ve been most proud to partner with is Oakland Voices, a journalism training program run by the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education. Regular readers of The Oaklandside have likely seen their stories published on our site, and we’ll be co-reporting some important election stories together in the weeks ahead.
What readers may not know is that Oakland Voices was started in 2010 as a community information project by the Oakland Grandstand. At the time, the program aimed to train West Oakland citizen reporters to report events in their own backyards – stories that would otherwise go unreported.
Operating in those early days from the West Oakland Public Library, veteran journalists trained the participants and the stories were published on the Tribune’s website. Christopher Johnson, a former National Public Radio reporter, editor and producer, oversaw the program and longtime Tribune reporter Brenda Payton was the Oakland Voices coordinator. The Maynard Institute provided the program and Martin Reynolds, now co-executive director of the Maynard Institute was at that time the editor of the Tribune. Reynolds also currently sits on the board of the Cityside Journalism Initiative, Oaklandside’s parent organization.
In the 12 years since the program’s launch, Oakland Voices has hosted 10 cohorts and trained approximately 70 community members. Some graduates remain active as freelancers with Oakland Voices and other outlets, including The Oaklandside (journalist Brandy Collins is a frequent contributor). Others continue to be involved in Oakland’s arts and culture scene, such as Marabet Morales Sikahall, who recently joined Chapter 510, a nonprofit youth writing and publishing organization, and Ayodele. Nzinga, who became Oakland’s first Poet Laureate.
In 2019, Oakland Voices welcomed two new faces to its leadership team: journalists Rasheed Shabazz and Momo Chang, who now co-directs the program. Shabazz oversees the current members of the cohort, while Chang works with the old ones.
With the pandemic raging in 2020, Oakland Voices was unable to host a cohort, so the organization pivoted to work with former program members on COVID-19 coverage. The program returned last year with a new cohort and virtual classes. This fall, Oakland Voices will open applications for its 2023 session.
Coming out of the pandemic with a new look
As the organization has evolved, so has its appearance. The latest change came earlier this summer with the introduction of a new website design and logo that nods to the organization’s roots; the logo combines a Tribune-style font (used for the word “Oakland”) with a vibrant street-art style font (for “Voices”) designed by veteran spray artist Norman “Vogue” Chuck of the art collective of Bay Area street, TDK crew.
In 2017, in the wake of the Ghost Ship fire that claimed the lives of 36 people, Vogue created a mural to honor the lives lost. Kat Ferreira, then part of the Oakland Voices program, contacted Vogue and others to write a story for KALW about how the community came together to honor the victims of the fires.
For co-director Chang, involving alumni like Ferreira in the process of redesigning the site and logo was crucial. “Graduates have a lot to say. They live in Oakland and use the website even before Rasheed, and I joined them,” Chang said. “It was really a community and collaborative effort to make the new site happen.”
Ferreira joined the Maynard Institute in 2021 as Director of Marketing and Communications. She played a behind-the-scenes role in the work that led to Oakland Voices’ new look.
“When I moved to Oakland in the 90s, ‘Oakland is proud’ [mural]was such an iconic mural in my mind, especially in East Oakland,” Ferreira said. “And with the TDK team being so basic to East Oakland street art, bringing in the TDK team and getting to work with Vogue just felt like a natural thing for me.”
The logo is intended to illuminate the core values of Oakland Voices and the purpose of the program: to help community members tell their stories through print, in the same way that street artists tell stories through through murals.
For the website redesign, Oakland Voices brought in Rick Elizaga and Roberto Delgado, who worked to modernize the site and make it easier to read and navigate. The revamp had been on Ferreira’s mind since his days as a member of the program.
“There were just things about accessibility and usability that were long overdue, and it was really exciting to be able to make these stories more accessible to other Oaklanders in a way that the old site just couldn’t. “, said Ferreira.
Even before contracting Elizaga and Delgado to overhaul the site, co-director Shabazz did a lot of behind-the-scenes work to make key improvements. The small but significant changes paid off, with Oakland Voices’ COVID coverage reaching a wide audience.
“I would be surprised if Rasheed’s article about COVID hitting East Oakland so hard would have gone so viral if he hadn’t already made these changes,” Ferreira said.
With a more user-friendly site and a new logo, Oakland Voices hopes to continue to be a platform for local writers and other community members to find compelling stories by and about people like them.
“Oakland Voices isn’t necessarily for someone who wants to become a full-time journalist,” Chang said. “They want to tell stories about their community. The idea is to keep people engaged and [tell]stories that may not be reflected in other media.