Bird's Eye View News

HRS Alumni Making a Lasting Impact on Careers and Communities (Part 2)


Students and Alumni Doing Groundbreaking Work in Oakland, CA

An Oakland Entrepreneur
By Phillip Chin '20

Trevor Parham sitting beside the bay with Oakland in the background

Trevor Parham ’01 started his first business in middle school, taking advantage of the arrival of digital music to DJ for Head-Royce dances. In an era of vinyl records, Parham said that, back in 1997, “no one had ever seen anybody bring a desktop computer to a party to DJ… They had no idea why I had it there and I would often have to explain it.”

Thirteen years after graduating, Parham would create another forward-thinking business called Oakstop. On the surface, Oakstop is an Oakland-based coworking company, but Parham says it’s really a way of “preserving a place for the community to participate socially, economically, and culturally, such that the community can create even more anchoring institutions for itself, using our platform.”

Oakstop supports meetings and events from business meetings to baby showers. Several community services run through Oakstop, such as a mental health program, a workforce development program, and a creative economy program that empowers artists to have a seat at the table for “broader conversations around the local economy.” Even the walls are filled with local artists’ work to provide them both exposure and potential business opportunities.

Oakstop’s community-oriented business model has worked. In the ten years since its founding, Oakstop has grown to five buildings and 75,000 square feet of space.

Parham realized how special Oakland is after leaving to attend UPenn and then traveling globally.

“I wanted to contribute to the fabric of both the culture and the economy in Oakland because I believe that Oakland has a really bright future in terms of a sort of global stage,” said Parham.

The idea for Oakstop began with Parham’s belief that communities of color needed to be able to participate within the local economy and culture. As an artist himself, Parham wanted Oakstop to be a way to value artists as “culture keepers.”

“It’s an age-old pattern—first, artists come into the spaces and the buildings when they’re blighted and vacant and nobody’s interested,” said Parham, “and then they beautify those buildings and the neighborhood. And then coffee shops come in, other businesses surface, and eventually, when there’s more interest in that neighborhood, they push all the artists out.”

The Oakstop team celebrating the purchase of 1721 Broadway in May 2023

          The Oakstop team celebrating the purchase of their first building in May 2023.

In order to break the cycle of artists and communities of color being “the first to be both leveraged and displaced,” Parham said, Oakstop “metabolizes” the costs of commercial real-estate for those communities. Most people do not need an entire commercial building, so Oakstop buys those spaces and then offers smaller chunks for shorter periods of time than a typical one to three year lease would allow.

Parham wanted to create a different pricing model that could serve artists and communities of color, but was told his plan, ‘didn’t make sense because those people have no money.’ But that’s not true, said Parham. People from those communities who want to work at a cafe might be spending $10 on coffee and pastries ten times a month, while Oakstop can offer them a coworking space for half that price, along with free coffee. Instead of “selling exclusivity at a high price… what we’re doing is we’re selling inclusivity at a much lower price. And the value is you have access to a much broader and more diverse range of people.”

Even when Parham was at Head-Royce, he was curious about exploring new technologies and starting his own business. He brought CDs to birthday parties and people’s houses, which meant he usually ended up playing the role of DJ. With the advent of digital music in the mid 90s, he began downloading music from the internet before most people even realized that that was a possibility. In middle school, Parham would set up downloads before school and then come home to a couple of new albums. Eventually he decided to put that huge array of music access to use.  

Parham still positions himself at the intersection of business and creativity. “I was able to take a combination of cultural appreciation with technology and with business and use that as a way to then help build and serve community.” That is the throughline of Parham’s numerous ventures, from a video production company in college to a post-grad job running a creative agency that advised business executives. Many of his interests were incubated through his relationships at Head-Royce, like a partnership with a friend that turned into the DJ company or the mentorship of former Art Department Head, Jeff Key. 

In the 90s, Key’s desire to incorporate technology into his art classes made him one of the only teachers with a computer in his room. He recollects Parham’s curiosity with early versions of Photoshop and Final Cut Pro noting, “He came in during his free time and would just sit there for hours.”

When Key left Head-Royce to join Youth Beat, a media-training organization for Oakland students, Parham was one of Key’s first calls. “Trevor’s been one of my go-to people for advice,” said Key. When Youth Beat needed space for their apprenticeship program, they rented from Oakstop. 

Reflecting on his time with Key as well as his early interests in all kinds of digital media, Parham says, “Even if it wasn’t directly part of the sort of core academic offering, there were outlets and resources and people at Head-Royce for me to delve further into the things that I wanted to learn about. And I feel that overall, it was a culture of learning.”

Compared to other academic institutions and spaces that Parham would move on to, he says that Head-Royce stands out as “a place where you learned how to learn.” Parham still uses the techniques he learned at HRS, particularly the scientific method. As an entrepreneur, he suggests, every idea starts with a hypothesis about what would be economically viable, “a formalized approach to asking a question… It’s embracing that curiosity within yourself.”

For example, Parham says, “Oakstop was a social experiment.” The experimental question? “What would it be like if you created a community space that was open to those most marginalized… within the context of trying to create economic mobility?”

Ten years later, Oakstop has grown to 20 times its original size. “In essence, the experiment worked,” says Parham. But he’s not resting on his laurels as he works to expand Oakstop’s programs and community impact. 

“He’s a busy man,” said Key, who is still (unsuccessfully) trying to get Parham to join Youth Beat’s Board of Directors. “He’s definitely become a mover and shaker in the Oakland community.”

More Alumni and Students Making an Impact in Oakland

Eva Allen '12 Founder of Full Belly Bakery in Montclair

       Eva Allen '12 Founder of Full Belly Bakery

Eva Allen '12, alumna and founder of Full Belly Bakery in Montclair stopped by this year to speak with Middle School students about running a business in advance of their Math Marketplace. Presenting on the topic of entrepreneurship, she shared what it was like to start and run a business from the ground up including figuring out cost per item to price appropriately (the most important decision for the marketplace “businesses!”) as well as her journey to become a professional baker and business owner.

Anokki M. '24 is the District 4 Commissioner on the Oakland Youth Commission (OYC) and she also serves on the Oakland Fund for Children and Youth. The OYC allocates $18 million to youth issues in Oakland throughout the year, and Anokhi helps make some of the decisions about those funds. She came to be involved following an interview she conducted on housing policy with the Oakland City Councilmember Janani Ramachandran, District 4 representative. Afterwards she learned that there was an opening on the OYC. In her position on the commission, she serves on one of the district's subgroups where her team conducts research on topics like homelessness and safety and includes the results in reports that provide advice and recommendations to city leadership. “I like that I am able to meet kids all around Oakland and learn about what they need—which is increased access to quality education and increased safety.” She is confident in the commission's voice and power as the City Council has been responsive to their recommendations. As for a career in politics—she doesn't think that's the direction she will take but she will continue to passionately advocate for the underserved voices in her community.


Samir (center) with State Assemblymember Mia Bonta (left) and California Attorney General Rob Bonta (right)

  Samir (center) with State Assemblymember Mia Bonta (left) and       California Attorney General Rob Bonta (right)

Samir E. '24 serves Oakland as City Council Intern, a position he landed after a pre-college program fell through his sophomore summer, He set his sights on interning for Oakland Councilmember, Treva Reid, who represents District 7. Having encountered Reid during a previous volunteer project, he was drawn to the work of her office and local governance. His persistence—which he humorously refers to as “pestering”—paid off; he began that summer and has been working for her ever since. 

In his capacity as a community service intern, Samir is involved in a wide range of tasks including writing press releases, organizing events, conducting research, summarizing meeting minutes, and talking with constituents about different topics—some of which are emphatic complaints—and condensing feedback into concise language for city staff. He smiles wryly when asked if that means he has to remove expletives. Through his work, Samir has gained insight into significant social issues and the individuals directly affected by them as well as the intricacies of government operations. When asked how this has influenced his perspective, he reflects compassionately, “I have a better understanding of the root causes of crime and how many criminals have to resort to it because of a lack of opportunity and education. I am also less critical of the government in general because I know how hard people work, especially at the local and state levels.” 

Smiling with excitement, he recalls a highlight—his involvement in a new city event he helped organize called the “Day of Action,” a partnership between Councilmember Reid and community-based organizations, neighbors, and over 20 city and county partners. Taking over several city blocks, the event was “a unified community strategy to address the violence, open-air drug markets, homeless encampments, illegal dumping/blight, and traffic safety issues impacting this corridor,” according to an article published in July 2022 about the event on the City of Oakland's website.

Thinking back to his first summer, he explains that he couldn't yet drive and had to Uber to the city chambers for work every day. “It's a lot of fun actually,” says Samir. He feels he is able to do things he would not otherwise do and that his work is helping to bring about positive change in his community. He glows with pride when he talks about the highly publicized 2022 Oakland Promise event, a college and career scholarship program, where Oakland native Vice President Kamala Harris spoke. He has met many dignitaries along the way and while he is very interested in politics, he doubts he'll become a politician. Reflecting on what he's learned from his experience, Samir notes, “I have vastly improved my public speaking, research ability, time management, and problem-solving skills. I think that all of these will translate well to college and all of my future jobs.”