by Minister of Information JR Valrey, SF Bay View Oakland Bureau
President and CEO of the East Oakland Youth Development Center Ms. Regina Jackson has been a community pillar in East Oakland ever since I can remember. The way she was able to transform the East Oakland Youth Development Center into the innovative, technological, intellectual safe haven that it is for the youth still today in the middle of the concrete jungle of Deep East Oakland is phenomenal.
One of my first jobs was working in the EOYDC’s summer program back when I was 20. That’s the same story for at least six of my cousins who also were employed there over the years. My grandmother’s house, the family headquarters, was literally one block away, the pay was good in comparison to what our peers were making, and Ms. Regina’s EOYDC was the one opportunity that we had in our community to be employed, to help our community while employed, and to learn about true selfless community service.
The job always demanded more than what was listed, and that’s because inner city people, and Black people specifically, in East Oakland are in a government-designed devastated state – or, to use the language of the youngsters, the trap.
On one hand, it is sad to see Ms. Regina, somebody that I throughout my life have depended on to be right where she was for 27 years, to retire. The future youth will never experience the love that she put into all levels of transforming the EOYDC’s youth, the surrounding community and the building itself. She gave East Oakland some of the best years of her life. And we appreciate it and love her for it.
On the other hand, Ms. Regina deserves the right to live the rest of her life not having to officially worry about the EOYDC. She deserves the right to rest and shake off all the trauma from servicing youth who are victims of government designed ghetto wars that are happening daily. She deserves the right to travel and explore other passions that she has in life. To put it shortly, she deserves to rest.
Basketball lovers celebrated the hometown basketball hero Steph Curry a few days ago for becoming the best 3-point shooter of all time. And that is an amazing feat, but it’s peanuts compared to the elephant of a contribution that Ms. Regina’s reign at the EOYDC means to the lives of tens of thousands of ghetto dwellers in Deep East Oakland.
There is so much that I have learned about how to properly conduct business, and so much more that could be said, but I have to say that I just love that Ms. Regina Jackson is one of the few from East Oakland who the community has agreed to give her her flowers while she is alive. I am honored to say that I grew up in the East Oakland Youth Development Center under her, and I give her, the People’s Administrator, the highest salute.
I asked Ms. Regina a few questions to talk about her work, lessons learned, and her memories over the years at the East Oakland Youth Development Center. Y’all check her out and peep why Deep East Oakland is happy and honored to claim her as one of our own.
JR Valrey: What do you remember about your feelings on your first day as the director of the EOYDC, in comparison to your feelings approaching your last day?
Ms. Regina Jackson: My first day was full of excitement and fear, both because I was venturing into the unknown and did not know what to expect. This was my first job in a non-profit. In addition, my 5-year-old Noah also had just been diagnosed with pneumonia the day before, so immediately I was challenged with honoring my role as parent as well as a community leader.
I asked my sister to stay home from her job at IBM so that I could go to my job. In my navy blue suit, I spoke confidently about the need to reduce staffing to commit to back to basics programming, increase standards of excellence, as well as foot traffic.
In setting the trajectory for expectations on Day One, I was giving many people their six-week notice, offering to help them find jobs elsewhere, if they wanted or needed my help. It was a tough but necessary day. It was the first piece of the transformation, requiring more of ourselves and holding us to a higher standard.
Fast forward 27 years later, I am joyful. I am leaving the center so much better than I found it. With quality programming in place, located inside a recently renovated building, a dedicated team of passionate staffers who represent a pipeline of leadership – most of them are alumni giving back – I am excited for the future of EOYDC. I know that the youth are in good hands. I feel like I have run my best race.
JR Valrey: What did you learn about child development, specifically inner-city youth living in East Oakland? I know there is a lot, but can you give us two or three things that were major to you?
Ms. Regina Jackson: I learned from the youth that they are our best warriors in the fight for education, social justice, equity and excellence. They are our motivation and our challenge to do better. They are our subject matter experts of their own experience, and we should listen to their voices early and often. They have perspectives we might overlook, so we must constantly engage to ensure we are in service to them at all times.
The brilliance of youth is like an aroma that floats through every hall, we see them at their best and in search of their best.
While they may not have all the exposure and opportunity to achieve, that just means that we must fill the gap and help them “dream.” WE must make sure that they have “dreams with feet” or goals with grounding, so we can help them chart a course for success. And we are never finished. There is always a role to play in their evolutionary growth.
JR Valrey: What will you miss most about being the President and CEO of the EOYDC?
Ms. Regina Jackson: The youth led programs, watching the youth transform before my eyes into responsible leaders who care about something more than themselves. The summer is when this experience is most dynamic.
You can see the care that youth leaders take with the younger students. Walking through the halls, ear hustling serious conversations and problem solving, or the smell of something fabulous cooking in the kitchen or walking into the art studio and watching the creativity on display or heading to the gym to see the fierce basketball competition in the gym.
One of my all-time favorites is watching the dance routines and how incredible their moves are. Witnessing the commitment of staff to ensure that each child is uniquely served with respect and challenged to be their best is also a hallmark of what I will miss.
The discomfort of challenging them to get outside of their comfort zone is a beautiful, necessary and painful process. It is the process of leadership. The brilliance of youth is like an aroma that floats through every hall, we see them at their best and in search of their best. Every moment gives me joy … that is what I will miss most.
JR Valrey: How do you see your legacy at the EOYDC? What do you want the people to remember most?
Ms. Regina Jackson: My legacy of hope, community building and success lives on in the youth and the alumni who are now professionals pouring the power of possibility into each and every person. I have been through three generations of youth, and the love and commitment they have to EOYDC based upon their family and friend experiences are simply the best.
We approach them as “subject matter experts of their own experience” and they have a perpetual seat at the table because it is their table.
I want people to remember that youth come first – it is even the name of our wifi, “KidsR1st.” We may be one of the few places where kids are prioritized constantly and where we expect them to succeed, we train them to succeed because we need them to succeed.
We approach them as “subject matter experts of their own experience” and they have a perpetual seat at the table because it is their table. We are here to serve youth and we revel in that responsibility!
JR Valrey: Oakland politicians and the media are calling for more police to address the recent crime wave that has hit Oakland because of the economic downturn of the pandemic. Do you think that the police are the answer? Why or why not considering the history of the Oakland police?
Ms. Regina Jackson: I think that all our systems have been on autopilot for so long that we have not been focused on creating the answers to our challenges. Yes, we have a horrific policing history which put us in federal oversight almost two decades ago. However, I believe that things are beginning to turn around.
Given leadership by the Police Commission, policies and protocols are getting more clearly defined and more accountable. We have a more compassionate leader in Chief Armstrong and he is making lots of internal improvements, but the police cannot solve crime without community.
The brazen crime that is hitting Oakland streets and citizens needs to be addressed by police who are trained to do so, but somewhere we lost sight of building violence prevention programs to give people the structure, discipline and empathy needed to understand that no one thing is the only solution. It is a both-and solution.
Our community villages are where we should begin, and police are part of the equation because they are also part of our community. We must come together to turn this around. We cannot police ourselves out of this; we must invest our people power with citizens who know and love the Oakland community and are committed to improving it.
JR Valrey: With you being in power for so long as the executive director of the EOYDC and doing a great job at it, do you think that the new director and administration coming into the EOYDC will be able to maintain the relationships that you have with everyone form major donors to city officials, celebrities and community workers to expand the vision of the EOYDC?
Ms. Regina Jackson: I would like to think that my long leadership reign will make it easier to maintain and create new relationships. I have dedicated myself to building a deep bench of leadership so that they are in the best position to succeed.
I have taught my staff everything I know. Cascading mentorship is bubbling throughout the organization with 70 percent of our professional staff being alumni. The culture of brotherhood has been thoroughly baked into the organization’s DNA and I am committed to its success.
I have been building this pipeline of leadership for decades. When you build trust with people, that is sacred and even though the figurehead may change, the commitment to high quality service remains the same.
Of course, I will do a warm hand off so everyone feels comfortable, AND I am not moving so if needed I will be around! The commitment to this work never ends!
JR Valrey: Where do you hope to see the EOYDC in the next 30 plus years?
Ms. Regina Jackson: Under the direction of our next CEO, Selena Wilson, the sky is the limit. I hope to see EOYDC continuing to expand the lives of youth by helping them build their appetites to learn, to model and to achieve.
I was hoping to expand the youth led summer program to several campuses but wasn’t able to get that done. I hope that once we emerge from the pandemic, we can serve more young people in deeper ways.
As we continue to be gentrified out of Oakland, I know it will be important for children to have “EOYDC” experiences in their cities, so satellite programming, which I expect that Selena will do well, would be a promising thing. I hope that our young people are still leading, researching, writing and shaping youth policy internationally.
. . . our young people still do not know the stories of social justice heroes like Malcolm’s grandfather.
Mostly, I hope we can continue to ensure that alumni are running the programs, partnering with think tanks and institutes to change the trajectory of youth programming worldwide. I hope that we continue to value and deepen our partnerships in the community with organizations and churches and be the change we want to see. I also hope that we will do more with vocational education, which is so critical for our community.
JR Valrey: One of my biggest moments at the EOYDC was coordinating with you to bring the late Malcolm Shabazz, the grandson of Malcolm X, to speak to the Summer Program in 2011. Why did you feel that his story was important for the youth to hear at that time?
Ms. Regina Jackson: Wow, that was such a wonderful overture on your part. I can still hear that talk in my surround sound.
I think it was timely and important because our young people still do not know the stories of social justice heroes like Malcolm’s grandfather. They also often imagine only the accomplishments and not the struggles. So many of the youth who were there are still closely connected to the center.
Hearing about his history, his insights on life, the prison pipeline and how they use prisoners to build the “soap” business and so many other businesses was eye opening. Malcolm was a gentle soul and offered his life experience so that youth might celebrate his accomplishments and learn from his mistakes. It takes a special type of human to lay themselves bare before others to teach the most important life lessons.
JR Valrey: What’s next on your agenda in life once you leave the EOYDC in January of 2022?
Ms. Regina Jackson: There are so many things on the horizon. I am working on a book of my experience over these decades. I have a consulting company I have had for about 15 years, so will pick up some clients there. I am also a certified coach and my client list is growing. I will continue to travel globally. I serve as an adviser to several non-profits, UC Berkeley, OUSD and I just joined the Board of Directors for the Tides Center.
JR Valrey: For people who want to be a part of the celebration of you turning the page on the next chapter in life, how can they do that?
Ms. Regina Jackson: I am not in charge of these events, but we will have a gala in January and a community celebration in February, so details will be coming soon. People can follow EOYDC on social media or sign up to receive our newsletter or simply call us at 510-569-8088.
JR Valrey: How can people keep up with you online?
Ms. Regina Jackson: I am on Facebook, Linkedin and then on Twitter, Instagram (reginaoak). My website is Reginagjackson.com and I am living in Oakland. I will be around!
JR Valrey, journalist, author, filmmaker and founder of Black New World Media, heads the SF Bay View’s Oakland Bureau. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook. Visit www.BlackNewWorldMedia.com to read more.