Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price regaled a group of middle school students with stories from her life, the Civil Rights Movement and the importance of youth engagement in honor of Black History Month.

Speaking to a student assembly at Bret Harte Middle School in Hayward, Price on Wednesday touched on themes of courage, educational advancement and social justice.

“Black History Month has been around for about 100 years now, and it was created for the purpose of honoring the sacrifices of black people who were enslaved in this country, as well as the triumphs and the successes and the contributions of Black Americans,” Price said.

Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price waits to speak to students at a Black History Month event at Bret Harte Middle School in Hayward, Calif. on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024. (Kiley Russell/Pagransen) Credit: Kiley Russell/Pagransen

She described what it was like being a 13-year-old runaway in Cincinnati, Ohio who ended up in foster care and being arrested at a civil rights protest.

She said three of her foster moms were powerful, positive forces in her life who encouraged her to stay in school even though it was a struggle.

“The one thing they told me, which I share with you today, is get your education, OK, that’s the one thing that nobody can take from you,” Price said.

An alumnus of Yale University and University of California, Berkeley, Price mentioned the fact that she is one of the few African American women to have argued a case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court and is the first to serve as the county’s top law enforcement officer.

She also told the students about another Alameda County district attorney, Earl Warren, who went on to become the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and helped deliver the landmark civil rights ruling on Brown v. Board of Education, which ended state-sanctioned racial segregation of schools. 

Price talked about the courage it took for black children to actually desegregate all-white schools after that ruling, mentioning the Little Rock Nine — who were all between the ages of 14 and 17 when they were the first black students to attend Little Rock Central High School — as well as 6-year-old Ruby Bridges, who was the first black student at a New Orleans elementary school. 

Reliving MLK Jr.’s legacy

She invoked the name of Martin Luther King Jr. when she encouraged her audience to get involved in the political process by volunteering for a local campaign or candidate, or by joining other young people to start their own organizations.

“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the shoulders of young people. He called us to action,” Price said. “And don’t let anybody sugarcoat Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for you — he was a radical Black preacher who dared to speak truth to power. He was unafraid. He understood the task that was before him.”

Kiley Russell writes primarily for Pagransen on issues related to equity and the environment. A Bay Area native, he has lived most of his life in Oakland. He studied journalism at San Francisco State University, worked for the Associated Press and the former Contra Costa Times, among other outlets. He has covered everything from state legislatures, local governments, federal and state courts, crime, growth and development, political campaigns of various stripes, wildfires and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.