Culture Keepers: New Focus, New Faces

by Khristan Antoine

West Oakland, watch out. With an eye toward gentrification and changes, local youths may be asking questions, lots of questions. They will be the new participants in Culture Keepers, a program based at McClymonds High School.

In its third year there, Culture Keepers will expand, targeting more kids and focusing more on cultural identity than on tutoring. And participants will be encouraged to be curious, too. They will look at changes between West Oakland of the 1940’s and the newly gentrified neighborhood.

“I see Culture Keepers being a fundamental component to shifting how people in West Oakland. particularly youth, feel about themselves,” said Kharyshi Wiginton, director of Culture Keepers.

Culture Keepers is  a tier mentoring program that allows high school and middle school youth to mentor elementary kids in West Oakland, instilling a sense of identity, cultural awareness and pride.

The program is shifting its primary focus from academic support to character development and community engagement. Instead of researching their family tree, students will study changes in West Oakland.

“There is the tradition of keeping the culture,” Wiginton said.  The program began this month with three returning students and plans to recruit 40 more. They will mentor younger students at West Oakland Middle, Hoover, Westlake and Lafayette schools.

Culture Keepers’ primary project this year will be to create a living time capsule.  Students will look into the history of West Oakland from the 1940’s and compare it to the modern census. They will collect data and analyze it.

“Due to gentrification, we want to know what the population looks like now and how jobs have changed,” said Wiginton.

So far this year, Culture Keepers has no funding and will seek a grant from the Alameda County Health Department, she added.

This week, Mack students were involved in discussions about what parts of the program worked in the past and what didn’t work.

“History is like a compass. It tells us where we have been so we can know where we are going. Hopefully, Culture Keepers will help us return to a legacy and tradition of greatness, “said Wiginton.

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