Richmond’s Opportunity West Closes its Doors

News Report, Kia Croom

Last month, under increasing financial strain, the non-profit Opportunity West closed its doors. Housed in the Nevin Community Center, located in Richmond’s Iron Triangle, the closure left staff and clients struggling to cope with the loss of services many say are needed now more than ever.

With the economy continuing to sputter, it’s a trend being mirrored nationwide.

Patricia McDonald is a case manager with the center, which offered learning and developmental opportunities to at-risk youth and their families before shutting its doors in April. She said she learned of the closing just four weeks prior, and despite not knowing when or if she would receive her final paycheck, she voluntarily continued to come to work to support her clients.

“People ask why do I keep coming to work — it’s my clients.” she said. “They still need services and who is gonna help them? I am still working from my desk,” she said. “I have all of my clients’ files, because they [the clients] keep coming.”

According to a study put out last year by the Nonprofit Finance Fund, demand for the kind of services provided at Opp West have spiked nationwide since the onset of the recession in 2008. That and a drying up of funds have led to a severe crunch, with 87 percent of the 2000 nonprofits surveyed reporting their operations have been impacted.

Opportunity West serviced residents mostly from the city’s Iron Triangle neighborhood, which has long struggled with high rates of poverty and crime. Yet despite whispers of the agency’s closing, it was business as usual at the center even into its final days of operation.

From a short distance, McDonald and co-worker Sally Villaseck, who coordinated the center’s Families in Transition program, observed clients utilizing the community resource room. One woman perused job postings, her three-month old son fast asleep in his stroller. Another man approached to let Villaseck know he would be leaving for the day.

Neither knew of the pending closure.

“That is one of my regular clients. Every day he looks for me to tell me his progress. I don’t know how he is going to take it when I tell him we are closing,” she said.

Villaseck had been with Opportunity West for 7 years. She says she was devastated to learn of the closing, especially after having been such an integral part of the opening at its current location.

“I actually helped clean the building before we moved here,” she recalled. “I did whatever I needed to do, scrubbed floors, mopped, swept even before all of the power in the building was on, I was there working”

Through her work helping homeless children enroll in local schools, Villaseck gained the love and respect of youth in the city’s West County community. She says her cellular phone became a lifeline to the many young people who called her when in distress.

“When they call me, I stop what I am doing and go to them to help them. Sometimes they need clothes, transportation and even food.” There have even been times, she adds, when she’s been at home with family and a kid calls saying they need clothes. “I have gone to my son’s closet and taken clothes to give to kids in need. These kids rely on me.”

Opportunity West moved to the Nevin Center in 2005, after years of maintaining separate offices around the city. Former Executive Director Cheryl Maier acquired space within the Nevin Center to consolidate the programs and establish a site central to its target population –residents of the Iron Triangle, where unemployment hovers around 20 percent and where crime rates consistently outpace the national average.

During this time, the center — which is owned by the City of Richmond — was unoccupied due to budget constraints. Maier, with support from public and private sector leaders, successfully negotiated Opp West’s occupancy of the site.

“We became a resource center for people in that neighborhood. Poor people could come there and get services. We had an open door, if you came there and needed some services we would make the connection, because too many people have too much difficulty navigating the system,” she said.

According to Maier, Opportunity West’s target population was the most vulnerable and disenfranchised of the community. Her staff, on numerous occasions extended themselves both professionally and personally to meet the needs of the clients. In the end, the agency extended its financial resources as far as it could in its service of clients.

“We ran out of gas. We were too small to maintain the scale of services needed to support the community,” Maier explained.

Others cite allegations of financial mismanagement, which they say led to its closing. “There were discrepancies with payroll taxes, employees and an outright mismanagement of funds,” one source said.

Regardless of the cause, Opp West’s closing was a surprise to many of the agency’s collaborative partners.

For Richard Boyle, with the Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO), it was both sudden and unexpected.

“There were definitely whispers in the rumor mill of the financial troubles, but no indication that they were going to close,” Boyle said.

In closing, Opportunity West transferred two of its staple programs to two local organizations: the Families in Transition Program (FIT), which supports homeless school age children, is now operated by the Greater Richmond Interfaith Program (GRIP); the Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL), meanwhile, is now operated by Youth Enrichment Strategies.

Still, with the lingering uncertainty surrounding the non-profit sector, it remains a question as to how long these agencies will be able to fund the programs.

For Maier, the recession gave the answer. “We ran out of money to keep the infrastructure going and the board saw that we didn’t have funding anymore from key contributors… The way I see it, our season had passed.”

Sadly, the needs of the community have not.

As Grisby Murder Trial Begins, Father Grapples With Loss

News Report, Monica Quesada

 

Terry Bell has the perfect explanation for what happened to his son. “He was at the right place at the wrong time,” Bell said. “It was just timing. He walked out and here they come.”

Gene Deshawn Grisby, Bell’s eldest son, was shot and killed on Monday, January 10, 2011, outside his grandmother’s house at Crescent Park in Richmond. Grisby, 16, who lived with his grandmother and was under full custody of his dad, was on the way to the gym.

According to Bell, Grisby was an “average” 16-year-old kid who maintained a 2.0 in school in order to keep playing football on the El Cerrito High School varsity team.

Bell is a carpenter and he pushed his son to do better than him. “I had little problems with him at school,” he said, talking about Grisby’s grades. “When he started to play football, he listened.”

Bell was a strict father, always making sure Grisby was staying out of trouble and improving in school. “I’m the police,” Bell said. “If you see my son doing anything, you call me.”

And so it was the week before the shooting. Bell got a phone call from a teacher saying Grisby wasn’t paying attention in class. So Bell grounded Grisby for the weekend, and as the rules went, he was not allowed to leave the house until Bell got a phone call from the school saying things were better.

That weekend, Grisby stayed inside his grandmother’s house. He did his laundry and re-arranged his closet. On Monday morning Bell drove Grisby to school, as usual, but Grisby came back early when there was a big fight at El Cerrito High School and all the students were sent home.

Dianne McAdoo, 57, is Bell’s mother and Grisby’s grandmother. She said her son kept Grisby on a “short rope.”  Being a grandmother, McAdoo gave Bell a hard time for being so strict to such “a sweet little boy.”

Earlier on that fateful Monday, Grisby had asked his dad for a truce. He wanted to go train at the gym, to get an early start for the football season. Bell agreed.

“Unfortunately, the one time he softened up, that would happen,” McAdoo said.

Bell also blames the economic depression for what happened. Unemployed since 2009, Bell was unable to move away from Crescent Park. “We was just going to finish school here,” Bell said. “Once you graduate then we’ll go somewhere else, to go to Junior college or something,” he recalled telling his son.

“I didn’t want to go far away, just to the other side of the freeway,” Bell added. “Now I want to get [my family] far away from here.”

Bell was raised in Crescent Park, a few doors down from where his mother lives now. He remembers the 90’s as a more dangerous time, with more shootings.

“What’s different now is that anyone that lives in Crescent Park could be shot,” Bell said.  “I (thought I) had seen it all, until I saw this.”

 TEENAGE VENDETTA

Tyris Franklin, 16, was charged with murder with enhancements for the use of a gun for Grisby’s killing, and will be tried as an adult.  The trial against him starts Monday April 23, at Contra Costa Courthouse in Martinez.

The day of the murder, Franklin received a phone call from his brother who said he’d been beaten up by someone at Crescent Park. Franklin then asked Jean Pierre Fordjour, 19, to drive him to Crescent Park.

Franklin, Fordjour and three other passengers saw Grisby walking on the side of the apartment building at Crescent Park and Franklin decided to step out and confront him. The reason why Franklin decided to shoot Grisby is still unknown.

According to Bell, Grisby and Franklin had gotten into a fight when they were in the 8th grade and can’t recall anything else every happening between the two young men.

“It could have been any kid,” Bell said. “It just so happened to be the one that (Franklin) would definitely shoot.”

Bell has followed the court case closely. “I needed to know everything,” Bell said. “I waited to hear (evidence) that Gene did something. I never heard Gene did anything to deserve this.”

One year and three months have passed since Grisby’s murder. Bell deals with the pain by spending four hours a day at the gym, but said he still has a hard time finding forgiveness for Franklin.

“My anger has shifted to the parents,” Bell added. “What was his parents doing? Where were they?”

Franklin lived very close to Grisby’s home in Crescent Park. Bell said he wishes he knew Franklin had a problem with Grisby, so he could have knocked on his door and tried to find a solution that didn’t involve a gun.

“I got boxing gloves,” Bell said. “Those guys, they could have put on boxing gloves, if you got a problem.  But you bring a gun.”

 

Hooked On, and Scared of, Smartphones

News Feature, Adrienne Chainey

 

“Smartphone” has been a household term since around the time of the Blackberry, which was the first phone to begin utilizing wireless email in 2002. Since then, smartphones have become a cultural icon, representing the modern-age of technology and the rapid rate of innovation by companies such as Apple, Intel, Google and others.

But as smartphones become more and more intelligent and their applications and uses multiply, I’m compelled to ask a question: Have smartphones gotten a little out of control?

With smartphones came the ability to surf the web, send text and multi-media messages, email and record movies.  More recently, mobile games were added to the list of functions enjoyed by smartphone owners across the globe. Walking down the street, you could easily pass by someone flinging a rather peeved bird at some unhappy pigs, or come across a treasure hunter fleeing from some rather creepy looking mutant monkeys after raiding a temple, or perhaps glance over your left shoulder while waiting at the doctor’s office and see someone completing their seventy-third guess correctly on a rather wonky looking drawing of a mermaid.

Now let me pose a question: Do you know which three games I just referred to? I’m guessing that many readers might recognize Angry Birds, Temple Run, and Draw Something as three of the hundreds of rather famous smartphone game apps. Game designers like Omgpop, Zynga and Imangi Studios are all responsible for the creation and distribution of such games. Now I’m going to rack off some more games, and I know for a fact that 98 percent of the people I spend my average day with have at least two of these on their phones: Words with Friends, Fruit Ninja, Tap Tap Revenge, Bejeweled, Siri Assistant, Wolfram, and the list goes on.

Something that I’ve come to notice, at least with the 15-25 year old crowd of smartphone users, is that there are often “fads” or “trends” that occur with these smartphone games. In Richmond, about a year ago, Fruit Ninja was all the rage. I remember Tap Tap Revenge being very big, before slowly tapering off to Fruit Ninja’s prowess. Around five months ago, among iPhone users, Temple Run was the app to use (Android users had to wait until recently in late March to use Temple Run, and after a brief craze, it has again, died off.). After Temple Run came the era of Zynga, and a slew of others have come and gone out of style within the last few months.

Angry Birds, however, seems to be the odd-man out in the sense that people continue to love the game. There’s something about sling-shooting colorful birds into blocks and pigs and TNT boxes that’s so satisfying! And Rovio, the company that designed the game, knows what they’re doing. There’s not just one Angry Birds game, there are many games, that all feature our little perturbed birds flinging to different themes. There’s the classic Angry Birds, Angry Birds Seasons, Angry Birds Rio and, most recently, Angry Birds Space.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have many of the aforementioned games on my own Smartphone, and I play them way too often. So I should listen to my own advice when I say that there are many more things youth could be doing in their spare time, other than playing games on their phone. This echoes a sentiment has been at the heart of the anti-video game argument for years, an argument that I don’t relish delving into. Yet there’s a certain leeriness I feel when I see a two year-old who can navigate a smartphone but not yet read a book, or when I see seven and eight year-olds playing Draw Something with each other on their brand new iPhone4S, when I remember not being allowed to have an email until I was eleven.

Our youth have become dependent on technology and the ease and instant gratification that it provides, and I fear it is a downward slope that offers no chance of return. I also fear the ease with which everyone, myself included, seems to accept these games as a perfectly viable hobby. The idea that scoring 1,500,000 on Temple Run was an afternoon successfully spent seems to boggle my mind.

While I love the ease and entertainment that smartphone apps allow when in situations like waiting in line or for the bus, I’m equally amazed by the culture that has sprung up in the few short years it has taken smartphones to dominate the cellular world with their LCD screens, HD capabilities, touchscreens, and whatnot. I’m curious to see not just what the next “it” game to play will be, but where the entire smartpone trend (and even generation of people) will lead us.

Xavier Viramontes, Pioneer of Chicano Art, Still at Home in Richmond/San Pablo

News Feature, Edgardo Cervano-Soto

Xavier Viramontes is a nationally renowned printmaker whose prints impacted many political movements and social justice campaigns during the 1970’s. His prints are also part of the revolutionary canon of Chicano art produced at Galeria de la Raza in San Francisco. His most famous print, “Boycott Grapes, Support the United Farm Workers Union” from 1973, which depicts an Aztec warrior smashing grapes with his fists as the grape juice and blood drip over the title, is in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. Yet, despite his body of work, few people know that Xavier Viramontes was born, raised and still lives in the San Pablo/Richmond area.

Richmond Childhood Memories

“The Richmond I refer to is this one, the old Richmond,” says Viramontes as he places the Richmond Museum’s photographic history book “Images of America: Richmond” on the café table. The book contains photographs of Richmond during the first half of the 20th Century, from the Californio period up to World War II and the city’s de-industrialization in the 1950’s. The photographs, especially those of MacDonald Avenue, remind Viramontes of his childhood and family.

“They used to have a number of theaters like the UA or the Fox (on MacDonald Avenue). There was the Rio Theater where they used to show Mexican movies. My grandmother and aunts used to love going there because my grandmother only spoke Spanish and would be able to see her movies,” remembers Viramontes.

Born on September 16,1943 in Richmond Hospital, Viramontes describes his household as a typical Mexican-American and Catholic family, where social gatherings revolved around baptisms, first communions, and religious festivities out at Saint Paul’s Church on Church Drive. His was a large family living near 1st street and MacDonald Avenue. In addition to his six siblings, Viramontes also had seven cousins living next door. They were a multigenerational family.  Made up of immigrants, first and second generation Americans, all were workers at Richmond’s cannery and factories. In 1949, his family moved from MacDonald Avenue to Merritt Avenue and Broadway in San Pablo, across from the now non-existent Broadway Elementary in a neighborhood comprised mostly of Mexican American and White Southern families.

According to Viramontes, there was mostly interracial harmony, even during the heyday of the Pachuco and Zoot Suit youth subcultures during the war era. The Pachuco culture involved Chicano youth dressed in draped and perfectly creased pants, cuffed long sleeve shirts and pompadour style hairdo’s. It was seen as a clear exaggeration of excess at a time when the United States government had placed rations on commercial items. The Zoot Suit culture in the Richmond and San Pablo suburbs, says Viramontes, was never as intense as it was in Los Angeles, yet it was still discouraged by the older generation of Mexican parents. “My friends and cousins were taking on that style, although ‘zoot-suitors’ were considered hooligans and parents discouraged it,” says Viramontes. “I have some photographs of my cousins wearing zoot suits,” he chuckles.

Art and Politics

Xavier Viramontes’ nourishment in the visual arts began early in his childhood by way of drawing his surroundings, and only it continued as he took art classes at Helms Middle  School and later at Richmond Union High School. Viramontes graduated from RUHS in 1961, and was enrolled in Contra Costa Community College until he was drafted into the military and stationed in Germany. Being in Europe, Viramontes says he visited high-profile museums such as El Prado in Madrid and the Louvre in Paris. At seeing the contemporary and classical artworks, Viramontes felt encouraged to be the artist he always was.

Upon his return in 1969 and supported by the American GI Bill to attend college, Viramontes immediately enrolled at the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) and left San Pablo for the Mission District in San Francisco. Viramontes completed his studies at SFAI in 1973, and continued at San Francisco State, where he earned an MFA in Printmaking in 1977. Viramontes was also taking printmaking courses at San Francisco City College, and following his graduation from SF State, he began to teach printmaking and etching at City College. As his focus on printmaking sharpened, Viramontes found himself inspired by the Romanesque movie posters for Hollywood films like Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments, that were so prominent on the MacDonald Avenue theaters of his childhood.

“The thing about the posters were that they were very colorful movie posters, exciting and exaggerated. I like this exaggerated imagery,” says Viramontes. “I started with painting but I went into printmaking because of the fact that you could duplicate the images and share them with people. I could never sell my paintings because I wanted to keep them,” explains Viramontes.

The accessible distribution of printmaking intertwined with the political when Viramontes became involved in San Francisco’s legendary Galeria de la Raza on 24th and Bryant in the Mission District, during his time as a student at SFAI and SF State. It was powerful and reassuring to work with Latino artists interested in establishing their presence through a gallery and political involvement in the Mission community. At Galeria, Viramontes became one of the pioneers in Chicano art. His political artwork addressed a wide range of local issues — from resisting the closure of the International Hotel in Chinatown with his prints, commemorating the unjust murder of Danny Trevino by cops on an interactive and public billboard, to his prints for the United Farm Workers union. Every weekend, he recalls, Galeria artists would have art parties and produce works for political campaigns.

Viramontes would regularly visit his family in San Pablo, but he noticed the city remained quiet, seemingly untouched by the anti-Vietnam war demonstrations and people of color movements such as the Chicano, Black Panther Party, and Asian American movements that were occurring in Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco.

Full Circle

It wasn’t until the mid-1990s, after living in San Francisco’s Mission District for 25 years, that Viramontes returned home to San Pablo, where he still lives and remains politically engaged through his art and community work. Still teaching at City College, Viramontes is now designing works for Occupy Oakland that focus on Medicare and social security. He is also a member of the San Pablo Community Alliance and a steering committee member for the Helms Community Center in San Pablo.

Viramontes’ formal involvement in San Pablo political activism began in 2010 when he and other residents rallied against a proposed return to eminent domain by the San Pablo City Council. First known as San Pablo Against Eminent Domain, the resident group mobilized the city’s neighborhoods, and as a result the proposal was struck down by San Pablo’s city council. The group then became the San Pablo Community Alliance, a resident group that discusses city council ideas. Viramontes felt compelled to organize against eminent domain out of personal experience.  In 1957, he and his family were uprooted from their San Pablo home on Merritt Avenue by way of eminent domain. “I know about eminent domain. I know it can uproot people and destroy families,” he says. Viramontes explains that in order to expand Broadway Elementary, the city had seized 10 houses. However, the expansion never occurred, and Broadway Elementary closed in 1986. Viramontes has commemorated those childhood memories in his prints.

As a steering committee member of the proposed Helms Community Center, Viramontes is adamant on the inclusion of the arts in Helms and San Pablo. He hopes to develop an art program for students once the center is built and create a gallery of multicultural artwork that reflects the diverse student body, which is expected to grow to 1,200. “If you have that many kids, you want to have something to calm down the situation. I think art has a very calming nature and I especially see no images of brown people. You don’t really see family situations that 70 percent of kids can relate to,” he says. It’s important, says Virmontes, that students of color see positive images of themselves and family; images that were lacking when he was a child. “That’s why I want to get some of my work and other artists work into Helms.”

 

Youth Brings Poetry Slam Title Home to Richmond

News Feature, Taisa Grant

The City of Richmond was made proud on April 27 when one of it’s own, Nya Mcdowell, 15, was crowned the Bay Area’s 2012 Youth Speaks Grand Slam champion.

It all started in Richmond on Saturday, April 14, when the city played host to its very first Youth Speaks Poetry Slam in Richmond. The event was held in partnership with Making Waves, the RYSE Center, Youth Speaks, and East Bay Center for Performing Arts. Twenty-five youth ranging in age from 12 to 20 came from Richmond and surrounding cities to participate in the slam.

The judges for the slam were from local community groups such as Safe Return project, Building Blocks for Kids (BBK) and Digital Storytellers.

Three finalists from two rounds were to be chosen to go on to participate in the Youth Speaks semifinals, but in the end there were eight winners because of a three way tie for 3rd place.

The winners were D’Neise Robinson, Gio Fuarez, Ivori Holson, Yejide Porter, Deandre Evans, Imani Alcantara, Wanita Jones and Christina Letsinger. They were joined by Nya McDowell and Marje Kilpatrick, last year’s finalist. The winners were automatically guaranteed a spot in the semifinals that took place on April 21st at Berkley’s Brower Center.

At those semifinals in Berkeley, Kilpatrick, McDowell and Robinson moved onto the finals on April 27th at the Nob Hill Masonic Auditorium in San Francisco, setting the stage for McDowell to wow the audience of 1,000 spectators with a performance that would bring down the house, and bring home a poetry slam title to Richmond.

McDowell received the only perfect score of the evening and nailed down the poetry crown for her recitation of “Dear Father,” an original poem about a young girl who was introduced to prostitution by her father. Mcdowell said she has seen many young women prostitutes in Richmond, and she wrote the poem to give their stories a voice.

She will now go on with four other youth poets, including Kilpatrick, to compete nationally this summer against teams from around the world.

Youth Speaks is an organization that creates safe spaces to empower the next generation of leaders, artists and activists, through written and oral literacy programs that are intended to shift negative perceptions of young people. Founded in 1996, Youth Speaks works with Bay Area young people to find, develop, publicly present and apply their voices as leaders for social change. Every summer, Youth Speaks also hosts an International Youth Poetry Slam called Brave New Voices.

The poetry slam was a big deal for Richmond, according to Molly Raynor, Raw Talent Co-Founder. She expressed how exciting it is that Youth Speaks identified Richmond as a place with a thriving poetry scene where they could host a slam. Raynor considers it a historical event, considering Richmond has been overlooked for so long. When the city is noticed, she said, it’s usually only for negative reasons. But now, she said, Richmond is on the map for Spoken Word poetry. Each year, more and more youth qualify for the slam, which speaks to the growing hunger for poetry in Richmond.

Judging by the audience reactions and participation through cheering, clapping, finger snapping and laughter, it was clear this event was long overdue. Poetry Slam Judge and Building Blocks for Kids affiliate Pamela Chavez described the event as beautiful. The youth, she said, have very important stories to tell, the kind that hit your heart.

“Youth speaking for themselves allows them to reframe how people look at (them),” said Chavez. “Youth can speak for themselves when it comes to redefining what it means to be young in the city of Richmond. As adults, we can be allies by providing space and listening.”

The auditorium was definitely filled with brave, new, raw voices, expressing the challenges young people face — especially those who suffer from poverty and all of the ills that come with it. The theme of change echoed off the walls of the East Bay Center Auditorium. The youth provided the audience plenty of food for thought, and everyone left with a little more awareness that youth in Richmond are making great waves that will wash these Richmond streets clean. They are not whispering, so trust you will hear them coming.

East Bay Parks Campaign Targets Local Youth

 News Report, Peter Schurmann

 

California, and the Bay Area in particular, is blessed with some truly magnificent natural treasures. Still, while many of these outdoor wonders are often no more than a stone’s throw from many urban centers, a high number of largely inner-city youth never experience them.

To address that, the East Bay Regional Parks District (EBRPD) has launched a “Get Active Campaign” that aims to tap into the creative potential of young people in the East Bay to heighten awareness and appreciation of their regional parks.

“It’s a major initiative to get to urban youth,” says Shelly Lewis, community relations manager with the park district. “Many don’t have that connection to nature,” she adds, recalling a trip she took with several youth who had never before ventured into one of the area’s 65 parks.

“They were afraid,” she says, “of lions and tigers… They were afraid of the wild.”

Indeed, with more than 1200 miles of hiking trails spread across some 112,000 acres in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, just east of San Francisco, the district is truly wild, representing the largest park district in the nation. But despite its size, many young people say it remains inaccessible.

Xavier Polk, 18, lives in Richmond and works at the Ryse Center, which seeks to provide local youth with a safe space in which to hang out and develop their creative capabilities. “A lot of people I know don’t go to parks,” says Polk, who adds one reason has to do with violence and issues of gang territoriality. “It’s hard getting across the city,” he explains.

Dan Riley with the Ryse Center agrees. He notes that with the high rate of poverty and crime that exists in cities like Richmond and parts of Oakland, many younger residents may not see parks “as having as much value as their own survival.”

Those are fairly stark terms, and while the Get Active Campaign may not address all of the ills plaguing the Bay Area’s inner cities, it can help to instill a healthy appreciation for nature and the benefits it has to offer.

With three categories ranging from poster art to rap/spoken word and video/skit, the campaign invites young people to submit their work detailing their own experiences with the East Bay’s regional parks and extolling its many offerings.

“Think about the last time you went to an East Bay park. What did you do? What did you see? How did you feel? What would you want to tell a friend about getting active outdoors,” reads the campaign’s Web site.

Over $2000 in cash and prizes are on offer, with $500 going to the first place winner. Winners will be announced in mid-June 2012, with all winning entries promoted on the East Bay Regional Park District’s Web sites as well as featured in its Healthy Parks Healthy People Festival.

Entrants must be residents of Contra Costa or Alameda counties between the ages of 12 – 18. The deadline to submit entries is May 25, 2012.

“Media connects young people to a community of peers,” says Riley, who conducts classes on video production and other multimedia projects at the center. “It naturally leads to the creation of a support network.”

With respect to regional parks, he says the campaign’s more targeted outreach is a good way to get young people “thinking about the issue.”

For Tania Pulido, that doesn’t seem to be a problem. “My parents didn’t buy us video games,” she says. “We went to the park every weekend.”

Pt. Pinole and Alvarado Park were two family favorites, recalls Pulido, a native of nearby San Pablo.

The 22-year-old, who teaches gardening to students at Lincoln Elementary, credits her appreciation for the outdoors to her parents, and says its that kind of exposure that can foster a healthier respect for nature among her peers.

“I took a friend to Alvarado Park once,” she says. “It was her first time there, even though it was so close to her house.”

Pulido says her friend’s parents worked two jobs and simply didn’t have the time for recreational fun. After a day in the park, she thanked Pulido. “It was really relaxing… she really enjoyed it.”

With the ongoing recession, parks have in fact seen a spike in visitors seeking alternative and affordable sources of entertainment. Still, Pulido says she’s seen local schools cutting back on field trips and other outings to the parks, which she fears could undermine children’s appreciation for the park system.

Which is where Get Active comes in.

“Welcome to the East Bay, where we roam and play. We don’t stay at home and look at TV all day.” That’s the start to a rap video on the contest’s Web site featuring three young people as they look up from their computer screens to discover the bikes, lakes, and barbecue pits that form just part of the recreational activities to be found at any one of the district’s parks.

With all they have to offer, the creative potential is truly limitless.

Why Richmond’s General Plan Must Pass

Op-Ed, Sheryl Lane

Richmond has reached a major milestone with the City Council hearing on the adoption of the General Plan scheduled for April 17th. The opportunities presented by Richmond’s General Plan update have been just beyond our grasp for the past five years. Planning consultants, council members, and other city officials have come and gone during the General Plan years; however, a group of committed city staff and community members has tried to move the process forward.

A General Plan is a city’s long-term vision that guides future policy and economic decisions that range in scope from what types of businesses come to Richmond and where they locate to what types of housing and recreation amenities are available for residents.

Some unique features of Richmond’s updated General Plan include recommendations that promote a community health-based vision and move the city toward a more equitable and accountable system of land-use planning.

Among the plan’s 12 elements is the landmark Community Health and Wellness Element, which guides a policy framework that encompasses many of our residents’ quality-of-life concerns, such as increasing access to healthy food and increasing neighborhood lighting to reduce crime. This element is unique because Richmond is the first city in California to draft a General Plan element solely addressing community health.

This General Plan’s additional long-term benefits for Richmond are highlighted in the economic development, land use, circulation, health and wellness, and energy and climate elements.

The Planning Commission recommendations represent the input and energy of a diverse cross-section of Richmond residents and stakeholders, including those involved with the community-based Richmond Equitable Development Initiative (REDI)*. At every step of this process, historically under-represented groups have provided input in the planning processes that most affect their lives and livelihoods.

The Economic Development Element suggests local hire and workforce development provisions that offer Richmond residents opportunities to be trained and employed in living-wage jobs right here in the city.

Ideally, some of these opportunities will come from new large-scale employers in emerging industries, including the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), which recently chose the UC Field Station in Richmond for its new campus site. LBNL’s site in Richmond could mean the creation of a new and diverse industrial cluster aimed at renewable energy or clean technologies.

Renewable energy employers can turn the tide from dependence on industries that emit high levels of pollution to low emissions industries, effectively improving our environment and our economy.

Adoption of this General Plan means a better Richmond community to live, work, shop, and play. Let’s pass this General Plan for Richmond’s economy, environmental quality, and our community’s health.

 

Note:  Sheryl Lane is a long time Richmond resident and a Planning Commissioner on the Richmond Planning Commission. Please note that the views expressed here represent Sheryl Lane only and not those of the Richmond Planning Commission. 

*REDI comprises the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Asian Pacific Environmental Network Laotian Organizing Project (LOP), Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), Contra Costa Faith Works, Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO), and Urban Habitat. 

In Support of Richmond Street Artists

Commentary, Edagardo Cervano-Soto

19 year old David Castañeda is a graffiti artist and a member of LA TRIBE, an artist collective in Richmond, California. Yet like many Richmond street artists, his art has received the cold shoulder from city officials and citizens who label graffiti arts as vandalism. But these are artists who have much to offer.

The Richmond Community Redevelopment Agency and the Richmond Main Street Initiative have incorporated public art into its redevelopment strategy for downtown. However, instead of reaching out to local youth street artists like David, they have been overlooked.

In her 2012 State of the City Address, Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said the city was exploring a Youth and Children’s Office that prioritizes youth needs including safety and the arts. The inclusion of an artist workers project into Richmond Youth Works would benefit the city of Richmond, and can contribute to Richmond’s decrease in violence. According to statistics made available by the Richmond Police Department , violence crime in Richmond decreased 14% between 2010 and 2011, but the number of homicides in 2010 rose from 21 to 26 in 2011. Research from Prevention Institute emphasizes on the significance of the arts, youth leadership and economic development to preventing violence, especially among low-income communities of color.

Ignoring Richmond street artists is a mistake. City officials, including Mayor Gayle McLaughlin have publicly called for Richmond’s return to a cultural and artistic renaissance, one that would match the cultural production of World War 2. But the arts never left Richmond. Vernacular forms of art such as graffiti have always been present but are least likely to be recognized by established art institutions. Instead, graffiti is at the center of debate, labeled as vandalism, blight and a connection to gang signage. If the renaissance that we are waiting for has not arrived, its because we are looking in the wrong direction. Youth artists are flourishing in the dark, beneath train track bridges and spaces long ignored. The renaissance, is already here.

African-American Elder Plays Key Role in Violence Prevention Efforts

Profile, Monica Quesada

Bennie Singleton quietly entered the church, Richmond’s Garden of Peace Ministries, looking for other “night-walkers.” With a household of children and grandchildren waiting for her at home, there were plenty of other things Singleton could have been doing on a Friday night — but the 78-year-old grandmother just had to come out and walk.

“We are tired of going to funerals,” said Singleton. “We are tired of children killing each other.”

For more than a year now, Singleton has been involved with Ceasefire, a group of concerned residents, clergy and police who are working together to stop violence, especially gun-violence, on the streets of Richmond. Their main activity is a weekly Friday night walk through problematic areas of the city, where they distribute information and do their best to get young people and other community members on board with the idea of a citywide ceasefire.

On this particular Friday the walkers were at Pullman Point, a townhouse-style apartment complex in central Richmond with a history of street violence. Once there, the walkers formed two-person teams and canvassed the entire grounds. It was a quiet night with only a few people out on the sidewalks, but each person the group encountered was given a few words and some literature.

Singleton was more quiet than usual. With the Ceasefire flyers held close to her heart, she walked strong and steady through the neighborhood while we spoke.

“I don’t really like people to know what I’m doing. I get embarrassed if people give me a compliment,” she said. “I like to do things in the background.”

Nonetheless, Singleton has shown herself to possess the character to act and responsibility to lead when necessary.

“I wish there were a lot more Bennies in [Richmond] because the city would already be a better place,” said Rev. Eugene Jackson, an organizer at Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO) and one of the leaders of Cease Fire. “She represents the fact that even though you are a senior you do not stop serving. She has a place and a purpose.”

Singleton, said the Reverend, is an important source of encouragement for young people because like other elders with deep roots in Richmond, she carries the memory of a time when the city’s reputation was not so tarnished by negativity and community violence.

No Jim Crow, But No Less Racist

Singleton still introduces herself as Bennie Lois Clark Singleton. Clark, her maiden name, is one she has been unwilling to let go. “I use [the name] now, more than anything because [my parents are] responsible for what I am,” she said. “They made me who I am.”

Clark-Singleton was born in Louisville, Arkansas in 1934. Like thousands of other African Americans in the south during the Jim Crowe era, the Clarks looked to the north and the west as places that could offer more opportunity. They migrated to California after being recruited to work at the Richmond shipyards during World War II.

Back then, in the 1940s, Richmond was a racist town. Still a child, Clark-Singleton remembers seeing Ku Klux Klan marching down McDonald Avenue. Nevertheless, she still preferred Richmond to the segregated south because she was able to attend an integrated school.

“I really liked that,” she said, “[because] whatever they taught those white kids in that class, I could learn it. They couldn’t exclude me.”

Even though the schools were integrated, they still did their best to track African-American children into trade classes like machinery or woodshop or domestic courses for girls, like sewing or cooking. But Clark-Singleton was raised in a family that valued education and her parents managed to force the school to give her a college-prep education.

“[My father] was a strict disciplinarian who pushed us to get our education,” said Clark-Singleton about her father, Benjamin F. Clark Sr.

Clark-Singleton started working at the age of 17 at the U.S. Navy as a clerk. She got married a year later and had her first child at 19 years old. A life of family and work distracted her from studying. However, when her father started attending night school, she also went back to school and eventually earned her college degree. “That man is not going to outdo me,” she recalled thinking at the time about her father.

When Clark-Singleton and her husband, James Singleton, were going to buy a house in Richmond, they were told that only whites could buy the house. Unwilling to accept the limitations being imposed on them, they packed their bags and headed south to Los Angeles.

“My dad always had us in situations where we were just people with other people. We always lived in a mixed neighborhood,” Clark-Singleton said. “I have never felt inferior to anybody because of my color.”

But Los Angeles turned out to be no fairytale for the young couple. “It was worse than Richmond,” she said.

Ten years later, the family was back home in Richmond. The Singletons, now with three children, bought a house at Atchison Village in 1971. Her husband died that very same year, and Clark-Singleton has been living in the home ever since, the matriarch and main provider for a growing family. She continued working in the banking industry until 1997, when she retired. Today, her family has expanded to include five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Like Father Like Daughter

Benjamin F. Clark Senior was a loving but strict father who would take his six children to the movie theater every weekend to see a western, although he usually fell asleep. “My dad [would] sleep everywhere,” said Clark-Singleton. “Anyplace.”

Clark-Singleton and the other children didn’t know at the time that their tired dad was not only busy working multiple jobs – he was a welder and the owner of a grocery store, among other things – but helping others in the community. Clark was a man of service.

It wasn’t until her father’s funeral that Clark-Singleton “found out all the things that he was doing,” she said.

Among those things was his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. He also helped to start and manage the city’s first farmer’s market, and fought for improved schools in Richmond. After retiring, he would take care of senior citizens and sick people, visiting them, feeding them and cutting their hair.

“I see myself in him,” said Clark-Singleton. “I see a need, and I just do it. I don’t like wasting time.”

Like her father before her, retirement didn’t stop Clark-Singleton’s drive to remain a productive and helpful member of her community, and she soon began looking for volunteer opportunities. Her first stop was the Literacy for Every Adult Program where she volunteered as a teacher, but soon came to feel that education wasn’t her strong suit. So she switched her focus to neighborhood improvement efforts in Atchison Village and the Iron Triangle.

At the time, the area around McDonald Avenue and 8th Street weren’t being regularly cleaned, and city properties like the Nevin Community Center and Park had become dangerous areas, hot spots for criminal activity. So Clark-Singleton and other neighbors got organized and began attending city council meetings to demand more attention be paid to their neighborhoods.

“What do you mean no street sweeping? What do you mean you can’t ticket the cars?” Clark-Singleton remembered her reactions to the city’s justifications. “We would go up there en-masse.”

After applying lot of pressure, the city finally took them seriously. They got their streets cleaned and the Nevin Community Center back from drug dealers and drug addicts. It was a victory for grassroots democracy, and a good indication that residents in Richmond could change their circumstances, if they were persistent enough.

“It takes a lot of people concerned enough to do something,” Clark-Singleton said.

Richard Boyd moved to Richmond six years ago, and met Clark-Singleton at an Atchison Village neighborhood council meeting. He’d decided to get involved, he said, because of the amount of violence he witnessed on his block. Through Clark-Singleton, Boyd got involved with CCISCO where he now works as a community organizer.

“Bennie is by the book. When we get off track she pulls us back, she keeps us focused,” Boyd said. “When she’s around, we listen.”

Today, Clark-Singleton keeps on helping community-organized programs, dedicating almost half of her week to two volunteer programs: Ceasefire and Safe Return, another program organized by CCISCO, the Pacific Institute and the Richmond Office of Neighborhood Safety. The program aims to help parolees integrate back into the community.

Cease Fire is the program to which she dedicates the most time and energy, motivated by the young people in whom she still sees hope. “These are children starting out,” she said. “They still can make choices and decisions that can alter their lives.”

When she walks on the streets of Richmond with the other Ceasefire volunteers, she approaches young people as if she were a grandmother or an aunt. “I speak to them with respect,” she said, “And if they need a hug, I give them a hug.”

She also has a wish for Richmond youth. “I hope [young people] will see [Richmond] as the city I grew up in,” she said. “Where people trusted each other and you could go out, all over.” It shouldn’t be too much to expect, said Clark-Singleton. After all, she said, “there are more good people in Richmond than there are bad people.”

A Year to Remember for Salesian High Basketball

News Report, Adrienne Chainey

 

The Salesian High School boys basketball team capped off one of the best seasons by a prep sports program in Richmond in recent memory, when they knocked off Price High School (Los Angeles) by a score of 70-56 in the Division IV State Championship game on March 23.

The team’s ascendancy to the state championship, played in Sacramento, generated a swell of school-wide support for the Salesian Pride in the days leading up to the Friday night game.  The school even chartered buses to take Salesian students and fans to and from Sacramento, and the “Salesian Psychos” – the name given to school’s fans – brought their loud and encouraging spirit to the contest.

“It was just an amazing feeling, getting back to the state championship,” said Michael Page, an 11th grader who also played on the Salesian team that was defeated in last year’s state championship.  “After the game we were all just so juiced, with the crowd clapping.”

However, the Pride’s victory at the state championship wasn’t the only highlight of the varsity team’s season. In December, the team won the Gridley Invitational Basketball Tournament in Florida. Going into the tournament, the team was ranked as one of the country’s top 100 prep teams.  They only lost two games in the tournament, both to opponents who were ranked in the top 10 nationally. The two losses were, in fact, the only two losses of the entire season for the Salesian varsity basketball team.

The Pride was the favorite in every game they played (excluding the Gridley Invitational), and remained the favorite all the way through to the end of the championship game. The team’s accomplishments included a 27 game winning streak, and they finished the season with a record of 34-2, an incredible season. USA Today has ranked Salesian’s varsity basketball team in the “Super 25” of top varsity basketball teams in the nation, and ESPN’s “Powerade Fab 50 Rankings” ranked them at number 21 in the nation.

Success for the Salesian High sports teams, and the individuals who play there, is nothing new.  In fact, the varsity basketball team has had many wonderful players over the years. Two such players were on the team this season: Faatiga “Freddie” Tagaloa, also widely known for his success on Salesian’s varsity football team, finished his final high school basketball season by breaking the school record for total victories. Over Tagaloa’s four years playing varsity basketball for Salesian, the team won 122 games. Eleventh grader Jabari Bird, has also received much attention from the media since the team won the championship in late March. Bird made 10 out of 16 shots in the championship game, scoring a total of 24 points for the Pride. Bird, who has one year left in high school, has already scored 1,121 points, ranking fifth on Salesian’s all-time list. Varsity basketball coach Bill Mellis predicts that, should Bird’s final season reflect his previous three, he could advance to as high as number three in Salesian history for points scored.

The Salesian High athletic department, led by athletic director Chad Nightingale and coaches like Bill Mellis, constantly turns out incredible athletes. Perhaps the most famous is current Detroit Lions running back Jahvid Best, who graduated from Salesian in 2007 and eventually went on to national fame at Cal Berkeley before being drafted by the NFL’s Lions.  Like Best, Tagaloa is sure to make headlines when he begins playing football for the University of California, Berkeley in the fall, and Bird is sure to go far after he graduates in the spring of 2013.