“Greatness is in me.
The spirit of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding surges within me.
I am blessed, I am rich, I am humble.
It is done.”
This is Crew C-3 Supervisor Antoine Penn’s mantra that he repeats daily after his morning meditation. Standing at a towering 6 foot 5, clean cut, with long dreads — there is something regal in his appearance, and yet his warmth and ready smile make him instantly approachable.
Because of his positivity, you likely wouldn’t guess the kind of life he’s lived up to the age of 30. Antoine lost his mother
at age 16 to street violence, followed by a close cousin years later. As a teenager, he was left to take care of five younger siblings and navigate the complexities of growing up in Oakland.
Although Antoine always possessed leadership qualities, having been a class leader in high school and enrolled in the JROTC, he fell into trouble with the wrong crowd and ended up with a warrant from juvenile hall. He decided to turn himself in and that’s when he found out about Civicorps and met the people who would change his life.
“Just having people like Yvette and Sergio (Civicorps crew supervisors at the time, now full-time staff) resonated with me because they showed a genuine care for me. They showed me so much love that it made me feel like I could trust people again after losing my mom,” Antoine said.
Antoine has used music and writing over the years to process his feelings about the world around him. Like many of our students, Antoine would always say that he wanted to make music for the community.
“When he said he wanted to be a rapper, I’d say ‘Okay, just send me the music when it’s done’ – I had been so used to hearing that from students here,” Yvette said, “but everything he told me he was going to do ten years ago – he’s actually doing.”
Antoine’s time with Civicorps didn’t end when he graduated. He came back as a Job Training Supervisor because he felt he could use his training and experiences of growing up in Oakland to help youth develop a sense of pride and purpose.
“A saying I got from the California Conservation Corps is ‘Learn it, do it, and teach it.’ I asked myself ‘What are your talents and your gifts and how do you get those across to people?’ Mine is music and also the work I do with the students. Being a supervisor in the ‘Corps is almost a ministry of its own.”
Monday through Friday, Antoine leads a crew that works with the East Bay Regional Parks District and inspires Civicorps students through the music he creates in his home studio.
“When I see young people in the streets acting out, I realize it’s because they don’t really know themselves and don’t have knowledge of their culture, but look at where we came from, look at what we’ve been through. We’ve been through a whole lot. If you listen to my songs I talk about that.”
Michael, a current student on Antoine’s crew, feels inspired by his mentorship and his music. “I like being on Antoine’s crew because he tells me how to stay positive and gives me tips on how to improve. I’ve heard his music before and it’s different from other rap music in a good way because he’s sending a positive message.”
“He knows how to talk to all of us as individuals – how to talk to each of us when we’re going through stuff and the kind of motivation we need to get through it,” said Angelica, another student on Antoine’s crew.
So each day at 7am, Antoine is at Civicorps, ready for a day’s work mentoring his crew and helping our local environment.
“What motivates me to keep doing what I’m doing is that I’m always learning as well,” Antoine said, “I come to teach them something and they show me things in return. It’s gratifying and fun.”