Kaiser gives $10.5 million to fund schools and anti-violence programs

Mario Chido

Artist Mario Chiodo puts the finishing touches on Franklin Delano Roosevelt's head, as part of the Remember Them project, which received a $2 million grant from the Kaiser Foundation on Monday. Photo courtesy Chido Art Development.

It was a question left unanswered in a press-release issued by the Oakland Unified School District last week: What do Oakland Schools, the Oakland Police Department, and a project to build a 60,000-pound bronze monument in downtown Oakland have in common? The answer: about $10.5 million. Kaiser Permanente Community Foundation announced on Monday morning that it would provide funding to the Oakland Unified School District, the OPD and a large-scale art project, sponsoring a trio of projects with the unifying theme of keeping students healthy, safe, and inspired.

The grant, which will provide the money over the next three years, will support youth-based and violence prevention programs in schools throughout Oakland. The majority of the funding ($7.5 million) will go to the district’s 15 school-based health centers which provide medical services, its school nurses and its African American Male Achievement Program. An additional $1 million will go to the OPD’s Our Kids program, a violence-prevention project in which police officers mentor at-risk youth, and $2 million will go to Remember Them, an already-under-construction park near the Fox Theater which will be built around a monument depicting 25 humanitarian role models who have overcome adversity.

“We strongly believe we have a responsibility to play a leading role in improving the health and well-being of this community,” said Gregory Adams, president of the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan/Hospitals, Inc., as he made the announcement from a small podium on the front steps of Oakland Technical High School. “These grants are expressly tailored to address important community health needs in this city.”

Other speakers, including OUSD Superintendent Tony Smith, school board president Gary Yee, and police chief Anthony Batts, thanked Kaiser after the announcement of the grant, and talked about the importance of investing in programs for Oakland students.

“It’s a celebration. It’s extraordinary,” said Smith, whose strategic plan for the district has emphasized the notion of schools as community hubs. “Preventing violence, overcoming challenges, and increasing access to health care is about creating a coherent, protected pathway for children. That’s how you transform a community.”

Melvin Hines, a junior from Castlemont High School in East Oakland who spoke at the event, said that his relationship with his mentor through OPD’s Our Kids Program had changed his life. “Before the OK Program, I was doing bad,” he said. “I never liked police, but then [my mentor] changed my perspective of officers. I know he’s there for me.”

The Remember Them project, when it is completed in September 2011, will be the largest representational bronze monument in the Western United States. The $7 million monument will consist of larger-than-life representations of historical figures such as Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, and Malcolm X and will measure about 95 feet across, 50 feet wide, and 30 feet high.

Like the Our Kids program, it will emphasize the importance of strong role models for young people. “This project is about showing youth examples of people who have achieved great things even under tough circumstances,” said designer and lead sculptor Mario Chiodo.

An educational component of the project will include the development of elementary, middle, and high school curriculum on the figures, with an emphasis on human rights. Other funders for the project include the Oakland Chamber of Commerce, and California governor-elect and former Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown.

“All of this, it’s so unexpected coming out of Oakland. It’s something different,” Chiodo said. “It’s about showing people that Oakland is all about community.”

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