A Little Oakland Inspiration

Think about Oakland. Do you know its story, what makes it unique? If not, just ask Oakland expert Russell Yee, who led 23 students through a Jan Term class called “Inspired by Oakland” that delved into all things Oakland.

Students at Mario Chiodo's "Remember Them" memorial to world humanitarians in Fox Plaza downtown.As a third-generation Oakland native, Yee wanted to give his class “an appreciation of parts of Oakland that they don’t know about and a sense of Oakland beyond the headlines.”

By bringing stories of Oakland to Moraga and his students to Oakland, Yee showed his class that the true spirit of Oakland is more than what meets the eye. And the students came away impressed.

“Coming into the class, I thought this was a hopeless city with nothing really worth looking at,” says student Ardi Samonte. “I was surprised to see that this city's richness goes deep into the ground.”

Representing a vibrant and diverse population, California’s eighth-largest city has a lot to offer to visitors and residents alike, says Yee.

“Especially at a school like Saint Mary’s with our Lasallian calling, we look for needs,” he says. “A city like Oakland has those needs, but also has a lot of resources that people are not aware of. I want to make the students aware of these resources.”

Yee felt there was no better way to introduce his students to the city than a good old-fashioned field trip- six to be exact.

With visits to City Hall, the Oakland Museum of California, the Cathedral of Christ the Light, the Chabot Space and Science Center, parks and other city highlights, Yee took his class to an array of attractions both famous and lesser known. Strolling through City Center, past Roslyn Mazzilli's sculpture, "There."

“This class has given me a new perspective on the city of Oakland,” says student Erin Burke. “We have learned about the history and visited places I would never have seen on my own.”

Samonte agrees. “You'll be surprised. There's an amazing message inside the city of Oakland.”

While Yee wants his students to leave Jan Term with a fresh view of nearby Oakland, he also wants people to think about and gain an appreciation of their roots– wherever that may be.

“I want to inspire the students to love the places they are from and to care about their history,” says Yee. “Wherever you’re from, all of its history is your history. It’s part of your story.”

This hometown connection is something Yee knows will be with him forever.

As he says with a smile, “Wherever I may go in life, I tell people, ‘Bury me in Oakland’.”

View an image gallery to see more stops made by the class.