Who We Are

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Nairobi College was a private junior college located in East Palo Alto, California, designed to serve the educational needs of Black students and other students of color in the surrounding region. The College began classes in the fall of 1969 with initial funding of $100,000 donated by area residents and private foundations. 20,000 books were donated by schools, individuals, and publishers, which were kept in two residential garages. Anyone at least 16 years of age was welcome to enroll at no cost. The first class had a variety of students including the working-class and some of whom who had dropped out of high school.

The all-volunteer faculty numbered about 40 and consisted of students and professors from nearby universities as well as community organizers. Based primarily out of a small private home in East Palo Alto, Nairobi College operated out of stores, church buildings, and homes throughout Black and Latino neighborhoods. The college leadership hoped that spreading classes out in these existing structures would integrate it with the needs and reality of their surrounding community, calling it a “college without walls” in contrast to the perceived “ivory tower” of mainstream academia.

The students were primarily African American and Hispanic, although working class white students were also included. Most of them worked full-time and took classes in the evenings. All students were required to utilize their training to provide skilled volunteer work three hours per week in support of area social organizations, such as schools, community health centers and legal aid.

Instructors included Ed Roberts, a disability rights activist, Tello Nkhereanye, from South Africa, Frank Omowale Satterwhite, a Stanford graduate and community organizer, Aaron Manganello, a minister of education for the Brown Berets, and Mary Hoover, a Stanford academic advocate for African-American English.

In 1966, Nairobi College launched an affiliated preschool through high school program called the Nairobi Day School. By 1971, a $500 tuition charge was instituted, but was usually paid by federalr student financial aid and was often waived. ‚ÄčLocal schools offered the use of their science laboratories; Stanford University offered students library privileges; and Central Michigan University, Goddard, and Antioch agreed to accept Nairobi transfer students.