Bike Fiesta in Richmond

News Brief, Melissa Lopez/ Photos, Min Lee

On May 14, 2011, Building Blocks for Kids (BBK) hosted their first “Bike Fiesta” at Lincoln elementary. Although the weather wasn’t as pleasant as expected, families and volunteers still showed up and joined the fun. The event was organized specifically for the Iron Triangle community, and was a way to show residents that we don’t need to just use cars as transportation — we can use our bikes.

There are many bike paths and walkways in the Iron Triangle that were made for that purpose, but the community doesn’t take advantage of them because no one encourages them to go out there and use them.

Many families who do have bikes don’t use them, due to the fact that their bike is broken or has flat tires. BBK thought of this, and decided to set up a stand at the event for bike fixing. Thanks to Mikes Bikes, three such bike repair stands were set up. For each, there was a line of people patiently waiting to get their bikes fixed, and everyone left happy because after such a long time they could finally ride their bikes.

The Richmond Police Explorers also attended the event to support BBK, by hosting a relay race and helmet give-away. The relay race went around the grass area of the schoolyard. There was a track with six lines. The kids would line up and ride their bikes around the track. If someone was riding a bike and wasn’t wearing a helmet, a police explorer would stop them, take them to their stand, and give them a helmet for safe riding.

BBK invited 200 families, but after counting the families registered, they had over 450 families. This event was an opportunity for the city to see that people do enjoy riding bikes, and that they want to ride safely around the city.

All families who registered were also automatically entered into a free raffle. The raffled items were donated to BBK to be given out to the children and families who attended this event. At the end of the day, many Richmond families left the event with brand new bikes, helmets, gift cards, and tomato plants.

College Dream Eludes Immigrant Valedictorian

First Person, Jessica Garcia// Audio, William Haynes

People often speak about how college is a long, rigorous challenge, and I am sure it’s probably true. However, over the years I have proven to myself that I posses the commitment, desire, potential and determination to be academically successful.

I’m not claiming that college will be easy, only that I am a self-motivated, hard-working and determined student – one of many — who enjoys taking on academic challenges and doesn’t mind making the extra effort required by advanced placement and honors classes. Actually, these more challenging courses are the ones that truly fulfill my hunger for knowledge. For me, college will be a continuation of my quest to attain knowledge and improve as a person.

It is a journey that I am ready to commence, but the road forward is not without significant obstacles.

Because of finances and my status as an undocumented immigrant, my path to higher education is blocked. Now, I don’t believe that simply because I did well academically in high school that I should be handed money for college. I do believe, however, that I should have an opportunity to work for the money I need to put myself through school. Because of my immigration status, though, this may not happen.

Not only do I not qualify for Free Application for Federal Student Aid or other government grants, I am also excluded from university work-study and paid internship programs. So my goal of attaining a college degree rests largely on private scholarships. Even then, most private scholarships require applicants to be either citizens or legal permanent residents. Discovering all of this has been a frustrating experience, one that has caused me great consternation.

I am a high school senior in the West Contra Costa Unified School District. I have resided in Contra Costa County since my parents decided to emigrate to the United States from Mexico when I was two years old. This is where I attended elementary, middle and high school, and where I struggled as a small child to learn the English language.

By the time I entered first grade, however, I was not only proficient in English, I was also reading at a third grade level. I have earned a place on the Academic Honor Roll of my school, every year.

Today, I am the valedictorian of my graduating senior class, I have good SAT and ACT scores, and I am actively involved in my community. I have volunteered in the YMCA’s Big Brothers Big Sisters Program, served as an intern for the offices of our state Assembly member, Nancy Skinner, volunteered as a math tutor for students, who were at risk for failing algebra, volunteered in the November election, and fought for our school to stay open despite the budget crisis, among other things.

Yet even after all my efforts and hard work, the financial barriers to college remain. Despite having been accepted into almost every school of my choice, I might not be able to attend a four-year university in the fall. Because I come from a low-income family and qualify for AB 540 — the California law that allows undocumented students to attend public colleges and universities without paying out-of-state tuition — most schools will not provide me with financial aid, forcing me to pay a full tuition. Neither my family nor I can afford that.

My academic goal is to graduate from the University of California, Berkeley, with a double major in psychology and molecular and cell biology. In five years, I see myself having completed my studies and attending medical school.

But given the current laws governing access to education and finances for undocumented students, I may instead be forced to enroll at a Junior College first, and will probably be struggling like other undocumented college graduates to find a decent job after college.

I am deeply troubled by this situation, and fear many other undocumented students like me will suffer, if nothing is done to implement a path to citizenship.

This is why I again urge everyone to please support the Dream Act. It would not only provide students like me with a path to citizenship, but also act as a key that will open the door to many academic and job opportunities. It will allow young people like myself to better serve our communities.

I feel strongly that my city, state and national governments have an obligation to support young people, who want to contribute to the vitality of the education system and economy.

Please support us, don’t deport us!

The author’s name has been changed to conceal her identity.

 

To learn more about Jessica listen to an interview by Richmond Pulse reporter William Haynes.

College Dream Eludes Immigrant Valedictorian

First Person, Jessica Garcia// Audio, William Haynes

People often speak about how college is a long, rigorous challenge, and I am sure it’s probably true. However, over the years I have proven to myself that I posses the commitment, desire, potential and determination to be academically successful.

I’m not claiming that college will be easy, only that I am a self-motivated, hard-working and determined student – one of many — who enjoys taking on academic challenges and doesn’t mind making the extra effort required by advanced placement and honors classes. Actually, these more challenging courses are the ones that truly fulfill my hunger for knowledge. For me, college will be a continuation of my quest to attain knowledge and improve as a person.

It is a journey that I am ready to commence, but the road forward is not without significant obstacles.

Because of finances and my status as an undocumented immigrant, my path to higher education is blocked. Now, I don’t believe that simply because I did well academically in high school that I should be handed money for college. I do believe, however, that I should have an opportunity to work for the money I need to put myself through school. Because of my immigration status, though, this may not happen.

Not only do I not qualify for Free Application for Federal Student Aid or other government grants, I am also excluded from university work-study and paid internship programs. So my goal of attaining a college degree rests largely on private scholarships. Even then, most private scholarships require applicants to be either citizens or legal permanent residents. Discovering all of this has been a frustrating experience, one that has caused me great consternation.

I am a high school senior in the West Contra Costa Unified School District. I have resided in Contra Costa County since my parents decided to emigrate to the United States from Mexico when I was two years old. This is where I attended elementary, middle and high school, and where I struggled as a small child to learn the English language.

By the time I entered first grade, however, I was not only proficient in English, I was also reading at a third grade level. I have earned a place on the Academic Honor Roll of my school, every year.

Today, I am the valedictorian of my graduating senior class, I have good SAT and ACT scores, and I am actively involved in my community. I have volunteered in the YMCA’s Big Brothers Big Sisters Program, served as an intern for the offices of our state Assembly member, Nancy Skinner, volunteered as a math tutor for students, who were at risk for failing algebra, volunteered in the November election, and fought for our school to stay open despite the budget crisis, among other things.

Yet even after all my efforts and hard work, the financial barriers to college remain. Despite having been accepted into almost every school of my choice, I might not be able to attend a four-year university in the fall. Because I come from a low-income family and qualify for AB 540 — the California law that allows undocumented students to attend public colleges and universities without paying out-of-state tuition — most schools will not provide me with financial aid, forcing me to pay a full tuition. Neither my family nor I can afford that.

My academic goal is to graduate from the University of California, Berkeley, with a double major in psychology and molecular and cell biology. In five years, I see myself having completed my studies and attending medical school.

But given the current laws governing access to education and finances for undocumented students, I may instead be forced to enroll at a Junior College first, and will probably be struggling like other undocumented college graduates to find a decent job after college.

I am deeply troubled by this situation, and fear many other undocumented students like me will suffer, if nothing is done to implement a path to citizenship.

This is why I again urge everyone to please support the Dream Act. It would not only provide students like me with a path to citizenship, but also act as a key that will open the door to many academic and job opportunities. It will allow young people like myself to better serve our communities.

I feel strongly that my city, state and national governments have an obligation to support young people, who want to contribute to the vitality of the education system and economy.

Please support us, don’t deport us!

The author’s name has been changed to conceal her identity.

 

To learn more about Jessica listen to an interview by Richmond Pulse reporter William Haynes.

Kennedy High Students Present Ideas for the Greenway in Richmond

Video, William Haynes/Malcolm Marshall/Min Lee

RICHMOND, Ca — Kennedy High School Y-Plan students recently presented their suggestions for the Richmond Greenway at City Hall. Y-PLAN is an award-winning initiative where youth are engaged as genuine stakeholders and participants in local planning projects with the mentorship of UC Berkeley students in urban planning, design, and education.

Planting Trees in the Iron Triangle

Photo Essay, Karina Guadalupe

 

On Saturday April 3oth, Richmond residents and volunteers met at the 800 Block of 6th Street to make a difference in the Iron Triangle by planting trees.

This initiative is part of the Iron Triangle Legacy Project in collaboration with East Bay Center for the Performing Arts, Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO), Iron Triangle Neighborhood Council and the City of Richmond.

 

Should I Carry a Gun Too, for Protection?

Commentary, Nancy Ybarra

I’ve lived in Richmond for as long as I can remember. Central is the hood I grew up in. I attended Richmond High School, but then I went off to finish at Samuel L. Gompers High School. Living in central my whole life, I realized that it isn’t the safest place to live. There are drugs on the street, people using those drugs, and violence. But central still has a special place in my heart. It’s where I ran and played; it’s where I met my childhood friends, who I still have today.

Growing up, hustlers on the block looked out for me and made sure I was never messed with. They protected me as they watched me grow. They also have a lot of respect for my mom because when one of the hustlers on the block got shot, she saved his life. She heard someone yelling for help and she opened the door, only to see him lying on the concrete floor, right next to our fence. She called my oldest brother to help her take him in the house, and soon after she called 911. Police told her that he was shot six times, but was going to survive. Since then, they were always making sure we were okay.

Bust last year all that changed. I was walking on the1500 block of Chanslor Ave, on my way home from seeing a friend, at around 9pm. It was dark and I was on foot because I don’t have a car.

Just before hitting the corner on 15th Street and Chanslor, three young men approached me, and pushed me against the fence. They looked to be between the ages of 16 and 21. One of them held a gun to my head and said, “Give me everything you got,” while the other two searched my pockets. I told them I didn’t have much. I wasn’t carrying my wallet that day because I had forgotten it at home, and all I had was my phone and my I.D.

At that point I was just hoping to keep my life. My body went numb, and I was still. At that moment I was just trying to remain calm. I was more helpless than scared, because I knew I couldn’t fight back against a gun. After they did what they felt like they needed to do, they took off running. I was in disbelief because for the very first time, I had been robbed on the streets.

I continued walking home and when I got there I didn’t call the police, although I felt like I should’ve. I didn’t call the police because of the simple fact that the thieves had my I.D. and I wasn’t going to risk anything, so I just decided to leave it alone.

Now I constantly have to look over my shoulder. I don’t feel as safe as I did before the incident. I try not to walk at night anymore. Instead, I get on the bus.

Being robbed at gunpoint has changed me. It has me thinking that maybe I should carry a gun too, for protection. It’s not something I want to do but I feel like it’s something I should do, for self-defense. I don’t want to feel vulnerable ever again. It’s a tragedy that things like that happen. I wish we had jobs and programs for the youth. Then maybe incidents like this wouldn’t occur.

Improving Richmond Schools, One Parent at a Time


Public schools in Richmond, Ca have for years been under fire for academically underperforming.  The city has even struggled to keep kids in the classroom, to the extent that last October, officials resorted to rising dropout and truancy rates by issuing a daytime curfew for school-age youth.

Enforcement, however, is not the only approach being taken to improve academic achievement in Richmond.

West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD), through the office of Family and Community Engagement (FCE), has been playing a critical role at the neighborhood level — getting parents directly involved in their children’s education by organizing parent leadership workshops and trainings, that the city believes are a necessary ingredient in any recipe for long-term academic success.

“Thirty years of research tells us that without parent involvement, the success of a child graduating high school or going to college will either be an accident, or luck,” said Marin Trujillo, of FCE.  “Especially if you are coming from a marginalized or low income community.”

With one child attending Richmond High School and another at Peres Elementary, Guadalupe Corral – a resident and neighborhood organizer in the Iron Triangle – knows well what the challenges are for students in Richmond.

A single mother from Sinaloa, Mexico who is studying to be a nurse, Corral may very well symbolize an emerging generation of parents in Richmond, a generation that is answering the call of community participation and advocacy.

Corral spoke with the Pulse about her beginnings as a parent leader, her hopes for the future and the evolution of her own feelings about Richmond.

 

How long have you been living in Richmond?

I’ve been living in Richmond now for a little more than 12 ½ years, the whole time right here in the same neighborhood, the Iron Triangle.

What inspired you to get involved with the school district’s parent leadership group?

I decided to become a part of this group, primarily to learn how I could help support my own kids in their education.  But I also wanted to help make the schools safer, to counteract the violence out on the streets.

Back when I was first getting involved, things in this part of Richmond were really ugly, really unsafe.  I wasn’t seeing many other opportunities out there where I could get involved with the community and make a difference, so I thought, “Okay, I’ll get involved with the school and do whatever I can to help.”

What was your own school experience like as a child in Mexico?  And how does your experience differ from that of your children, now that they’re attending school here in Richmond?

Well, in Mexico the schools are much more strict.  At least, that was the case in my experience, and of course it all depends on one’s experience.

As for the schools here in Richmond… Well, first of all, I need to explain that I moved here from the town of Greenbae, in Marin County, where I had been living with my mother.  Due to circumstances, we were forced to leave our place there, and back then the thought of having to move to Richmond was pretty scary.

Why were you afraid?

I was afraid because of the lack of safety and the violence that was happening in Richmond at that time, which was about 12 1/2 years ago.

What gave you the idea that Richmond was a dangerous place?

I would hear these stories on the news and everyone was telling me, “Gosh, don’t move to Richmond because people killing each other out there!  All sorts of horrible things are going on over there.”

So, I didn’t want to come to Richmond at first — but I just couldn’t find an affordable apartment in San Rafael, where I preferred to live.  I’m a single mother, I have my children, and over there (in Marin County) everything is super expensive.

But I had a friend who happened to be living here in Richmond and she told me, “You know what, there are some available apartments in my neighborhood if you’re interested.”  So I decided to do it, convincing myself that it would only be temporary until I could find us a better place to live in San Rafael.

Once I did get here, I was very afraid.  I wouldn’t leave my apartment.  I lived across the street from a gas station, and I relied on that station for most of my shopping.  The closest grocery stores were 5 or 6 blocks away, and I would actually call a taxi to get to them because I felt so unsafe walking the streets.

Are you still afraid?

Oh no, things have changed a lot.  I feel very safe.  I enjoy taking walks now.  My kids and I go out and take walks with our dogs.  I also know my neighbors and the majority of the people living in this area.

Would you say the neighborhood in general has gotten better?  Or has your perspective changed simply because you know more people?

I think the area has changed for the better, definitely.  There is less violence than before.  I feel like we (the neighborhood residents) are becoming more unified.

Most of us living in this neighborhood are either African American or Latino, and previously, I think there was a lot of division between the two groups. Now, little by little, I think we’re starting to come together, but we still have a lot farther to go in our understanding of one another.  So many African Americans are still scared of Latinos, and the same is true of Latino attitudes toward African Americans.  But we’re becoming more open-minded now.  I believe things are changing.

Because Richmond is such a diverse community, I would imagine that you’ve worked side by side with parents from different cultural backgrounds.  What has that experience been like for you?

It’s been great.  I always like to say that people in Richmond – all the people in Richmond – are just really good people.

Since moving here, I’ve worked with African Americans, with Latinos, with Asians… and they’ve all struck me as being fine people.

The only thing that tends to be lacking at times is the ability to communicate with each other effectively.  I think the will is there.  It’s just that, sometimes, there can be communication breakdowns.

What are some of the concrete changes that you’ve seen occurring in Richmond schools?

Like I said, when I first came to Richmond, the streets were not a safe place to be, and I saw that there were also a lot of bad things going on at the schools.

In fact, two years after moving out here, I was still sending my son to a school in Corte Madera in Marin County.  Can you imagine, taking him all the way to Corte Madera from Richmond, every day?   I only did it because I was scared.  I didn’t want him going to school in Richmond.

Later, I moved him to a school in Point Richmond, called Washington.  My sister lives nearby the school, so I was able to use her address.  At Washington, I felt like my son would be safe.   But as I came to learn more about the schools in my area, I began to take a closer look at Peres Elementary, and I was really pleased with what I saw.  It seemed like a very good school, with very good teachers.  At that time the school also had a wonderful director, who was extremely supportive with the parents.  So I really liked the school, and I liked the way the director was conducting things there, so I decided to enroll my son and I began participating in their parent group.

Through that, I started to meet a lot of people and eventually I became president of the parent group, which was personally helpful because I met a lot of new people in the city and I became familiar with other schools in Richmond.

Over time, little by little, as a result of our parent groups being more involved and communicating with the school district and the city, people began to listen to us.  The city began to allocate more resources for our neighborhoods, putting more into maintaining our streets, into keeping our neighborhoods clean.  Since then, things have changed a lot.

In your opinion, who has more responsibility for the academic success of children: Parents or schools?

I think the parents.  The schools have their responsibilities, obviously.  But I’ve always said it goes back to the parents paying attention to their children.   Lots of parents just tell their kids, “You’ve got to go to school!”   But they don’t understand or can’t emphasize the value of education in the same way as a parent who is actively participating in their child’s school life.  For a young person, the difference between those two experiences is huge.  So, I would say that the parents play a bigger role in determining the success of their children as they progress through school.

In regards to education, what are your concerns and what are your hopes for your children?

For my kids, to have a safe and healthy community – that’s what I’ve been working for, struggling for, so they’ll have a safe community here.  I want them to be able to go to a university and continue studying so they can be someone in life.  I’ve worked long and hard for them to be able to attend college, and I know they can do it.

And how have your children reacted to your involvement in their schools?

Well, I have really good kids.  I have a sixteen year-old son who is just entering that age where he doesn’t want to take many things seriously. He’s a typical boy, in the sense that as long as I put pressure on him to do something, eventually he’ll do it.  But if I leave him to his own devices, he might not do what he needs to do until he’s pushed a little bit.  That’s normal for all boys.

What do you like most about living in Richmond?  And do you think your family can prosper living there?

Of course!  A lot of people living here don’t realize that there are opportunities all around them, like financial support and all types of community support.  If you want to get ahead in life here, it is possible.  You just have to look for the opportunities.

And what else do I love about Richmond?  The people.  There are really good people here in Richmond, it has the best climate in the Bay Area and it’s accessible to other parts of the Bay.   We’re close to Marin, Oakland and San Francisco.  We have access to everything.  I think we’re living in the best spot in the entire Bay Area.

 

For more on Richmond parents getting involved please watch these videos

 

 

Fixing the Cycle in Richmond

Video, Nancy Ybarra, Malcolm Marshall
Music: Maple Leaf Rag by Scott Joplin//Florida by Diplo

Richmond, CA – On May 13th and 14th, 2011, Fix the Cycle: a collaboration between members of the Building Blocks for Kids Collaborative, the City of Richmond, Contra Costa Health Services, LEAP, Richmond Police Department, and Richmond Spokes, will sponsor two days of events dedicated to Major Taylor’s Legacy.

The first event, The Fastest Cyclist in the World, will occur May 13th from 6-8pm at the Nevin Community Center. This will be a celebration of the life and accomplishments of Marshall “Major” Taylor, the first African American professional cyclist. Born in 1878, Major Taylor’s had a professional racing career that spanned 13 years and included the world one-mile track cycling championship in 1899.

The second event, the Bike Fiesta, will occur on the following day, May 14th. The Bike Fiesta will be held at Lincoln Elementary School and will go from 10am-3pm. At this event Fix the Cycle aims to spread awareness of the health benefits associated with safe bike riding.  The fun educational activities for youth and adults will take place in a family friendly environment that encourages cycling.

Richmond’s Earth Day Compost Giveaway

Video, Karina Guadalupe, Min Lee

EDITORS’ NOTE: On Earth Day 2011, the City of Richmond, Calif. promoted its residential food scrap program, in which the contents of green curbside bins are composted and offered back to residents. Over 300 people turned out to get free compost buckets, compost and edible plants for their home gardens.