Monday, July 23, 2018

Shots & Thoughts

There is nothing quite like the acute anxiety caused by planning a big, important event. I know this because I use to throw hip hop shows for a non-living. No matter how dope the headliner, or how fly the flyer, there is only so much you can control, and so much you cannot plan for. All you can do is do your best and hope that once you build it, they will come.

I am less than two weeks away from walking down the aisle with my Boo-stress. That will certainly be big—maybe the biggest and most important day of my life. Thankfully, the real burden of planning our wedding has been borne by my better half, so I will not be writing about any of that anxiety today (thank you Boo, for real). In fact, when I do write about our wedding and our marriage, I’ll be writing to you from the other side—the other side of that threshold, and the other side of the planet! We don’t plan on bringing our laptops on our honeymoon, but a trip or two to the internet cafe might be in the cards.

Today, I’m actually writing about the anxiety caused by organizing another event, one that was big and important in a different way. After months of planning and preparations, the 2nd Annual 2020 Conference went down last week in Oakland, and all I can say is, “they did it!”

I didn’t think I would try to write a full recap of the six days. I always feel a bit unenthusiastic about trying to capture a deep and transformative experience in a concise report-back to friends and family. It’s kind of like when we got back from two years in the Peace Corps and people would ask, “how was it?” Really?! How was it? After getting that question a lot, I actually started refusing to answer it. Ask me a real question! What do you actually want to know about? Please people, meet me halfway.

Like I said, I wasn’t sure I would write this kind of post, but now it’s the week after and it feels right. So much happened last week and I actually really do want to share so much of that with the world now. Questions were asked, dots were connected, plans were made, and actions were taken. And while there was a whole lot of planning that went into the 2020 Conference, the truth is that our plans only mattered because dozens of individual young people decided to step forward and do the work. Like I said, they did it!

I am so proud of them and of our team that I will probably find ways to work this topic into every conversation I have for the next few months—bear with me for a bit. Hopefully, sharing some of the experience here will help you understand why this project is so important to me. At the very least, posting a few pictures and writing a little bit will help me process it all.

So, here goes…

Shots and Thoughts from the 2nd Annual 2020 Conference

The Odd Couple: your assignment is to find the person in the room that you have the least in common with.

 Young, Intelligent, Black men getting ready for Part 1 of
"The Kanye Workshop" led by Justin Morgan of the Cafuné Project

Kevin spent more time in jail than these young people have spent on earth. He shared his story as part of the writing workshop facilitated by The Beat Within.

Wednesday, July 18th was Nelson Mandela's 100th Birthday. We took this photo with Mystic, Dr. Bettina Love and the folks from the Beat Within before heading out to a volunteer project.

That time when the young homie discovered what an artichoke really looks like. We observed Mandela Day by volunteering at the edible schoolyard and community garden at Stonehurst Elementary in East Oakland.

 "Defining a Social Problem"
This is one of my favorite things to teach! I've been refining this curriculum for years and it's always exciting to help high school students develop the tools to untangle messy problems and construct a deeper understanding of what's going on in the world.

College isn't everything, but it's pretty damn important! This year we were able to offer multiple simultaneous workshops, offering more choice to students. Check out this college counseling session for rising 10th Graders!

 When your students decide to sit in a circle in start playing charades at lunch. Not pictured: Knox working the grill. Thankfully, nobody called the cops on us so we were able to enjoy our BBQ at Lake Merritt in peace!

Outside of the Oakland Museum of California, giving respect due to Shino Smoke, who made time to share his story with the youth at the 2020 Conference. #RespectStyleWisdom

That time when you went to the museum with your teacher... and your teacher was part of the exhibit. We are blessed with an all around badass team, but it is particularly priceless having Mystic serve on our Leadership Team, for so many reasons!

 You got beats? This will be on the test!

 One of the highlights of the week was the Candidates Forum for Youth! Five people who are currently running for local office made time to come engage with and take questions from the youth at the 2020 Conference. My job was to stay non-partisan and to make sure they answered the questions. It was dope! Pictured from left to right: Mya Whitaker, Loren Taylor, Ken Houston, Cat Brooks, Jim Johnson, and your boy.

Discussing Peace Corps with future volunteers! Allison is the organized one with the slides—I'm the one chiming in here and there.

I hope these photos give you some hope for the future when you may need it most. I know that I will be looking at them and many more pics whenever I need a boost this year. This is some of the most gratifying work I've ever done, and I've gotten into a lot of stuff over the last few decades. My last few posts have made reference to the professional leap of faith that I am taking. As I write today, I'm feeling like my faith was truly rewarded last week, but I will feel even better when we've raised enough money to pay for all of this. My faith also extends to the financial realm.

I invite you again to support this work by donating online today if you think that what we are doing is important. When I see you next time I will thank you, and you can ask me to tell you more about the 2020 Conference. Ask me why we do it. Ask me to tell you all about one of our students—what social issues they care about, what their dream career is, what school they are going to, or where they want to get an internship next. Ask me about Mystic, Dr. Love, The Beat Within, and Oakland Street Stylers, and how we will stay connected with them all. You can ask me almost anything—just don't ask, "how was it?"

Pura Vida,

Alam shares his #theoryofchange on the last day of this summer's 2020 Conference.

*wedding photo by Becca Henry


  1. Your work, and your mission are truly inspiring. It's so crazy to me that the cool and talented kid I knew in elementary school has grown up to be such a badass advocate for social change. Never stop.

    1. And congratulations on the upcoming nuptials! As a newly nup' d (1 year and counting), I can say it only gets better!