Kemba Shakur – Executive Director
Fondly referred to as the “Tree Lady”, Kemba is the Founder and Director of Urban Releaf, an urban forestry nonprofit responsible for the planting and caring of an estimated 16,000 trees in low-income East Bay communities. Kemba has always loved trees, and cherishes childhood memories of outings with her parents to places like Big Basin. A pivotal moment in her life came in the 1990s, when Kemba moved to West Oakland and was struck by the lack of greenery. Instead of packing up and moving on, Kemba started planting trees. She founded Urban Releaf 14 years ago, guiding it to success by abiding by two key principles – creating a more beautiful community where residents take pride in where they live and offering opportunities for at-risk youth and unemployed adults to gain marketable skills.
Kemba continues to advocate for the importance of trees on a local as well as national level. Currently, she is engaged in the 31 Green Street Research & Demonstration Project, an integration of tree planting, community outreach and the scientific benefits of trees as they relate to air, water, and energy. In addition, she is working on her autobiography as well as a children’s book titled, “A Tree Grows in Oakland.”
EDUCATION & OPERATIONS
Gregory is an arborist, urban forester, educator, and doctoral graduate in the Nature & Society Geography Program at University of California, Davis. He received a B.S. degree in Natural Resource Conservation from the University of Montana in 1998 and a M.S. in Urban Forestry from Southern University and A & M College in Louisiana in 2005. Most of his research and work focuses on involving youth and young adults in nature based activities and natural sciences. He does this by engaging at-risk populations in urban forestry and arboricultural project-based activities utilizing an urban environmental educational approach. Through this work he hopes to build community based capacity for civic-oriented environmental stewardship in under-served communities.
Jim is a Consulting Arborist/Forester, and has a BS in Forest Science with a focus in Urban Forestry from The Pennsylvania State University. He believes that Oakland should and will someday have the best urban forest in the world with the help of Urban Releaf. Jim is responsible for ensuring that our tree staff is maintaining the highest arboricultural standards in all urban forestry activities and hopes to expand upon a fruit tree program within the organization.
As a consultant since 2007, Kevin has assisted numerous prominent Bay Area organizations, along with producing large annual special events. In 2010, Kevin served as Contract Compliance Officer for Economic Opportunity Council, a Federal Poverty Reduction Program. From 2008 to 2010, he served as a Job Developer/Solution Provider in the newly opened One Stop Career Center in San Francisco’s Fillmore district. Prior to this, he served as Director of Education and Technology at the San Francisco YMCA and continues to serve in this capacity with the Urban Releaf Organization in Oakland. Earlier in his career, he was a dedicated and passionate teacher and mentor serving as a vocational instructor in computer repair and maintenance, a special education teacher at McAteer High School, and in the early childhood department of the SFUSD for 10 years. Kevin started his career in the United States Navy as an Aviation Mechanics Inspector.
Joann oversees facility and project area personnel and operations. She graduated with a B.S. in Mathematics from the University of California, Irvine, and has had extensive experience abroad learning about various cultures and communities. Joann enjoys working with diverse groups of youth in their career development. The environment and sustainable development practices have long been interests of hers.
OFFICE & COMMUNICATIONS
Ms. Cassandra L. Mitchell-Reed has over twenty-five years in non-profit management in the areas of finance and administration. Cassandra has a strong commitment to community service. Her reputation for commitment, hard work and as a motivator has earned her many opportunities to represent other community organizations. She has held several executive seats and participated on many community boards.
Leslie has been a bookkeeper for 25 years in the Bay Area, and has a special appreciation for non-profit organizations and the gifts they provide society. She values the thoughtfulness and inspiration that initiates such enterprises and the effort it takes to sustain them. Her work with Urban Releaf has been particularly rewarding. She is a student of Indian classical music and is also a concert manager for Indian classical artists touring the U.S.
A longtime journalist and photojournalist, Eric is known for his reportage of the Bay Area hip-hop scene, investigative pieces on media policy, and cultural and community coverage. In recent years, Eric has branched out into communications and PR, with a focus on community, social justice, environmental justice, and activist issues. As Urban Releaf’s Communications Specialist, he brings to the table extensive knowledge of the East Bay community, excellent analytical skills, and a working knowledge of media policy, outreach, and communication strategies on a local and national level.
MENTORS & YOUTH STAFF
Jamal has been working with Urban Releaf for the past 12 years. He is currently employed as both Urban Forest Mentor and Tree Planting Manager. These roles allow him to educate his fellow staff and community members in proper tree planting procedures and the benefits of trees. He enjoys planting trees because of the immediate impact that it has on a street. His career goals include eventually be able to start his own business.
Akeem is a native of North Oakland, and has been working with Urban Releaf since it first started in 1998. He is passionate about planting trees and working with kids from the community to instill a sense of pride in where they live. His career goals include joining the Oakland Police Department and opening his own nightclub.
Kwame has always been fascinated by trees, and began working at Urban Releaf during his early teens. He is working towards obtaining his ISA Certification. Kwame aims to pursue studies in marine biology and explore career opportunities at the San Francisco Aquarium.
Armahn has worked with Urban Releaf and the East Bay Conservation Corps for years. He enjoys working among his peers in the community where they live. Armahn aims to be trained and begin a career in solar panel installation.
Trevon enjoys planting trees to make the environment a better place to breathe and live. He wishes to help build Urban Releaf as an organization and develop his skills as a leader in his community. Trevon will complete his AA Degree in Business soon, and wants to transfer to a 4-year university for his Bachelor’s Degree. Furthermore, he aspires to play basketball in the NBA or overseas.
Tim is a West Oakland native who is all about community. He is also a local hip hop artist as part of the Silence the Violence Movement with the Ella Baker Center and local radio station KMEL. He is very passionate about planting trees in our City and informing the community about what’s going on.
Mercedes is an urban re-use artist & jewelry-maker, educator, vegetarian and avid bike rider. She recently graduated from Mills College with a BA in Ethnic Studies. Her passion is getting more people of color interested in urban environmentalism, planting their own food and wellness. What makes her day is to spend at least 5 minutes in the sun and put her fingers in the dirt.
As a Youth Intern, Romello learns about proper tree planting and care through hands-on experience in the field. He takes pride in planting and caring for trees all over Oakland. He enjoys working with and learning skills from the Urban Forest Mentors.
Jamila assists with administering the daily operations of Urban Releaf’s programs and projects. She had received her certification as an Emergency Medical Technician. Jamila is an avid reader, swimmer (she’s a certified lifeguard) and enjoys mentoring youth. Her favorite tree is a Coastal Redwood.