Educate to liberate: an interview with teacher Sister Linda Johnson of Umoja House

by Minister of Information JR

Sister-Linda-Johnson-founder-of-Umoja-House-Xions-cousin-Xion, Educate to liberate: an interview with teacher Sister Linda Johnson of Umoja House, Culture Currents Sister Linda Johnson has been a legendary educator in East Oakland since the ‘80s. At her school which is known as Umoja House, she has taught generations of students who have grown up to be productive members of their communities. As a community, we must make it a high priority to give our children the best education possible so that they can come back and help solve some of the problems that we have as a people.

I took this opportunity to interview one of the Bay Area’s best teachers, Sister Linda Johnson from Umoja House. Check her out.

M.O.I. JR: Can you tell us how you got into education? What is the story behind the founding of Umoja House? And how old are your students?

Sister Linda: When I was a young adult and just getting into education in southern California, I was working at a Montessori school teaching. It was the perfect job, or so I thought. Well, one day some licensing people came to visit the school and the woman who was running it did not have licensing for the number of students she had, I guess, so she put the kids in the dumpsters to hide them.

I had gone to lunch and when I came back I heard all their little voices and didn’t know where they were coming from, so I looked for them and when I found them I started crying. I called my mom and did not know what to do. She asked me if I would want that done to my child and told me to do what was right, so I quit. I had all these ideas about what a school should and should not be and those ideas eventually led to Umoja House.

The students I have now range in age from 6 months – my granddaughter – to 6 years, and I try to keep them until I feel they are ready to handle being in another environment.

M.O.I. JR: What kind of education is given to the students? What is stressed? And what subjects are taught?

Sister Linda: I teach all subjects and I respect the students and their intelligence. In other words, I don’t teach them according to their age and what grade they “should” be in, but rather by what they can do. I teach math, science, history, English, reading and handwriting. We also have parents come in and teach drumming, dance, piano, fashion design and cooking classes.

I have a garden and my yard, and students help me plant fruits and vegetables and they learn about fresh foods and how to feed themselves. We have fish and rabbits, so they also learn about animals. My students receive a very well rounded education and they enjoy it.

M.O.I. JR: Over your two-plus decades of operating Umoja House, how many students would you say you have taught?

Sister Linda: I have helped to educate hundreds of students over the years and they have all been successful after leaving Umoja House and gone into all different fields of study.

M.O.I. JR: What is the importance of a parent’s involvement in their child’s education, from your experience?

Sister Linda: Parent involvement is very important. As a teacher, I can only do so much. Students will only go so far doing work while at school. Everything needs to be reinforced at home.

I can always tell the difference between students whose parents are active in their education and those who are not. For example, if I am teaching phonics so students can learn to read and some parents are not following through at home, those students will still be working on phonics while others will actually be reading.

M.O.I. JR: On average, how do your students do in the arena of education after they leave Umoja House? Can you tell us about some of your success stories?

Sister Linda: My students always do very well after leaving Umoja House. Immediately after leaving, they test several grade levels above where they would go according to their age. Later on, my students have gone on to college, trade school, arts schools and graduate schools. I have had students go into careers from the arts to business to nursing, so they all have gone on to be very successful.

M.O.I. JR: What does it cost to send a child to Umoja House? Why is it worth it?

Sister Linda: Umoja House prices are comparable to other child daycare and private school prices. I will work with parents who want to send their children to me, so prices can be different for people, but keep in mind this is my livelihood, so I do charge. That said, however, if you have special skills you can teach the kids and you can volunteer some time, then there is a parent work off that can reduce your rates, so we’re looking anywhere from $500 dollars per child and up.

M.O.I. JR: How can people help Umoja House in their quest to educate the youth of the community? How do people get in touch with you?

Sister Linda: Just send me some students. I take them from 1 year and up, younger under special circumstances. You can reach me by phone at (510) 536-5453 or (510) 472-6745.

Email POCC Minister of Information JR, Bay View associate editor, at and visit