Oakland Griots uncovers stories from 80 Black Males

Ne'Quwan and family for Griots of Oakland exhibit

By Quinci Mann | Photos  Josh Egel

4/26/24 Oakland, CA – Last night, as the echoes of impassioned dialogues from day one of our Spring Symposium still resonated, another wave of empowerment surged through the corridors of our collective consciousness. The Griots of Oakland Experience and soft book launch, in collaboration with publisher Story for All, heralded the dawn of a new era in narrative liberation and cultural resurgence.

“The purpose of Story for All is truth. The narratives of Black men in Oakland, and across this entire country, deserve to be uplifted and honored in all of its beauty and authenticity, not just to be controlled by narratives of capitalism and white supremacy,” declared Angela Zusman, Story for All founder and executive director.

In collaboration with McClymond’s and Oakland Tech high students in the KOO Media Academy, we embarked on a journey of self-discovery, capturing over 80 interviews to curate into the Griots of Oakland 2024 Book. Through multimedia art installations, video interviews, a griot panel, and immersive AR experiences, we painted a portrait of unyielding Black brilliance and resilience.

Giots of Oakland AR pull up bannersAt the heart of this event was a symbiotic partnership with Black Terminus, an AR (Augmented Reality) company with a mission as radical as our own: to amplify the voices of the marginalized and reclaim the narrative landscape. 

“Once you download the Black Terminus App, you can scan our pull-up posters of Kings and videos will pop up to display a part of their interview for the book,” stated Brenden Anderson, KOO chief of media and technology. “This app allows us to create a multi-media traveling exhibit that comes to life so the audience can see the making of the book.”

The multi-media installation showcases interviews in private screening booths. Prominent portrait photos come to life with AR dynamic embedded videos with the Black Terminus app. Beyond the marvel of technological innovation lay the beating heart of our movement: the Griots themselves. Current and former Kings from the Griot project took center stage, weaving tales of resilience, identity, and empowerment. In 2012 we created Griots of Oakland Volume 1, so 12 years later we are coming back with Volume 2 with plans to publish more often. 

This book launch offered the audience an opportunity to pre-order during the event and get the Volume 1 book for free. The beautiful portraits drew subjects, families, and educators to pre-order. The book places Black men in such an extraordinary light, the visual impact is astonishing.

Jarvis and mom griot event“It was an eye-opening experience becoming a ‘Griot’. I didn’t think that my life experiences were important to anyone but me and to see that what I went through could be in a book and potentially help somebody who is coming in after me, made me hold my head higher,” stated Ne’Quwan Taylor Qwan, a Griot from the 2012 release. “I now had a responsibility to my community and that really empowered me.” His words echoed the sentiments of countless others who found newfound purpose in storytelling.

“The reason I wanted to be part of the Griots project was to be a positive example for other Black kids coming through Oakland, Clayton, a new Griot from McClymonds High, acknowledged. It’s important for the kids coming up after me to see people who look like them being articulate and sharing their stories – seeing that society thinks Black stories and Black culture are important.” This encapsulates the essence of our collective mission.

As the night unfolded, it became abundantly clear, that the Griots are not just bearers of history; they are architects of the future. And with each story shared, each narrative reclaimed, we move one step closer to a world where Black excellence reigns supreme.

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