Friday, March 22, 2024


I walked into the Department of Make-Believe and wished I was a kid again. Large, colorful shapes covered every surface within the main rooms. Moss hung from the ceiling and bright pillows covered a small stage. Along one wall a bookcase displayed the published works of the kids who spent time after school within the home of Chapter 510, a non-profit group that provides outreach to school-aged youth in Oakland to encourage their imagination and writing skills. The Department of Make-Believe: a magical and creative place to enter.

In Oakland's Old Town, Chapter 510 flourishes right under the tall street trees and next to the well-preserved Victorian row houses. Swann's Market, a market hall where one can find food from all over the world, and Ratto's Deli are nearby.  Founded by two energetic women, Janet Heller and Tavia Stewart, Chapter 510 has provided a creative space for young people, especially brown, black, and queer, to learn writing skills, bookmaking, and publishing. In this space, they learn how to create stories as well as podcasts and present their work to live audiences.

As Chapter 510 states: "We believe that writing is an act of liberation. When young people write and get published, they transform themselves and their communities, succeeding in school, work, and life."

As a child, I was encouraged by my parents and teachers to develop my creative side, but I was lucky. Not every child has that support. Back then, I never found a place specifically geared to nurture creative writing and to connect with other young people with the same interests. In school, I was steeped in academic/business writing styles, but it wasn't until I was an adult that I started writing in a personal journal. My journal not only helped me develop my thinking about concerns and issues but opened up my creative writing practices too. I experimented with poetry and personal essays. In the process, I paid more attention to sentence structure, grammar, and the flow of an idea within a sentence, paragraph, or essay. As always, practice made a difference. I came out of my quiet shell through writing and found myself often in front of large groups as a leader.

I am delighted that Chapter 510 is extending the same kind of encouragement to young people as they say, "that every young person in Oakland can write with confidence and joy."

Here's the cover of I Have Wings/Yo Tengo Alas, a book by Chapter 510 fifth graders, inspired by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Like all non-profits, Chapter 510 could use our help. They need volunteers, mentors, donations, or the purchase of one of the books written by the youth who gather in Oakland Old Town every week.

Check out Chapter 510 here:


No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for commenting! I love hearing from readers. I answer each one.

I do not post Anonymous comments because of problems with spammers.