By JR Valrey, the People’s Minister of Information and editor in chief of the SF Bay View
When people say the Bay Area, they think of past Black history, not realizing that Black history is being made currently by the dynamic people that they pass by everyday in our communities that are doing great work.
Queen Iminah Ahmad is one such person – she leads a district wide initiative in Oakland that supports the empowerment of young Black girls in the school system called The African American Female Excellence Program within the Oakland Unified School District’s Office of Equity.
She has been recognized at the Chase Center, home of the NBA basketball team the Golden State Warriors, for her work, as well as she spoke recently at the Harvard Alumni of Color Conference.
More important than the accolades that her work rightfully deserves, she is on the front line, of the century-long war against Black girls in the Oakland Unified School district, on a daily basis; standing up for our female youth that are being unjustly suspended, put in special education classes disproportionately, and just overall neglected. She is a community super hero without the costume. Check her out in her own words.
JR Valrey: When you speak, what is the topic of your speech? What do you talk about?
Queen Iminah: From Ghetto to Goddess is the movement, our message and manifestation is centered around Black girls’, women and all of our people’s continuous elevation. I am intently moving forward the institutionalization of systemic change to inspire excellence and accelerate academic achievement amongst African American students in Oakland and the world. ASE!
Many of my recent speaking engagements have been centered around giving participants an in-depth understanding of Black girlhood and womanhood in today’s America. My goal is to ensure audiences will have the opportunity to explore historical and contemporary strengths and challenges of Black girls and women, while learning about strategies & movements currently uplifting educational paradigms for Black girls and young women through a case study of the nation’s first district-wide initiative focused on specific upliftment of Black female students, African American Female Excellence (AAFE) of the Oakland Unified School District Office of Equity, of which I am the co-founder and director of.
This living testimony exemplifies the power of welcoming Black girls into achieving their success versus “the push out” from better access to their greatness. In learning about working solutions, I want people to be activated to join the movement, mission and womanifestation to support Black people’s continuous elevation. From Ghetto to Goddess, from Oakland to the world. ASE!
JR Valrey: Can you talk about your recent speech at Harvard? Who invited you? How did that go?
Queen Iminah: I was truly honored to be invited by the Harvard Graduate School of Education to present at their Harvard Alumni of Color Conference. It was invigorating being around some of the best Black and Brown minds in the country.
The theme for this year’s conference was A Journey Towards Healing: Authenticity & Activism In Education, what I’ve been blessed to bring forth on my From Ghetto to Goddess journey is perfectly aligned with this theme. I enjoyed being able to share possibilities of how Black girls can be socially, emotionally and culturally served in the classroom, through the systemic incorporation of ancestral wisdom & power in contemporary educational paradigms. Inspiring excellence & activating achievement.
My lecture was very well received, and has opened up the way for what’s been happening with the work I’m leading in Oakland to expand around the nation and world. I’m very appreciative to a shining star of the Harvard alumni community Dr. Dexter Moore Jr., who is also the acting chief of staff for OUSD, for encouraging me to submit a proposal to present at this year’s conference and being an advisor to me through the entire journey.
There were many connections to the Oakland community found amongst the Harvard Alumni of Color community. Dr Shawn Ginright was the opening keynote speaker of the conference and Dr. Christina “V” Villarreal was one of the main organizers. The revolutionary and influential spirit of Oakland’s educational legacy was definitely a key theme and driver of the conference’s intended outcomes. Town biz all day, ase!
JR Valrey: Can you talk about the work that you do with young Black girls and women in the city of Oakland?
Queen Iminah: I am the co-founder & Director of African American Female Excellence(AAFE), within the Oakland Unified School District’s Office of Equity. AAFE is the first-ever district-wide initiative in the nation to focus on uplifting the educational experiences of Black girls and young women as a city-wide strategy.
The AAFE program currently serves more than 300 girls in elementary, middle and high schools throughout Oakland. AAFE instructors provide daily Black girl-centered classes and weekly girls groups, which are integrated into the school day, and produce citywide programs and events throughout the year.
In 2022-23, we have 3,403 African American female students enrolled in OUSD. About 9% of these students are enrolled in our daily or weekly AAFE classes, where we partner with site based leaders and their campus community to provide academic and social emotional wrap-around support for all Black girls on the campus and together build a safe and welcoming climate for our girls.
At the high school level, students are enrolled in our A-G accredited (CSU and UC recognized) course, “Mastering African American Female Identity,” where students receive “G” elective credit on their transcript. In every way possible, my goal is to ensure we advance educational & social equity for Black girls and women locally, nationally and internationally. ASE!
JR Valrey: What are some of the main impediments to the lives of young Black girls in Oakland?
Queen Iminah: African American girls (AAF) in OUSD are in need of increased targeted support across a larger number of school sites. AAFE, re-launched in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, is the district’s response to systemic, cultural and climate issues that have shown, through data, to foster an unhealthy learning environment for Black Girls.
Data for African American girls through the pandemic and reentry to in person learning has shown alarming trends that indicate the culture at many of the schools in OUSD are not facilitating a healthy positive academic experience for Black girls. Since returning to school there has been an increase in the African American Female student suspension rate.
The OUSD suspension rate in 2022 was 3%, the suspension rate for African American Female students was 6.9%, which is more than double the district rate. African American Female students are 10.1% of the overall population but represent 23.9% of all district suspension incidents. 76.7% of all African American Female student suspension incidents year to date are for violence.
JR Valrey: What can we do as a community to solve it?
Queen Iminah: It truly takes a village, and everyone can support in some way. There must be a sense of urgency to implement targeted culturally responsive social emotional support at each school site to not only work with students but also adults.
Data shows staff at school sites desperately need resources to deescalate tense situations, promote students’ social emotional regulation in conflict, and increase the amount of time students can spend in class learning and improving overall connectedness to school.
AAFE programming provides professional development, academic courses at the elementary, middle and high school levels, student enrichment activities and youth mentorship. The need for the above mentioned strategies should be built into every school across OUSD. We would greatly benefit from community support through advocacy, fundraising and joining the movement to make this happen in the way best aligned to their gifts and talents.
JR Valrey: Can you talk a little bit about your work with the Golden State Warriors?
Queen Iminah: On International Women’s Day 2022 I was honored during a Warrior’s Halftime Ceremony with the “Impact Warrior Award” for my service to the Bay Area community. The Warriors have the largest community foundation in the NBA, and since being recognized by the Warrior’s Community Foundation they have supported the work I do with and for Black girls beautifully.
They have produced reading rallies, career panel discussions and basketball clinics for our students, in addition to giving VIP game experiences, iPads, swag and just overall support and upliftment to our students.
As I am also a Recording Artist, my students joined my performance at this year’s Warriors & Chase Center’s Black History Month celebration, which was an amazing experience.
This February I was inducted into the Golden State Warriors Community Foundation and Generation Thrive’s 2023 class of Bridging the Bay, Igniting Leaders of Change.
This cohort is composed of 16 Bay Area nonprofit executive leaders who serve youth and families and are dedicated to educational equity and improving academic outcomes. There are some amazing people who lead the Warriors’ work in the community, and I especially want to recognize the leadership of Ay’Anna Moody, a senior director in their organization. It has truly been a huge boost to our students, families and staff to have support from the Warriors. We are so grateful.
JR Valrey: Can you talk a little bit about your work and travels in West Africa?
Queen Iminah: Going to Africa was a lifelong dream growing up in my Pan African and Black Nationalist family. In 2016 we traced our maternal lineage to the Yoruba and Fulani people of Nigeria, through African Ancestry. As I was already progressing on my spiritual journey learning and practicing Ifa and Orisa, this accelerated my journey to the next level.
In 2017 I traveled to Osogbo in Osun State, Nigeria and was initiated as an Iyanifa (Ifa Traditional African Priestess) by my Oluwo (master teacher) Agbonbon Fakayode Faniyi.
I spent time in Nigeria reconnecting with our ancestral culture and traditions and was forever changed for the better. It is my life mission to help African diasporas reconnect with the beauty, wisdom and positive power of African culture. Raising who are and can be, from Ghetto to Goddess. In 2021 I was coronated as a traditional Chief Queen, as the Yeyemeto Awo of Oworonsoki Kingdom, Lagos, Nigeria, in recognition of my contributions to the advancement of Yoruba culture.
I’ve been blessed to travel to Nigeria four times and Ghana five times. I recently spent six months living in Ghana, and worked with the Office of the President, the Office of Diaspora Affairs, the Ghana Tourism Authority and the Beyond the Return initiative to reopen Ghana’s tourism industry, post covid. We brought the Queen Afua Wellness delegation, which was their first group since the covid lockdown, and as we see Ghana is the place to be now! The time for Africa and Africans to rise is now! ASE!
JR Valrey: Educationally, what are some of the similarities and differences between Oakland and what you saw in Ghana?
Queen Iminah: Black Oakland and Ghana are both homes to beautiful, vibrant Black people. Oakland has developed its own unique Black culture, stemming from a mix of Black people from so many places in the south and internationally. Ghana is steeped in ancestral culture and tradition, so that is beautiful to see and experience.
School is a right in America, however some of our students take this access for granted. We have public free schools and free breakfast and lunch. Whereas in Ghana, school is a privilege. Parent’s have to pay for their children to attend school, which is expensive in comparison to the living wages there. School is taken extremely seriously there, because there are many sacrifices families must make. However, some parents can’t afford the school fees for their children to attend school and this greatly affects their life trajectories.
In Oakland we have issues with chronic absenteeism of parents just not taking their children to school. The dynamics really change your perspectives on the amount of privilege many people take for granted in America and how we can better utilize the resources we have access to.
There is great opportunity for shared learning and elevation between the Oakland and African communities.
JR Valrey: What do you have coming up next?
Queen Iminah: I look forward to continued elevation, progress and sustainable success. Who I am as Queen Iminah shall continuously rise, as the global change-maker, educational leader, recording artist and cultural ambassador that I am, I am thankful to eternally ascend.
I have some great things developing that I can’t wait to share, as soon as I’m cleared to! We recently secured some amazing partnerships to further support the AAFE program, and are looking forward to expanding our reach and deepening our impact in OUSD.
I am releasing my album “From Ghetto to Goddess” this year, and have performances lining up at some great events. I am also hosting some traditional African spirituality and culture events this year as well. Truly I am thankful to my destiny for all I am growing to be. May we all continue to excel.
JR Valrey: How can people stay online with you?
Queen Iminah: You can join my journey on Instagram, YouTube and Facebook @queen_iminah #ghetto2goddess.
And you can follow and support AAFE at ousd.org/aafe #ousdaafe
JR Valrey, journalist, author, filmmaker and founder of Black New World Media. He is also the Editor in Chief of the San Francisco Bay View Newspaper.