An Oakland man is helping close the racial gap in graduation rates, as a study by the Brookings Institution shows 76% of Black boys complete high school nationwide compared to 87% of white boys.
Educator Chris Chatmon makes each student feel special, as he greets each student individually. He recalls feeling devalued as a school kid, being made to sit in the dark.
"My third-grade school teacher put my desk in a coat closet as a way to redirect my 'spirited' behavior," he recalled.
"I wasn't seen. I wasn't engaged."
As an adult, Chatmon became a teacher and principal to change the educational system that he says was failing students like him.
"In particular, Black and Brown children were feeling the same thing; they weren't being engaged and were disproportionately suspended," Chatmon said.
So he started Kingmakers of Oakland to help Black boys - and students of color in general - reach their full potential in project-based learning opportunities.
The nonprofit grew out of the 2010 African American Male Achievement Program for the Oakland Unified School District.
Chatmon helps students see themselves as royalty.
'We see all our young people - our kings, queens, and nonbinary royalty - possessing a greatness that they are beautiful beyond measure," he explained.
Kingmakers gives some 1,600 participants, preschool and older, tools for success at schools in Antioch, Oakland and San Francisco as well as districts in Washington and Georgia.
Programs include a lab we visited at Oakland Technical High School, where students like Raymond Garza gain self-confidence by learning software to create their own music.
"I can say I'm making music and stuff. I'd really like to stand on that." Garza marveled.
The lessons give hope to fellow student Chimeremeze Chinyere. When asked if it helps him see his future, he responded, "Yes, I definitely see myself becoming an independent artist."
Kingmakers of Oakland also provides tutoring, college readiness, and trips to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). It also recruits Black male instructors and teaches faculty culturally relevant curriculum.
Chatmon says the nonprofit's leadership and mentoring translate into higher graduation rates on average.
"We had for Black boys an 85% cohort grad rate," he stated.
And the positive notes come from the top, according to music lab instructor Silas Wilson.
"He wants the best for the kids. That's inspiring," Wilson said.
So for creating Kingmakers of Oakland to help students of color thrive, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Chris Chatmon.