Bay Area Seminoles is a part of We Lead Ours Organization (WELO, pronounced We-low). It was officially founded in 2010 by three men from Oakland, Dwayne A. Aikens, Jr., Lamont D. Robinson, Jr., and Trestin D. George, who wanted to lead by example and provide for the different needs in the community. In 2006, they came together to create a program where they could help the children in Oakland. As Lamont said, "The three of us used our brains to make this. We were grassroots in it and that foundation was the model for our other programs. They started off with $500 in donations, and they have never been funded by the federal, state and county. They get their contributions from community grants, individual donations, and corporate sponsors. They are contracted by the Oakland Unified School District, servicing nearly 45 school sites in the area of substance abuse harm reduction. WELO also provides after-school programming at a variety of schools in Alameda County.
Lamont reflected, "When you see the other parts of the organization and what we do, you see our footprint. That looks like Dwayne. Or that looks like Lamont or Trestin. WELO is the fuel to the engine." They lead theirs by being more than owners; they are engaged and they are out there in the fields with the students. They are the big brothers in the community. They provide after-school programs, summer camps, football and cheer programs, and community service/internships. The students receive life skill service learning, community engagement, college prep, and health and wellness. Their goals are to show the community that there are more career aspirations other than being a rapper, athlete, and to explore different things in and out of the community.
WELO hosts a mentor/career workshop once a month. They bring in professionals to show the youth other career paths. They try to match the students with someone in that profession so they can get the true guidance that they need. They prepare them for the life of being a business owner/entrepreneur. "[The kids say], 'I want to see what the owner life looks like. [Or] I want to be an entrepreneur.' With folks like me, Dwayne and Trestin, to come into our community, coming from poor backgrounds, they can see that it's attainable," Lamont expressed.
At Oakland Unified School District, they work with troubled students who are dealing with life. Many of the students are on probation or have anger issues. WELO team members modify the students' behaviors by motivating them to change their behaviors and showing them the steps to achieve a goal/dream. Dwayne took that part of the organization to the next level and they are proud of their after school programs.
As part of community service through their summer camp and year round programs, they do backpack giveaways, turkey and toy drives, work with Oakland Parks and Recreation to do cleanups at the parks, Save the Bay, and Creek and Bay Day. Dwayne and Lamont echoed, "We make the kids understand to take care of your home, own community, yourself, and give back." Also, they provide internships and community service to students who need experience, whether it is by working at the snack bar stand or collecting admission fees to the game, helping out at the summer camp, and mentoring to the younger students.
For the Bay Area Seminoles, there are the tricks and the treats. The tricks are they use the football and cheer programs to capture the kids, between the ages of 5-14. They check the students' grades to make sure they are eligible to play and if they are slipping, they provide tutoring and academic services to get the grades back up.
The treats are parent engagements, family/community support, mentorships, academic support. For the 2018-2019 school year, they will host their first annual ceremony to celebrate the students' academic accomplishments.
They have been recognized by Oakland mayors, Oakland Raiders, Golden State Warriors, Keep Oakland Beautiful (Dwayne is on the Board), and Waste Management. They are thankful for the support from their partners and other organizations, such as Marshawn Lynch, Lorenzo Alexander, Marcus Peters, Mistah Fab, Oakland Fire Department, Oakland Unified School District, and many others.
They have come a long way from where they started, and their plan is left to something for the future. Dwayne said, "There is not enough support in the community and we aren't in competition with other organizations. We want to collaborate with others who are liked minded. Our passion is what keeps this going." And Lamont added," We love our community. If we're succeeding, it's because the community for behind it and saw what we were doing." Their long-term goal is to expand and work in other cities to give other students in those communities a place to gain exposure and work. And I stand corrected, they are a great organization.
To find out more or support We Lead Ours, you can contact them at https://www.weleadours.org.
About Joy Elan: Joy Elan is an author of six books and she writes about various social issues. She received her BA in African American Studies at UC Berkeley and her MA in Education at Stanford University. She can be contacted at www.authorjoyelan.com.