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Dispatch From Parker Elementary with Tongo Eisen-Martin

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Tongo Eisen-Martin stands in the hallway of Parker Elementary School in East Oakland.
Tongo Eisen-Martin, a poet, educator and organizer, poses for a portrait at Parker Elementary School in Oakland on July 27, 2022. (Beth LaBerge )

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Last year, renowned writer and San Francisco Poet Laureate, Tongo Eisen-Martin, told us that it’s not enough to simply be a poet. “The poet needs to just come on down to the trenches,” he said, explaining that quality writing comes from the lived experience of participating in community activism.

In direct application of his own philosophy, Tongo has been involved with the occupation of Parker Elementary School, where organizers are fighting against the latest round of school closures in Oakland Unified School District — schools that are located in communities that are largely populated by Black and brown students.

Tongo has been a part of the group’s Freedom Friday events, where artists of all sorts are invited to show up and perform.

“We have poets and (an) open mic,” Tongo says during a recent phone call. “We also intersperse political dialogue in between the poets, making sure that everyone knows what we doing here.”

The ongoing fight against school closures has resulted in physical altercations, as well as legal actions. KQED will continue to share updates as the story progresses.

In the meantime, we’re going into the archives this week to share Tongo’s poem,  “A Sketch of Genocide.” The piece was included in his book, Heaven Is All Goodbyes, which won a 2018 American Book Award. 

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