Resource Articles Written by Dr. Vajra Watson

Dr. Vajra Watson is the author of Learning to Liberate: Community-Based Solutions to the Crisis in Urban Education (2012), Censoring Freedom: Community-Based Professional Development and the Politics of Profanity (2013), The Black Sonrise: Oakland Unified School District’s Commitment to Address and Eliminate Institutionalized Racism (2014), and Literacy is a Civil Write: The Art, Science, and Soul of Transformative Classrooms (2015), among others.

The Black Sonrise

To uncover the seeds of courage and determination that spurred a school district to make an unprecedented commitment to the education of African American male students. We invite you to Step Into the Light of The Black Sonrise.

In 2011, the Office of African American Male Achievement piloted the Manhood Development Program, an elective course offered during the school day, taught by African American males for African American males. Today, the Manhood Development Program serves more than 450 students at 15 school sites and the program is making great strides in engaging, encouraging, and empowering African American male students.

This research project was funded by Open Society Foundations, The Institute for Black Male Achievement (IBMA), and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and was led by Vajra Watson Ed.D., Director of Research and Policy for Equity at the University of California, Davis.


A bold call to action, a passionate plea for justice, a discerning document of wise witness, The Black Sonrise tells the inspirational story of African-American men and boys building a community of trust, respect, and accountability that nourishes self-esteem, human agency, relationship building, and student achievement. Educators will find compelling insights, challenging truths, practical lessons, and reasons for hope in this work.

-Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, Emily Hargroves Fisher Professor of Education, Harvard University
Author of The Good High School, of I’ve Known Rivers, and Respect

After generations of systematically punishing and failing Black males, Oakland Unified has implemented a program aimed at addressing its egregious practices.  The Black Sonrise shows us the specific strategies that make a difference in the lives of young men who have been marginalized.  While there is much work to be done to eliminate racism in Oakland Unified and in other school districts across the country, this report shows us some of the best practices for coming a step closer to creating dignity-enhancing practices for all students.

-Victor M. Rios, Associate Professor of Sociology, UC Santa Barbara
Author of Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys

This groundbreaking report demonstrates what is possible when a system intentionally engineers the conditions for Black males to thrive in today's urban educational context.  While other systems have attempted to change the so-called structures, the work in Oakland makes a compelling argument that we MUST fundamentally focus on the practices that facilitate engagement, achievement, and excitement among students.  This is a must-read for urban school leaders and policymakers across the U.S. 

-Louie F. Rodriguez, Associate Professor and Co-Director, Doctorate in Educational Leadership at CSU, San Bernardino
Author of The Time Is Now: Understanding and Responding to the Black and Latina/o Dropout Crisis in the U.S.

At a time when there is much discussion about how to address institutionalized racism and the education of Black Males, here we see a shining example of a culturally caring commitment that is doing something for young men that is literally changing their lives. Kudos to the Oakland Unified School District and all the change agents on the ground in schools and classrooms for having the vision and the courage to do something different for young Black males.

- Tyrone C. Howard, Professor and Faculty Director, Center X
Director, UCLA Black Male Institute, UC Los Angeles
Author of Black Male(d): Peril and promise in the education of African American males


Learning to Liberate: Available at Amazon

Censoring Freedom - download the pdf