Oakland Born

By Jon Thorpe, Managing Director of Urban Parli Debate and Club Parli

Oakland is an extraordinary city. My partner and I moved to Oakland eleven years ago to raise a family and our two children have grown up in this remarkable place and attend Oakland Unified public schools. In this environment, both children have excelled and thrived. The great education they have received does not just come from the classroom. The city itself is an able educator. Growing up in Oakland allows one a chance to reach out and know the rest of the world. The extraordinary array of culture that is daily on display would be breathtaking if it wasn't the norm. The city is laboratory for tolerance, understanding, and community involvement. There is no other place I want my children to be. 

But Oakland does have problems. And these problems are significantly rooted in race and class. The economic benefits of the city's growth have not been shared equitably. As new construction is booming and property values and rents skyrocket, many find themselves struggling against the current in an effort to get by.

Tens of thousands of Oakland public school students striving for education are taught by thousands of teachers  dedicated to the democratic spread of knowledge and the construction of a better world.


But the Oakland public education system finds itself in a difficult situation. According to the Oakland Fund for City and Youth, 75% of Oakland Unified students are eligible for free or reduced lunch programs and over 30% of Oakland Unified schools have student body populations where nearly 100% of enrolled students qualify for free or reduced lunch. The number of children living below the federal poverty level in Oakland has increased to 30% as the city has seen rapid economic development and growth. Many Oakland Unified students live in high-stress neighborhoods which present significant challenges to academic success. The overall graduation rate, while improving, is still only 63%. Needless to say, an underfunded school system fighting against systemic barriers results in the majority of schools lacking the extracurricular activities that are standard at private and well-to-do public schools.

This is where Urban Parli comes in. While we do not necessarily have the answers to the problems the education system faces, we can help develop the people who will find those answers. Urban Parli has the tools that can benefit Oakland students and maybe make, for now, a small, positive change in the status quo. Club Parli, our for-profit division, provides best-in-class parliamentary debate instruction for independent clubs and schools in the Bay Area. Club Parli's summer programs at UC Berkeley are the best in the nation. In creating Urban Parli we want to provide this premium, educational experience at no cost to Oakland students. This means the best-in-class coaching, technology, and opportunities to compete at major debate tournaments and invitationals both locally and nationally. Parliamentary debate builds character and confidence, develops critical thinking skills, and creates leaders. More students need access to what is currently an exclusive community and Urban Parli wants to open the door.