Oakland Workforce Development Roundtable

When the words “Black Panther” are used, in recent memory, many people connect this with the recent blockbuster movie that was set in the fictional African nation of Wakanda and how it became the most technologically advanced nation in the world through the discovery of a rare element known as “vibranium.”


Black Panther, also Marvel Comic’s first Black superhero, was first introduced in July 1966, months before the Black Panther political party was founded in Oakland. The movie’s central conflict, among the main characters, revolves around the debate of whether Wakandan knowledge should be used to better the lives of people struggling with racism and systematic poverty or to be kept to those privileged with access to “vibranium” and its benefits.

It was very fitting last week when eleven community and business leaders, by invitation only, gathered within the “Black Panther” conference room in The Post News Group’s head office, for a roundtable discussion to tackle the struggles of minority contracting in construction, workforce development and affordable housing.

oWOW Development, Post News Group and Uche Uwahemu, a member of the Richmond workforce development board, organized the event. Participants included Brian Clark, CEO & founder of HDP Health, Dr. Jowel Laguerre, Peralta College Chancellor, Maya Theur, LBG Development, Ronnie Turner, Turner Development Resource Group, Zachary Murray, Oakland Land Trust, Melvin Cowan, Building Opportunity for Self-Sufficiency, R. Maurice Arnold, Robert Arnold & Company, Zeenat Patrawalla, Google Brain, and Mirwais Ahmed, American Renewable Energy.

The conversation was enlightening, purpose-driven, passionate, and many times, intense. After a brief introduction and issue statement from the organizers, Oakland Post publisher, Paul Cobb was very direct in challenging the tech industries to do better as “they are responsible for the rise in the Bay Area housing market.”

On the one hand, the tech industries create opportunity for employment and attract talent and job seekers to the Bay Area. On the other hand, they do not build housing for their employees. “These high-earning employees go out and over-bid and drive the housing market up,” he said. Many participants agreed that the issue is more complex and should be tackled with a more robust involvement from the business community and political arena.

oWOW Co-founder Danny Haber stated that he wants to lead the way in mentoring minorities interested in development and construction. Mr. Haber believes that by providing minorities mentoring, they would get to understand the intricacies of these businesses.

Dr. Laguerre said training our workforce to meet the need and challenges of the 21st century job market is a big challenge, and Peralta community colleges are emphasizing skilled labor training to meet these needs. However, funding a class of 25 students for two years cost about $150,000, and this gets unsustainable quickly. Thus, partnering with the business community and the government to get the funding necessary is critical to the success of these programs.

Key takeaways included:

  • Rebuilding infrastructure
  • Partnership with industries
  • Internship opportunities for students
  • Improving awareness in community of current vocational  opportunities
  • Renewable energy workforce training
  • Pairing available money with existing training organizations.

There is a huge need for ongoing round table discussions, with a variety of stakeholders, to identify working solutions that can be used to better the lives of people struggling to survive in the 21st century.


The organizers intend to continue monthly round table discussions, sharing knowledge and experience, to solve some of the Bay Area’s largest problems within minority contracting in construction, workforce development and affordable housing



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