By JR Valrey, The Minister of Information
Khariyyah Shabazz has been a youth advocate in Oakland, for the decade plus in which I have known her. At one point, I worked for Higher Ground, which is an after-school program in the OUSD, that Khariyyah Shabazz is in the leadership of, alongside the founder Amber Blackwell. While working there I got a chance to witness first-hand the passion, integrity, commitment, and drive that she puts into the students that she works with, as well as with the mentors that are under her supervision. It is a community milestone for Khariyyah to start a public speaking platform, where she can share what she has learned through observation and participation working in the community as well as in the school district. I wanted to bring her to the reader’s attention because she is definitely a force to reckon with when it comes to community and student advocacy in Oakland.
JR Valrey: How did you get into working with young people in the schools? What is your personal goal in doing this work?
Khariyyah Shabazz: Throughout college I had the mindset that many had, which in order to get ahead in life you must graduate with a degree. After completing my bachelors degree in mass communications, I sprung forward straight into the corporate world. That is when the bleak reality hit; 12 hour days and blind customer service did not bring happiness. It was at that same job that I met an individual working for the agency Higher Ground NDC. I expressed to my then customer that this is not the life for me. I was blessed to have her ear at that moment. She then referred me to the same agency she was working for as a site coordinator. I interviewed with the founder, Amber Blackwell, and former technical assistance director, Tiffany Gipson. I was hired for a tutor position the next day. My personal goal in doing this work is to leave a blueprint for the next generation. My life’s work is exposing youth and families to the possibilities of their own power and how to manifest that into reality for the greater community.
JR Valrey: Can you talk a little bit about the non-profit organization that you help lead? What do yall do?
Khariyyah Shabazz: I am the deputy Executive Director with the organization Higher Ground Neighborhood Development Corp. Our mission is to provide services that address the intellectual development of children through workforce development, behavioral health treatment, after-school enrichment, professional development, service-learning projects, and school/community-based service coordination for youth and the organizations that serve them in the school and community setting. The community school design offered a plethora of services that were developed to empower families through their children and school. This dynamic set of services also allowed us to serve other public elementary schools who are building on the concept of community schooling. Our goal is to create educational spaces that empower and impact the way children receive education and youth development services in the city of Oakland and the greater East Bay. We also partner with several community based organizations to develop community initiatives, conduct community engagement, and facilitate service days to combat against the ongoing environmental issues that affect the neighborhoods we serve.
JR Valrey: What are some of the biggest issues facing Oakland students? What can be done to resolve some of these issues?
Khariyyah Shabazz: The biggest issues facing Oakland students are: a lack of accessibility to resources that can determine their current trajectory, lack of places where they can go to be supported by their peers and positive adults, and not enough ownership of what happens to their overall environment. The solution to address these issues is to ensure that students who are in the flat lands are equipped with the same opportunities as the students in the hills. This means a good quality staff, positively affecting their direct surroundings when they walk to and from school, and ensuring that accessing technology is never a barrier when exposing them to new ideas. Students should have a place outside of school where they can hang out that promotes positive production amongst their peers. Oakland has very limited places for youth to chill, engage, and discover their islands of competency. Lastly, youth should be able to make decisions that directly affect the neighborhoods they live in; for example, such as in the cases of school closures, new developments being built, and environmental issues that continue to cause health concerns throughout the city of Oakland.
JR Valrey: Can you talk a little bit about the “Khariyyah Speaks” platform, what does it consist of?
Khariyyah Shabazz: Khariyyah Speaks was founded in 2021. Kspeaks is a public speaking platform that provides tangible solutions to community issues on a neighborhood level. While working within the community for the past 15 years, I saw the need to share the best practices amongst community engagement and executing community initiatives. I believe that whether you’re a resident, a community based organization, a small business, or a large corporation, you play a role in impacting the neighborhoods you serve.
Since deciding to quit my corporate gig and join a non profit community based organization, I was able to identify the gap between community based organizations and larger corporations that do not engage community members in a way that benefits them. I figured a way to combine both worlds in a way that promoted partnerships and opportunities for corporations, businesses, and communities.
When you work directly with Khariyyah Speaks, you will:
Train your team in how to engage community members
Provide strategies on how to partner with community based organizations
Guide your team to create community initiatives that directly improve the conditions of the neighbors you serve
I offer speaking engagements, workshops, and side by side coaching for initiative implementation. The goal is to empower community members on all levels to use their power to impact the neighborhoods that they live, work, and thrive in.
JR Valrey: What are some of the topics that you cover in your workshops? And who is your target audience with them?
Khariyyah Shabazz: SPEAKING TOPICS:
- HOW TO DEVELOP COMMUNITY INITIATIVES THAT ADDRESS COMMUNITY ISSUES
- HOW TO BECOME ACTIVE IN SERVING YOUR COMMUNITY
- HOW TO MAKE PARTNERSHIPS WITHIN YOUR COMMUNITY
- HOW TO BUILD THRIVING YOUTH PROGRAMS
- HOW TO ENGAGE COMMUNITY MEMBERS
My targeted audience are corporations, businesses, and universities looking to impact the communities that they serve. Specifically, I want to engage Tech companies, Universities, Environmental Agencies, and Manufacturing companies. I also speak to community members and CBO’s who wish to do this work in a more meaningful way.
JR Valrey: What’s next for “Khariyyah Speaks”? Where do you see it in the next two years?
Khariyyah Shabazz: KSpeaks is now looking to lock in its first contract and speaking engagement to really catapult the platform to the next level. I plan to go on a speaking tour, towards the end of the year, to spread the message to a wider audience. In the next two years I see KSpeaks traveling across the globe speaking on how to make an impact within your community. I also see packaged resources accessible to all that teaches and informs those who are willing to make that change. This will be in the form of books, workshops, ted talks, and keynote speaking.
JR Valrey: I know that you have contributed to a host of after-school programs throughout the Oakland Unified School District, what is the importance of an afterschool program?
Khariyyah Shabazz: Wow! After school programs are where relationships are built, community is created, and a sense of belonging is established. ASP’s is where learning takes place for students, but most importantly, for the adults that serve them. Not only is it a safe haven for youth, but it also provides safety and resources to the entire families that they serve. During after school, students learn what they are good at, they feed their curiosity, and are exposed to new ways to connect with people on all levels. They learn civic duty, appreciation for their neighbors, and social emotional skills that take them into adulthood.
JR Valrey: How have the Black students, in the schools that you work in, dealt with the COVID pandemic?
Khariyyah Shabazz: We were fortunate enough to continue hosting programs when covid hit. Two programs particularly were our distance learning hub and bike enrichment program. In both programs we learned that many Black students were without technology, so they were not able to access day time learning. Once we began programming, we were able to fill that void. I noticed that our Black students remained resilient and engaged in both programs with excitement and often yearned for that positive adult connection. The bike enrichment program which teaches youth about bike safety, bike careers, how to ride safely as a community member, and bike design, brought out many skills our Black youth put right into play. They made many connections on how they interact with biking overall.
JR Valrey: How could people stay in touch with you?
Khariyyah Shabazz: Please contact me on:
Linkedin – Khariyyah Shabazz
Instagram – @khariyyahspeaks