Mission & History


Oakland Kids First (OKF) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Our mission is to increase youth voice, leadership and power to create engaging and equitable public schools where all students learn and lead. Each school year, OKF provides over 600 Oakland youth with safe spaces and the skills needed to organize to positively transform their school system, while providing services and supports for students to navigate existing learning conditions and access postsecondary success.

We believe youth are the experts of their own experience, and therefore are equipped to evaluate, innovate and govern the institutions that are supposed to serve them. As Kenny, one OKF leader at Oakland Tech explained, “Unless you’re inside the school house, people can guess and read statistics, but they don’t actually know what’s happening or what issues inside of schools are. Youth experience OUSD schools every day and have insights into how to lead efforts to solve problems.” OKF prepares and empowers students to draw from their experiences to improve educational equity in schools in order to build power for all Oakland students.

A black and white image of group of people wearing Kids First t-shirts at City Hall


Founded in 1996 as a coalition of community based organizations, Oakland Kids First has been partnering with Oakland students on systems change and organizing campaigns to meet the needs of low-income, BIPOC youth for nearly three decades.

Originally, the coalition came together to organize and pass the Kids First! Initiative as ballot measure K in 1996. That campaign won a 2.5% set aside of the City of Oakland’s budget, and amended the city charter in order to fund services for children and youth – now known as the Oakland Fund for Children and Youth (OFCY). OKF went on to lead organizing efforts to renew and increase OFCY funding to 3% of the city budget. This multi-million dollar fund is the cornerstone of our organization, the inspiration for our name, and a demonstration of Oakland Kids First’s commitment to youth power-building, economic inclusion and racial equity.

In 2002, OKF evolved from a campaign coalition into a nonprofit organization. Since our founding, we have trained and partnered with thousands of low-income BIPOC students in youth leadership development, organizing and community school programs. Over the years, OKF has continuosly evolved by assessing student needs, reviewing equity data and sharing decision-making power with young people when it comes to our programs, campaigns and services.

The REAL HARD youth leadership development program is OKF’s longest standing program. Youth in REAL HARD engage in cycles of participatory action research to identify educational equity challenges and to prepare youth to lead efforts that transform school culture and climate in order to improve public education in Oakland. Examples of REAL HARD youth contributions to OKF include a student-created academic mentoring program called Peers Advising Students to Succeed (PASS-2), creating Codes of Respect across high school campuses, and authoring a Student Justice Platform.

OKF has an intergenerational organizing approach and has worked directly with teachers and families of students with the goals of building youth power and transforming education systems to better serve students. Examples over the years include:

  • Facilitating a Teacher Cohort to incorporate meaningful student engagement opportunities, restorative practices and shared facilitation with youth into classes
  • Co-teaching Peers Advising Students to Succeed during the school day at multiple high school campuses to prepare 10-12th graders to facilitate academic success workshops for 100% of their 9th grade peers
  • Leading Meaningful Student and Family Engagement forums to integrate student and family input into school site plans, policies and budget priorities
  • Creating an A-G credited course called “Civic Engagement and Social Movements” that can be taught at any high school across the state of California.
Youth Organizer During March

OKF empowers youth to be creative in their approach to tackling challenges in their school communities. For example, in 2020, we published our first comic book Town Force 1: And the Battle for East Oakland featuring 4 real students from our programs at Castlemont high school. The youth and program staff collaborated with Bay Area based visual storyteller Wahab Algarmi and local illustrator Jimmie Robinson to tell the story of four students, Essai Taleb, Natalie Zapien, Jun-Sang Kim and Heavenly Simpson as they fought gentrification in East Oakland and saved their high school from closure.

More about our youth-led campaign efforts and signature initiatives can be found here.

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Image of Senayt Sium

Senayt Sium


(She/Her/Hers) is a Program Coordinator for REAL HARD and facilitates after school programs at Oakland Tech and Oakland High School. She attended OUSD public school and is a proud alumni of Oakland High School. Senayt is a first generation college graduate from University of California, Davis in Sociology with concentration in Law and Society, Public Health Science and Chicano/a Studies. One of her key passions is advocacy. She strongly believes in addressing and combating systemic issues that affect marginalized communities.

She strives to empower and support youth in developing essential skills while fostering activism. As a former REAL HARD student organizer, Senayt is very excited to be working with youth, and provide them with the necessary resources to support and help them accomplish their goals.

Peter Truong

Peter Truong


Peter (he/him/his) supports staff across OKF programs to incorporate best practices in positive youth development. Peter oversees the REAL HARD after school program and supports all chapters to develop youth-led transformational school culture campaigns.

Peter also writes curriculum for Oakland Kids First programs and supports organization-wide youth organizing campaigns such as development of the Student Justice Platform. A life long learner and educator, Peter earned a degree in Ethnic Studies at the University of Oregon.

Cara Holiday

Cara Holiday


Cara (she/her/hers) is the Senior Development Manager who oversees fundraising, communications, grant writing and reporting and also serves on the senior management team. She has been part of the OKF community since 2009 in a range of roles including volunteering as a board member from 2009-2012, and then working on staff.

Cara currently works for OKF remotely from her hometown of St. Louis, MO. Throughout her career, Cara has focused on supporting students to reach their individual goals to graduate and access post-secondary education while also advocating to improve systems and equity in public schools. She earned a MA in Education Policy, Organization and Leadership Studies from Stanford University, a teaching credential from San Francisco State University, and a BA in English from Washington University in St. Louis.

Previous positions include working as Assistant Director at the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement at Washington University, as a Community Programs Manager for Alternatives in Action and as an English teacher on the McClymonds high school campus in OUSD. In her free time, Cara enjoys hiking with her family and two dogs, and exploring the local food scene.