Celebrating 100 Years of Oakland Technical High School
Creasie Jordan ’68
Prior to attending Oakland Technical High School I attended Elementary and Jr. High School in Berkeley . My parents purchased a home in North Oakland during my 8th grade year at Willard Jr. High School. After graduating from Willard, my parents enrolled me at Oakland Technical High School (Tech).
I was a student without a voice, serious, and focused in high school. A month before the end of my Freshman year, my Daddy died. My silence was shattered after his death, because I became responsible for making decisions for my education. I now had to communicate with my high school counselor to schedule my classes for my sophomore year. He told me I didn’t need math, ” because I wasn’t college material.” Instead he suggested that I enroll in a Home Economics class. Even at sixteen, I knew this racist man was trying to guide my future into domestic work. I remembered what my sixth grade teacher had said, “Math is important. Math is a part of what you do and see everyday. Creasie, learn as much math as you can in junior high and high school.”
I responded, “I do need to take math. I want a math class.”
“All right, all right I’ll schedule you for math, but you don’t need it,” he said.
While he was completing my class schedule I was reading a flyer on his bulletin board.
The flyer said, “Upward Bound Program… for college bound students!”
I asked, “What is “Upward Bound?”
He answered, “It’s for students who want to go to college.”
“How can I join Upward Bound?” I asked.
He laughed sarcastically and said, “You’re not college material.”
I asked again, “How can I join the Upward Bound Program?”
He said, “Here’s the application. Complete it and have your parents sign it and bring it back to me or mail it to the address on the application.”
I took the application home, completed it, and got my mother’s signature. The next day I asked the school secretary to mail it for me.
One of the courses I enrolled in at Tech was Public Speaking. I had an excellent teacher who taught me how to approach and stand at a podium, find something to focus on at the back of the room while appearing to be looking at my audience, not to say um, how to project my voice, how to organize and reorganize my thoughts while speaking, how to use one capitalized word on each queue card to spark my memory, and how to speak both prepared and impromptu speeches with influence and persuasively. I felt verbally empowered after mastering the class objectives of pronunciation, enunciation and articulation. My speech class prepared me to meet with my counselor and articulate the courses I needed to be enrolled in for my junior and senior years. It also gave me the life skill for speaking as a teacher and counselor for the California State Teacher’s Retirement System.
When it was time for me to sign up for my junior year courses, I asked both an Asian and white student in my homeroom if I could see their junior schedule of courses. After comparing their schedules I found that they were identical, so I filled my schedule out just like theirs. However, I hadn’t taken all the science courses required for college. I had been enrolled in biology my freshman year, and hadn’t taken a science course in my sophomore year. I still needed to take physiology, earth science, and chemistry. I wasn’t going to have enough time to take chemistry. I told my homeroom teacher, and she told me I could petition to take extra units. I petitioned to take chemistry and it was approved.
Doors of opportunity began to open for me while I was at Tech. My physiology teacher, Mrs. Mary Torrey helped me get a job with the Work Study Program, as a switchboard operator. As an operator I spoke for two hours continuously. After I finished working on the switchboard, I was so fatigued, I nothing to say in my classes and at home. Reading, playing tennis, working, and running track for a city team became my whole world.
The job coordinator, Mr. Phil Bates called me to his office and said, “Creasie, when I phone the school, I don’t want to be able to distinguish your voice from the other female operators. I want you to learn how to talk pretty.”
In other words he wanted me to sound white when I spoke. At that moment I remembered Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s poem, We Wear The Mask. I noticed that my voice had a deep pitch in the morning and was higher pitched by noon. I listened to the adult secretaries talk on the phone, and I practiced sounding like them. I learned how to “talk pretty.”
I thank Mr. Bates to this day because I now know when to go into the “talking pretty” mode on the phone for my personal gain. I have been wearing the vocal mask on the phone since I was sixteen years old. As a teen, I vividly remember the days that whites perpetuated the ugliness of racism by putting black newscasters and actors behind screens and not putting prominent black musicians photos on album covers, and used black voices for financial gains. Blacks have gone through, around and under racist roadblocks to achieve their goals in every profession you can imagine. Unfortunately in the 21st century, racism and prejudice are still alive and well, and blacks are still celebrating the first black in this or that profession.
In addition to giving me the practice to communicate and articulate myself like the white folk, my work study job afforded me the opportunity to purchase some of the things I needed and to defray some of my Mother’s monthly expenses.
After my father’s death, watching my mother tirelessly work so hard without holidays or vacation days, medical and dental benefits, instilled in me the importance of a college degree. I knew that my education would dictate the type of job opportunities I would qualify for and the type of lifestyle I would be able to afford. There was no way I was going to allow my counselor to deprive me of qualifying for college.
At the end of my junior year, I received a letter from the Upward Bound Summer Program. I was accepted to the program at Mills College. My mother accompanied me to the campus for student registration, on Move- In- Day, and she attended the Parent Orientation. I had never been allowed to go for a sleepover in my entire life, and the thought of living away from home was both exciting and scary.
Mills College has a beautiful campus. While on campus, it didn’t seem like I was still in the City of Oakland.. There were so many trees , beautifully cut grass fields, bridges ,and streams throughout the campus. The section of the living quarters where I lived was called the ” Lettuce Leaf.” I don’t know why they called it the lettuce leaf. I guess because there was a long hallway with rooms on each side of the hallway. There were lots of windows in-between the rooms and at the end of the leaf was a large study room, with a huge Bay Window . At night while in my room or study area I could hear the crickets and flowing water of the stream nearby.
Students in the program were enrolled in college prep classes and attended fine art performances. Counselors prepared us for the ACT exam and helped us with our college essays and applications. They also told us what courses we needed to take in our senior year in preparation for college. After the program I took control of all the decision making for my education.
Several exciting things happened during my Junior and Senior years at Tech. I worked part-time as a secretary for Kaiser Chemical Corporation and qualified for the 1968 Olympic Track and Field National Trials for the 100 meters run. When I graduated from Tech, Kaiser offered me a secretarial job in Spain. I declined Kaiser’s offer, because I was accepted at San Jose State College. I studied abroad in Florence, Italy, during my senior year at San Jose State College. After San Jose State, I graduated with a Masters degree from Stanford.
Years later, when I returned to Tech as a teach and Student Activities Director, good ole’ Mr. E. was still there. For two years, I worked side by side with him and many of the same faculty that once told me I wouldn’t make it. I could only imagine how they felt first recognizing me as a peer, then seeing me move up in the Oakland Unified School District to become a Multicultural Education Coordinator for all 98 schools, and later becoming a California State Teachers’ Retirement System, Counselor, Specialist.
Like all people, I’ve faced many challenges in life, but because I was able to speak up to the discrimination I received at Tech, I was able to find my voice.