“I’m not saying I’m gonna change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world.” Tupac Shakur’s prophetic words have manifested, thanks to an elementary school with a name inspired by the rapper’s book of poetry.
Roses In Concrete Community School is a safe space for bright minds in Oakland, Calif. The school believes in tirelessly cultivating an identity- and culture-infused education where young people truly know no limits. The school received $750,000 in funding from Google to launch. And last Friday, the tech giant invested an additional $600,000 at an event that put the school’s celebratory spirit front and center. As the students shared performances and unveiled art installations, the love was reciprocated from Roses’ famous young ally, Zendaya Coleman.
The Oakland native has a special connection to the Roses community. She spent time running the halls as a young child while her mother, Claire Stoermer, taught in the same classrooms that are now the base for the Roses Community School campus. The 21-year-old A-lister delighted students as she shared laughs and nuggets of wisdom.
During her fireside chat with a student and his mother, Zendaya shared that she’s been speaking up for what she believes in since kindergarten when she “pitched” a Black History Month program with the Black students from her predominately white private elementary school. “We devised a plan to create our own program for assembly and we were going to present it to the principal, and see if we could get a time slot,” she laughed. “This is when my acting career began. And so what we did is, we decided to pick all different influential Black leaders from the past, and we would write a monologue that was about them and something that they did. And we would dress up like them and pretend to be them, and we basically kind of pitched it to the principal. And we sold it and we were able to perform our little act.” The children (and the parents) were impressed by her mission at such a young age, and she left them with a priceless reminder that anything you’re passionate about is still very possible. “If I could do it in kindergarten, you can definitely do it now.”
Young children are known to ask hard-hitting questions, and many pressed Zendaya about one very important issue: Why did she stop filming her hit Disney show, K.C. Undercover? “I have to grow up, I can’t be 15 forever. At some point, I have to grow up. So, I’ll play 15 in Spiderman for a little longer, I can do that.”
Zendaya had so much love for the Roses kids, and the love was reciprocated tenfold. As a young poet said so poignantly in a performance during the event, “When you stood up for us, they made a doll that looked like you and me.” The students’ weekend with Zendaya continued when she took the school to see A Wrinkle In Time on Saturday. She also treated them to a Black Panther screening during the film’s opening weekend. The excitement in the room was palpable—talk about #blessed.
Just as Zendaya takes a hands-on approach, Google is committed to leading the charge in funding this very special school. Thanks to the brand’s support, the students have an entry point not only into the arts, but science as well.
“What’s exciting about this computer school and the science program is that the whole purpose is for students to ask questions that are relevant to their lives, and use computer science that they see around them. And it could be something as simple as, ‘How do we clean the hallways at the school?’ to ‘How do we reduce violence in our neighborhoods?” said Justin Steele, a principal at Google.org, where he leads Google U.S. “And part of the grant will also be a maker’s space, where students can tinker with their ideas and be hands-on and form the technology.”
Steele credits much of the school’s excellence to the school’s founder, Dr. Jeff Duncan-Andrade. “Dr. Andrade who founded this school has got a Ph.D. from Berkeley,” Steele said. “He teaches in the heart of the neighborhood, teaching in East Oakland. And out of this mind comes this really unique thing.”
There’s one statistic that we often remind ourselves: 65 percent of elementary school students are going to work in careers that don’t exist today.
Roses also dismantles a notion that many people of color feel at some point in their lives: imposter syndrome. The school’s culture-infused curriculum makes that term obsolete. Thanks to exploring their own identities and how they want to fit in the world, these young minds will have the opportunity to dream of careers without gnawing insecurity holding them back.
“The school is very committed to people adapting things to their own cultural context. And I think computer science can obviously feel distant to some communities if you don’t see yourself represented or see the relevance to it,” Steele shared. “So to put computer science deeply embedded in a school like this, I think is really special. There’s one statistic that we often remind ourselves: 65 percent of elementary school students are going to work in careers that don’t exist today. So we’re constantly putting pressure on ourselves to say how do we make sure that the skills the students are learning today, will have prepared them for all these new jobs?”
Friday night’s celebration was not without the presence of the Shakur family. In addition to an art installation of Oakland’s pride and joy wearing a Colin Kaepernick jersey, Tupac’s sister, Sekyiwa Shakur, movingly presented the school with a $10,000 check from the Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation. “What’s really interesting about the school is that the Shakur family was involved in the opening of it,” Steele said. “And so before Tupac’s mother passed, she was there at the opening of the school and met the students. But it’s really unique that it’s so rooted in Oakland, and the Shakurs have been involved in this school, that’s a really unique thing.”
After cheering loudly for his daughter, Jada, who performed a traditional African dance, a parent in the crowd at the Google Community Space whispered, “Imagine every kid being like this when they were this young?” Thankfully, the Roses school is collecting data that can be shared with other institutions looking to make that dream a reality. The goal is not to create clone schools, but for educators to adapt the program to fit their community’s cultural needs. As more schools follow suit, hopelessness will be attacked from every angle.