Meet our Operations Manager, Aja Minor

In order to help our supporters learn about the staff they’re supporting, our super volunteer Jean Jeffress did a series of interviews with the OPC staff to learn about our work. Check out this feature on our operations manager, Aja. You can reach Aja at aja@oaklandpeacecenter.org. And you are always welcome to support our work by clicking on this link to donate.

“I just know the need this space fills.”

Greetings friends, fans, and lovers of the Oakland Peace Center. For the second installation of the staff member highlights with an OPC staff member we will be with Aja Minor, the operations manager. Aja and I had a wonderful conversation a few mornings ago, and I must say, I’m not much of a morning person, but the week I spent my mornings with the OPC staff made getting up earlier worth it. Much of what you will read here will be from Aja even though I may or may not use quotations marks.

Aja Minor serves the OPC as the operations manager. As Sandhya describes Aja’s role, “She makes the numbers balance, creates systems for [Sandhya’s] chaos, and is building a ‘business plan’ for the Oakland Peace Center that puts us on track to being financially sustainable, but which also honors that we’re not actually a business so much as a peace generator.” Aja’s background as an educator and a social justice organizer put her at the perfect intersection to help OPC become a sustainable center for peace, learning, and social change.

Aja’s connection to OPC goes back to before she became the operations manager. She has worked with and been in relationship with many of the organizations that share the space in the building with OPC. She was volunteering for OneLife institute, one of the OPC member organizations, at the OPC’s launch event almost six years ago. It was there that Aja met Sandhya, and also at that time she met Shilpa from YES Jam, another OPC member. Aja said, “We just connected and became close.”

Aja joined the OPC staff in September of 2017. What she likes best about working at OPC besides its mission, vision, and all of the people with whom she works, is “the idea” of the Oakland Peace Center. She said, “I just know the need this space fills. Non-profits that aren’t really run by the non-profit industrial complex do not always get the funding or the space they need. Two of the organizations that I used to work for, Black Alliance for Just Immigration and Black Organizing Project were both struggling for space.” She went on to explain that if the cause for which the non-profit is working is not a “hot topic in the charitable non-profit world” then funding and space may be difficult to obtain. The Oakland Peace Center is the place where non-profits whose causes are not necessarily the “hot topics” can find affordable space, community partnership, and shared resources, and perhaps most importantly, makes it possible for them to STAY in and serve Oakland.

In addition to working as the OPC operations manager, Aja is an English teacher at OPC partner Emiliano Zapata Street Academy two blocks away. She spends her mornings at OPC, goes to teach, and returns to OPC in the evening to tie up any loose ends from the morning. She is willing to split her time like this because she believes in the work that OPC does. She says, “There is so much potential here. There is hope….The building is beautiful. I was excited by the idea to support the OPC for sure.” Aja believes that this beautiful building and all of the amazing work that happens in it are worth supporting and sustaining.

As we all know, the Bay Area is an expensive place to live and work. The same gentrifying forces that make it financially difficult to live sustainably for individuals in Oakland and the Bay Area, also make it difficult for the organizations that support communities to support themselves. Aja believes that the Oakland Peace Center needs and deserves support, for the building, for the organizations to continue their work, but Aja really lifts up the people who run OPC. She says, “OPC needs support so that Sandhya can work full-time, so that Clidell (Franceyez) can work full-time, so I can work full-time to actually bring all of this together, like it’s gonna happen. But it just feels important to support the people who do the work.” Aja went on to explain that often in the non-profit world and in social justice work there is an expectation that people should sacrifice and give their all. But the reality is that people will experience burnout as they do in other care-giving professions such as teaching and nursing. A fully funded Oakland Peace Center can alleviate burnout for the staff, and support the upkeep of the building, which ultimately supports all of the OPC partners and all of the work they do.

Aja cares about people and community. She says, “the Oakland Peace Center is working to keep Oakland Oakland. If you want to see change happen, OPC can really create that change because we have the physical space to offer organizations and individuals to come and do faith-based organizing, to come and heal, to come and learn. So people should give because change in Oakland is literally happening right here in these spaces.”

And Aja cares about peace in Oakland because as she puts it quite simply, “Peace is good in general.” And she goes onto say, “People need to be happy in and healthy in my communities so that I can be happy and healthy. If people are struggling then I struggle. I value and believe in equity, access, and dignity and those things are being taken away in Oakland.” Aja believes that equity, access, and dignity contribute to healthy communities which bring peace. And all of these things are what the Oakland Peace Center is working to preserve in Oakland right now.

When I asked Aja if she had a fun Sandhya story she said she couldn’t think of one that should go in the newsletter J. But she did say “I thank God for her every day. She’s a good friend. She’s a good boss. We can talk and nitpick and debate and stuff, be all irritated and get past it – but I know that she is a kindred spirit. I love her to death and want her to get as much support as she gives other people.”