Richmond Residents Weigh In on Soda Tax

News Report, Malcolm Marshall

Editor’s note: Richmond is now ground zero for the debate over how to reduce soda consumption, with a one-cent per-ounce tax increase to appear on the ballot in November. Residents are divided. Some contend the tax will contribute to lower rates of obesity, others that it is simply a means to raising revenue while hurting small business. National stakeholders, meanwhile, including the American Beverage Association and the American Medical Association, are channeling efforts toward winning over voters in this largely low-income city. Richmond Pulse is going to track changing views over the next four months with regular updates on the issue. The following is a sampling of public opinion taken outside the Richmond main library. 

Vanessa Dilworth, 20: I think it’s a good idea because its going to put money back in the community. I would vote for it. I worked in a health food store and I stopped drinking soda because I know it’s bad for you. Water is best and juice. Organic stuff is good.

Bruce Lawerence, 50: “I hadn’t heard of it. It all depends on the funding and where the taxes are actually gonna go. If they’re gonna line the pockets of the city council and such, I’m not for that. But if it’s for what they say it’s for then it’s a good thing probably. I do drink soda and a couple pennies here and there ain’t gonna matter.

Unnamed, 72: “I’ve heard about the soda tax. It’s just like they were going to do the cigarette tax. I’m a pipe smoker. It’s just a way to get more revenue, it isn’t going to help anybody. I can go to El Cerrito and buy my sodas. I think it will hurt merchants here in Richmond.”

Beatrice Walker, Richmond Resident Since 1963: “Soda is not too good for people and it’s making some people obese. It’s not a pure kind of drink that people should be drinking. They should drink more healthy drinks. The addiction has a hook on you. It’s hard to break the habit.The tax may stop some people but it won’t stop everyone. There should be more educational programs in order to encourage people not to drink the wrong thing.”

Philip Marin, 25: “It’s not going to stop obesity, it’s just going to make people spend more money on sodas. People are not gonna switch to water. They would have to tax it more than a penny per ounce.”

Yolanda Vega, 30: “I’m actually against it. They are trying to do it to use the profits for obesity and stuff but it’s one of those taxes that’s really trying to mandate what we consume. It’s not something I would go for.”

Richmond Swims Gets Youth in the Water

News Feature, Monica Quesada

Caleb Monteiro, 6, was the only one in the lane at the pool, kicking away on his back. He swam for 30 minutes and today he did a great job.

“She said I’m on fire,” said Caleb with a big smile repeating his coach’s comment.

Every week, four times a week, Caleb and his two older brothers come to the Richmond Municipal Natatorium, or Richmond Plunge, to train as part of the Richmond Swims Sailfish team.

Richmond Swims is a Non Governmental Organization founded in September 2010 after the city run public pool was reopened. Richmond Swims has two on going programs, Richmond Sailfish which hosts children from five to 18, and Richmond Plunge Masters, a swimming program for adults 18 and up.

According to John Schonder, head coach and general manager of the program, since its beginning Richmond Swims has taught around 130 swimmers. Today the program has 55 permanent swimmers, starting at the age of 5.

The goal of the organization is to provide the city with a year-round program that can teach residents of Richmond how to swim, and then give them the opportunity of training to participate in swimming competitions locally and nationally.

“Richmond is a very diverse community, with swimmers representing all different nationalities and ethnicities,” said Schonder. “We are teaching a necessary life skill that can avoid an accident.”

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that “drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death for children ages 1 to 14 years,” a statistic that is more significant for minority children, like African American and Latinos. For example, the drowning rate of African American children between the ages of 5 and 9 is double that of white or latino children, and African American teenagers between the ages of 10 and 14 have a three times higher drowning rate than white teenagers.

Sailfish team’s demography is 50 percent Latino, 24 percent white, 9 percent Asian and 8 percent African American. Schonder said he hopes to have more African American swimmers and also more teenagers age 15 to 18.

But the programs wants to go further than swimming. Schonder explained that the training program also asks participants to set goals not only for competitive swimming, but also for their school performance and encourages them to be active and committed members of their families and their community.

“Swimming gives them more drive,” said Tana Monteiro, mother of the three Monteiro swimmers. “They have [swimming] goals, like to learn the strokes, and they learn that if you have a goal, you work at it and you can do it. It helps them with other things in life.”

Caleb was the reason Monteiro and her mother, April Kutger, reached out to the Richmond Swims team a year and a half ago. They both love swimming and they wanted their boys to be comfortable in the water.  At first, Caleb was the one that looked more comfortable.

But after the evaluation, Caleb wasn’t ready for the team, and he had to take private swimming lessons to level out and become a Guppy, the name for the initial swimming level in the team.

“It took a lot of practice to get my swimming right,” Caleb said.

Now the three brothers are part of the team under a scholarship and Caleb will participate in his first meet at the end of July.

“It’s not all about winning, it’s about playing the game and having fun,” Caleb said grabbing his head. “And it’s going to be a lot of work.”



Anybody from Richmond between the ages of 5 and 18 can be part of the Richmond Sailfish Swimming Team.

All new swimmers have to go through an evaluation to determine their ability as swimmers and they can enjoy a two week free trial of the program to see if they like team.

“Most of our team members had no experience when they started,” said Schonder. “On our first week we had 45 swimmer, and only four had had swimming lessons before or some swimming abilities.”

The minimum swimming requirements that a new member of the team must have are as fun as floating like an airplane or jellyfish, jumping into the deep end of a pool and comfortably swimming over to the side, or blowing bubbles in the water.

Although a monthly fee applies to all participants, scholarships are available for kids that are committed to the program but can’t afford the fee.

The fees varies from $35 to $75 a month, depending on the group level of the swimmer, and the scholarship goes from full to 25 percent coverage of the fee.

Despite the fact that most of the program’s costs are covered by different grants and donations, Schonder said that the fees are necessary to cover pool rental time, equipment, instructors, payroll taxes, liability insurance and USA Swimming annual fee.


Richmond residents 18 and over can also learn how to swim and practice the sport as part of the Richmond Plunge Masters program.

New members will have one free lesson where the coaches will evaluate their swimming abilities and determine the type of training they need. People must be comfortable in deep water but do not need to know how to swim.

The Masters program also has a fee. People that are hoping to swim more than twice a week are suggested to get the $50 monthly pass. Those that will swim twice a week or less can get a 10 swimming lessons card for $55 which has a six month limit.

Swimming workouts are Monday to Saturday at different schedules.

For more information contact John Schonder at (510)504-0330 or check Richmond Swims website at


Youth Talent Show

Youth Talent Show


 Friday, June 29, 2012

Nevin Park and Community Center       598 Nevin Ave. – Richmond

Categories: Dancers, Musicians, Singers and Rappers, Spoken Word

Age groups: High School, Middle School and Elementary School ; Other

Try-outs will be held at the Nevin Friday afternoon, June 29 from 3pm to 7pm

To register for the try-outs call Otheree Christian, 860-3389

Q n A with Jovanka Beckles

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jovanka Beckles is a Richmond city councilmember who also works full-time as a mental health specialist for Contra Costa County. She was born in Panama City, where she grew up in a bilingual, multicultural household. Her parents moved to the Unites States in1972, and she has lived in Richmond for the last 10 years.
Richmond Pulse editor Malcolm Marshall recently spoke to Beckles about her motivations for serving political office in Richmond, the challenges in doing so, and what she hopes to accomplish during her time on the council.

Richmond Pulse: What led you to run for city council? Did you just wake up one day and decide, “I’m going to run?”

Jovanka Beckles: There was a time when I [had been] DJ’ing and I was returning home (one night after a gig.) It was about one in the morning. I parked the car and was unloading (my gear.) The garage door was up… Long story short, we were the victims of a home invasion. These guys came up with a gun. They went into the house and they had the gun up to myself, up to my partner.

Then at one point they put the gun to our son’s head, asking, “What gang are you in?” You know, this kid wasn’t into any of that stuff, and then at one point after they got money and jewelry, got what they needed, they went to his room and they looked around at the stuff he had and they said, “Wow, must be nice to, you know, have somebody and [have] people love you.” That’s what this guy said, and you know, at that moment I was thinking, these young people in Richmond are hurting. What can I do? I can be committed to building community, but part of building community is taking care of our young people, and how can I do that besides what I do for a living? I thought the best way to make a difference is by helping to heal and helping to create policies and helping to create things that are needed.

That’s when I thought about running for city council, because I thought that making a difference in my job, making a difference in my little community is one thing, but making a difference on the policy level would really create the kind of community that I desired and that I think we all want.

RP: Did those young men get caught by the police?
JB: Never got caught, you know. We filed a report, and it was over. There’s so many different scenarios that I think could have happened, but I think it all happened for a reason. That’s my (belief)… I think things happen for a reason. They could have been caught — and then what? I feel like, they did what they did. Wherever they are at this point, I only wish the best for them. But it motivated me and compelled me to run for office, and here I am.

RP: As a mental health specialist, what are the specific mental health challenges you see in Richmond?
 JB: (People are) not well emotionally, because of different things that have happened — PTSD, depression, bipolar; and in kids, we see a lot of oppositional defiance.

(But) people don’t want to be associated with mental health, and so oftentimes we don’t seek the services that we need, and to me it’s just a part of being healthy. Just like if we weren’t healthy physically, we’d go see a doctor, right? People just don’t want that stigma and it’s unfortunate because we do see in a community like Richmond a lot of young people running around who need some emotional healing.

When you’re walking around traumatized, it’s difficult to live, to just sort of function. When you’re depressed, lot of kids, young people and adults try to medicate themselves with alcohol and marijuana [and] all kinds of drugs. When you’re angry and you can’t understand why your life is the way it is, or why your father’s not around, or all these kind of things, then you take that out on other people. We’re seeing young people lashing out at each other because of the hurt, the fear and the anger that they have inside them. Without encouragement to get some healing, we see it come out in some really tragic ways.

RP: Your race and background have been a hot button issue since before your election when, as a candidate, you were told you were “dangerous for African-Americans.” Why do you think it’s such an issue here in Richmond?
JB: Well again, it’s a distraction. Right. If you here the words, “She’s not black, she don’t care about black people”…
RP: Is that actually said?
JB: That’s actually said. They shout it out, “I’m not black.” Look at me with my locks, my complexion and everything, my background. Went to a historically black university. A member of black organizations, Latino as well… but basically look at me, look at what I’m doing. I’m working in this community. My clients are black kids, who respect me, and I respect them because ever since I’ve been to high school and especially since I’ve been to a black college I’ve been conscious of what’s been done to us African people. So anybody that could look at me and say I’m not black—obviously there is a level of ignorance that needs to be somehow changed and my hope is that will happen. But (those accusations of not being black) are said because I was born in a Latin American country, and I’m Latin American. I’m a black Latina. Again, it’s just a way to distract people from the issues. Even if I were white, even if I were purple or whatever…who cares? Look at how I’m voting, look at my actions, look at what I’m working towards.

RP: As someone who identifies with the black and gay communities what was your take on the controversy over the gay pride proclamation by youth from the RYSE center?
JB: This was a proclamation honoring individuals for their important contributions to the youth of Richmond. To use this time to promote the politics of division was a particularly reprehensible display of the lengths some people will go to advance their own political agenda.

RP: Which brings up more issues for you on the council: Being black, being Latina or being gay?
JB: Being a black Latina brings up the most issues from those seeking to divide Black Americans within ourselves, as well as divide the Black and Latino communities. I can see clearly how this serves the economic and social needs of corporations and the very, very wealthy, and prevents us from struggling together for social and economic justice for the greater good of the Richmond community.

I do suspect that now that people are clear that I am a gay woman (they only suspected before) they will use this to attempt to further their divisive tactics. But I wholeheartedly believe that the majority of Richmond residents do not agree with these types of divisive tactics and will make this very clear as we move forward as one unified Richmond.

RP: What are some of the important issues that you are working on that you are excited about?
JB: The issue of banning the box, so that all of our residents can have equal access to employment. The issue of Municipal ID’s, although that was passed by the council we’re still working on finding vendors for that. What’s exciting to me now is the Millionaires tax. Because I always wondered when are we going to get tired of this injustice that is going on in our country? Where the rich are getting richer and everybody else is getting poorer? When are we gonna get tired of of schools closing? When are we gonna get tired of people losing there benefits for the sake of profits? That’s something [the Millionaires Tax] that we the people can put on there. Right now it’s a petition. We need a million registered voters so the RPA is conducting a voter registration drive. Its not just Richmond, we’re talking about the whole state. If we get it on the ballot there is overwhelming support for this. This is what I call justice and I’m really excited about that.

I’m also excited about the tax on sugar sweetened beverages. In Richmond we’ve seen a lot of services cut. There are a lot of activities that could be implemented but need money. Well how could we do that? We’re talking about helping our children and or community to be healthy by reducing the amount of sugary beverages we consume and at the same time, we can actually have money for things to stay healthy. Like P.E. in schools, soccer fields, football fields, activities for recreation departments….
At a time when we are facing so many cuts, this is a way that we can all contribute to the quality of life in our own community.

RP: What do you love about Richmond?
JB: What I love about this city is its potential. We want to build a community because there are so many bad things happening. But then, there are so many good things, and that’s what I see and that’s what I focus on. Richmond has the potential for a lot, you know.

Inside the Mind of a Soda Marketer

New America Media, News Report, Khalil Abdullah

WASHINGTON – In a nation facing unprecedented levels of obesity, efforts by health advocates to make soda Public Enemy Number One are gaining traction. But marketers of the sugary drink still have to figure out how to sell it.

The way the drink is being marketed, even as cities across the country are looking to crack down on soda – from Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s campaign to ban the sale of large sodas in New York City to a proposal to establish a soda tax here in Richmond, Calif. — was the subject of a discussion last week at the first National Soda Summit.

While consumers know their soda purchases add up to a corporation’s market-share, they may be unfamiliar with stomach-share, a concept marketing guru Todd Putman termed “a mind-bending, altering, paradigm.”

From the perspective of beverage companies, Putman explained, inside the stomach, food or other drinks become direct competitors with a brand’s products. “Water, anything you want to put in your stomach, I want to push out. I really don’t want you to drink any of those things; I want you to drink this, [my product] — and more often.”

Putman, president of The Future Pull Group, is a career marketer and brand manager, including almost four years at Coca-Cola where he was responsible for carbonated beverages in North America. In animated fashion, complete with colorful video commercials on how healthy foods and snacks could be marketed to compete with the high sugar content, name-brand products Americans have come to love, Putman provided a window into the mind of a marketer.

Hosted by the Center for Science in The Public Interest, the event featured Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and public officials from other cities who described their efforts to address the burgeoning rates of obesity, diabetes and other harmful health-related conditions among the American populace. An array of presenters, from dentists and physicians to epidemiologists and nutritionists, cited consumers’ increasing daily intake of sugar-sweetened beverages – SSBs — as a key driver of those rates.

Putman, who conceded he is not a health expert, concurred. “It is very clear to me, just looking at the data, there is a linkage between sugar-based soft drinks and obesity and some of the healthcare issues that are confronting us.”

The direct line between higher sugar consumption in the United States and the effective marketing of SSBs is a fairly simple one, if, as Putman stressed, one understands that the beverage industry “revolves and pivots around per capita consumption.”

Thus, reversing the high rates of SSB consumption will prove difficult, given the enormous financial resources beverage companies continue to invest in what Putman described as their three key marketing objectives: affordability, availability, and accessibility. Each is different, he explained, with layers of sub-strategies designed to reinforce each other.

For instance, price, or the affordability of SSBs is readily apparent in the discounts offered for larger sized single servings and multi-pack volume purchases. “Soft drinks are cheaper than water in many cases, right? That’s just crazy,” Putman said. However, he contended, it’s a product’s availability that has a higher correlation with boosting the holy grail of higher per capita consumption and stomach-share.

Availability is reflected in the presence of SSBs in stores, fast-food outlets, stadiums and the myriad of venues that provide retail sales opportunities, including vending machines that now number well over three million in the United States, according to Putman.

Accessibility, though, in marketing parlance, is different. It’s the marketer’s goal to assure that the product is ever-present in the consumer’s mind. “I am pervasive. I spend billions of dollars making sure that I am touchable. I’m online, I’m off-line. I’m in theme parks, I’m at the Olympics, I’m at America Idol – I’m everywhere you want to be,” Putman said of the beverage industry’s strategy. “Accessibility is how can I reach into your head, grab your cortex and pull it back towards myself.”

Dr. Shiriki Kumanyika, a professor of epidemiology and the associate dean for health promotion and disease prevention at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, noted that it is difficult to develop counter strategies to compete with marketing SSBs to African-American and Latino communities, which suffer from the highest rates of obesity and diabetes. She pointed out that the beverage industry’s money also supports community sponsorships and therefore “effectively silences black leaders who would like to talk about the problem,” for fear of losing that revenue stream.

Rudy Ruiz, president of Interlex Communications, whose agency has been engaged in public health advocacy, contended that social media can play a critical role in countering the beverage industry’s messaging onslaught. In fact, the conference opened with a video by 18-year-old Will Haynes of Richmond, a winner in the ‘Soda Sucks’ campaign, a competition sponsored by New America Media to encourage youth to choose water as an alternative to soda. And, at the closing reception, attendees were treated to a live rendition by Richmond Pulse reporter Sean Shavers of his award- winning rap, which included the lines: “Now, what they don’t tell you, on the back of that soda can, is that you can have diabetes as a young man. One pour, one sip – Pepsi, Sierra Mist, Seven Up, Sunkist – I don’t drink none of this.”

In his presentation, Putman acknowledged the potential of social media to play a role in nudging consumers toward more healthy alternatives than SSBs, but reminded his audience that the beverage industry anchors its marketing around emotional appeals, not rational choices. Toward that end, he said, it is imperative to understand that “the resources, the scale, the intelligence, the strategy, that those companies use is absolutely intense.”

For example, one presenter noted that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has spent $100 million a year on its anti-obesity initiative. In contrast, in 2010 alone, Coca-Cola’s U.S. media spending totaled more than $400 million and the company is ramping up a social media campaign of its own.

New Approach to Ending Gun Violence Wins Praise & Sparks Controversy

Last month, D’vondre Woodwards, a 23-year-old man from North Richmond, decided to go eat a hot dog at Casper’s in Central Richmond. As he sat outside the restaurant eating his chili dog, another young man approached him and asked what he was doing “just sitting right there.”

“This is our city,” Woodwards remembered saying. “I’m not gonna hurry up.”

Woodwards knew he was taking a risk by breaking one of Richmond’s unwritten laws: Being a young black man from North Richmond, Woodwards is not supposed to hang out in Central Richmond. It’s an informal code of the street that is sometimes enforced with bullets.

During the past six years in Richmond, nearly 1,000 shootings have resulted in the deaths of 208 young men — an average of 35 per year. By comparison, the average number of homicides by firearm in cities comparable in size to Richmond (about 100,000 people) nationwide is just four, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Richmond residents old enough to remember say the city has been drowning in street violence for decades. The 80’s and 90’s, they say, were some of the worst years, due to the emergence of crack cocaine and the hierarchical crime organizations that sprung up in Richmond neighborhoods as a result of the growing street economy. But some here claim that the turf wars between North and Central Richmond were heightened due to a an incident in 2000 – a car accident involving people from the two different neighborhoods, in which the party responsible for the damages refused to pay. That lone incident supposedly triggered a series of shootings that led to a cycle of retaliatory violence against people based on nothing other than where they were born, a cycle of violence that continues to this day.

Whether truth or urban legend, the fact remains that payback via gun violence in certain parts of Richmond has long been the norm, not the exception.

“Where [the violence began] got lost in all the deaths,” said Jonathan Bell, a 24-year-old from Central Richmond. “Where it comes from don’t matter no more.”

Both Bell and Woodwards grew up in this violent reality, learning that they are supposed to hate each other just because of the neighborhoods they come from.

“You’re from the ‘hood, so you’re guilty by association,” explained Woodwards.

 Trying a Different Way

“We know that almost all [the violence] involves guns and youth and young adults, and it is concentrated in (certain) neighborhoods, so you know exactly where the problem is,” said Frank Zimring, a law professor at UC Berkeley and author of the book American Youth Violence.

But, said Zimring, understanding and fixing the gun violence problem are two separate matters. Law enforcement was the central strategy of the city to combat drug-related violence in the 80s and 90s – many leaders of the neighborhood gangs and “sets” were behind bars by the late 90s – but that didn’t stop crime rates and homicides in the city from spiking in the mid 2000s. It was at that time that the City of Richmond decided to look outside of traditional law enforcement for solutions. As a result, in October 2007, the Office of Neighborhood Safety (ONS) was born.

“ONS is an organization that is the product of bold leadership – that’s our city manager, that’s our counsel, our mayor – that were responsible for the creation of an entity that says there’s got to be another approach to having an impact on reducing gun violence in our city,” said DeVone Boggan, director of ONS.

The core purpose of ONS is to “eliminate the gun violence” in Richmond, and the program sets itself apart from a strict law enforcement approach by emphasizing prevention and exclusively targeting a small group of young men from Richmond identified as being the most likely to either kill someone or be killed themselves.

“[These young men] use gun violence to resolve conflict, but also to obtain something that they can’t get from mainstream society,” Boggan said. “The idea that I’m somebody; the idea that I’m significant and I’m a contributor to society; the idea that I’m important.”

From the beginning, ONS concentrated its efforts on street outreach focused on the neighborhoods where most of the killings where happening, principally the central parts of the city. Then, in 2009, Boggan attended a meeting with higher-ups from the police department that would result in him narrowing the focus of ONS even further. At the meeting, Boggan was told that just fifteen young men were responsible for a staggering 70 percent of all the shootings and killings in the city that year.

“Fifteen people are creating this narrative for our city?” Boggan remembered asking. From that point forward, Boggan decided that ONS would work directly with only those young men identified as being the most at risk for violence – as either victims or perpetrators.

By June 2010, 21 young men from different neighborhoods in Richmond had joined the new ONS program called Operation Peacemaker Fellows (OPF), each one committing to change their lives and undo the dynamics they’d helped to foster in their neighborhood. In exchange, ONS promised them support and exposure to job and educational opportunities.

“We are going to take you by the hand, and we are going to walk you through it as if you were our child,” Boggan remembered telling them. “These are your uncles and aunties, and I’m papa.”

Today, OPF is in its second year and the group of fellows has grown to 33. Of the 43 young African-American men from Richmond who ONS has worked with since its inception, “42 are alive today, 39 have no gun-related hospitalizations or injuries, 36 have no new gun charges, and 33 have no new gun-violence related arrests,” according to a 2011 ONS annual report.


Despite what looks like a success story, ONS is not without its critics in Richmond. One often heard complaint is the amount of city money spent on the project, and specifically the fact that some of it is given directly to the fellows themselves, or used to pay for their trips around California and even to locations outside of the U.S. Boggan answers the critics by pointing out that the program gives a modest stipend of up to $6,000 for each fellow per year, and if the fellow fails to do his part, they don’t get the stipend. And if they get in trouble with the police, Boggan said, there is little that ONS can do.

Furthermore, he said, the stipends are only given during the second phase of the program, after fellows have completed what ONS calls a “life map.”

The life map is a list of basic needs that the fellow wants to resolve in their near future, like getting a driver’s license, gaining trust of a parole officer, or opening a bank account. The life map must also describe plans for a different future, and outline steps the fellow needs to take to get there, like finishing high school, getting a GED or learning a trade that will lead to a job. But for the immediate short term, ONS subsidizes jobs for the fellows, connecting them with participating organizations and covering the cost of their salary for several months.

“This program mixes incentives and threats,” said Zimring, who said that it could look to outsiders like ONS is rewarding people for bad behavior. People, he said, might think that ONS is “giving the bad kids the cookies.”

“My own position is, try things,” Zimring added. “But let’s be rigorous in taking the data.”

A second criticism that has been leveled against ONS is that they lack a way to adequately document or measure the success of people participating in their program. Councilman Courtland “Corky” Boozé has been outspoken about not having access to data or documents that show exactly how and with whom ONS has worked.

“How many people are 2.8 million dollars taking care of?” Boozé asked. “That is a lot of money. They could never tell me, and to this day I still don’t know. How many people are they serving and where are they today.”

Bill Lindsay, City Manager, said that except for information required by law to be kept confidential, all documentation related to ONS is public record and accessible to anyone.

“If there is information that hasn’t been provided [to Councilman Boozé] he should get it because he has the right to access [it],” Lindsay said.

Lindsay also added that ONS is in the process of bringing in an independent consultant to evaluate the work that has been done so far and to help set better measurement criteria and documentation procedures for all of their programs.

“I don’t think [the documentation] is entirely missing, but it could be better,” Lindsay said. “ONS is relatively new and it is a good time to evaluate what is going on and to set new measurement criteria.”

Uncles and Aunties: Neighborhood Change Agents (NCA)

Sam Vaughn knows very well the negative dynamics that exist in Richmond. Vaughn was himself arrested for attempted murder, for which he was convicted and spent 10 years behind bars.

“One of the hardest things to admit is that you lived your whole life based on a lie,” Vaughn said. “[They tell you] that you are really not going to accomplish much… [that] if you are black growing up in this community the only way you are going to get out is if you are a rapper or you are an athlete, that’s the only way you can succeed.”

When Vaughn got out of prison, he started looking for a different kind of life, and his search eventually led him to a job at ONS as a Neighborhood Change Agent (NCA).

Vaughn is one of seven full time employees at ONS that work as either NCA’s or street outreach workers. Six out of the seven are originally from Richmond, and five have had problems with law enforcement.

“To be honest, we all were helpers in the [violence happening in Richmond] now; we helped that happen,” Vaughn said. “But we all have a desire for Richmond [to be better] because our families still live here. This is our home and if we care about it, we can do something.”

The responsibility of an NCA is to find the people in Richmond that are perpetrators of gun violence or those that have been affected by it. Once they’re identified, the NCAs work to develop a relationship of trust with them that could result in an ONS fellowship.

“We are trying to create a space where ONS is a safety stop,” said Kevin Muccular, a senior NCA staff person. “There are plenty of young people out there that understand that enough is enough.”

Muccular is one of the NCA’s that grew up in Richmond but never got involved in gun violence or got in trouble with law enforcement. His mother sent him to a high school outside of Richmond, and he would spend the entire week away from the city. “Back then you had issues with people, and not with areas,” he said.

Muccular and Vaughn believe that the hardest part of their jobs is not the rejection, but losing one of their clients or one of the fellows to the streets. Muccular recently lost a client in North Richmond in an April 17 shooting. “I felt helpless in that situation,” he said.

When the NCA’s are doing outreach on the streets of Richmond, they often encounter young men who say they “aren’t ready” to make a drastic change in their life.

“Just because you are ready to change doesn’t mean that the people around you are ready to change,” Muccular said.

“I’m still stuck in this mud puddle, I’m still getting splashed with everybody else’s stuff,” said Vaughn, explaining what a young man on the street might be thinking. “I’m working hard but it doesn’t mean that the person on the other side cares … I can still lose my life. So why not be ready for that, instead of thinking that I can maneuver myself out of here?”

“So much has to change for them to feel that this is safe,” Vaughn added.

Kim MacDonald is the only NCA that didn’t grow up in Richmond. She works mostly with the Prison Reentry Planning Initiative at San Quentin State Prison. MacDonald works with prisoners from Richmond soon to be released, helping to prepare them for their reentry into the community by teaching them violence prevention and life skills.

“If we don’t educate and help them while they’re incarcerated, who will?” MacDonald said. “These are amazing people that have made mistakes.”

According to Boggan, all of the programs that he oversees are making a difference in Richmond — but they are not enough.

“If you gave me the resources to do what we do for 150 [fellows], violent crime in this city would never be what it is today. I stake my career on it,” Boggan said. “I’m not going to say we can eliminate gun violence, but the nature of violent crime in this city would go through significant change.”

Both Muccular and Vaughn agree with Boggan.

“We got our fishing pole and we are picking one [young man] at the time,” Vaughn said. “We need a net.”

Once a Fellow, Always a Fellow

“[Muccular] put me in a lot of positions where I could use my potential,” Bell said. “They don’t give it to you but they put you in a place where you can earn it or you gotta use what’s inside you to be successful.”

Bell has been part of the fellowship program for only six months, but he’s accomplished a lot.

“Jonathan hit he ground running,” said Muccular, who is Bell’s mentor.

“I was on probation, I had no license, I ain’t worked in like three or four years, I was in a bad spot,” Bell remembered. “I had given up on doing stuff the right way. You get better at doing the wrong stuff the right way.”

Bell, who credits the program for getting his life back, is finally off probation. He worked for the city on account of an ONS-subsidized job, and now is looking for another job and waiting for the fall semester to start attending College of Alameda.

“The program showed me that there is still a way, that I can be a regular person,” said Bell, who now wants only to be a better father to his 6-year-old boy. ONS encourages successful fellows like Bell to become role models for their peers and for the community, even people that have rejected the program in the past.

Woodwards is a senior fellow in the program. He started with the first group and has been part of the program for 18 months. Since then, he’s referred a number of people from North Richmond to the program.

“I tell them, if you are serious about doing this, here’s [Kevin Muccular’s] number,” Woodwards said.

Unlike Bell, Woodwards grow up almost by himself, with an absent father and a mother that have problems with substance abuse. “I was selling drugs to feed myself,” he said.

Now he is attending Contra Costa College to get his prerequisites for a degree in radiology. “They don’t let you slack off or anything,” Woodwards said about the fellowship program. “That’s a good thing because we don’t have that. Must of us, we don’t have family members that we respect to let them do that, but we respect [Muccular].”

Woodwards has a 1-year-old son and he says he hopes to be as good a father as Bell, a “cat” he knew from school several years ago, and who he once saw as an enemy.

Today, Woodwards is seeing his life differently.

“I never had the motivation to go to school, but now [I’m] the first one there,” Woodward said with a big smile. “It feels good when you get an A on a test. I never had that.”


News Feature, Taisa Grant

What are the fundamental needs of a single mother of two, pregnant with her third child? What if she is suddenly kicked out of the room she was renting, leaving her with the only option of living in a shelter, separated from her children and considering abortion? How can she keep her family together when funds are far off and governmental aid is under attack and often carries an image of shame for the recipients of such programs?

Tamekka Cockerham, a participant at Mended Families, Incorporated (MFI), says the essence of love is what’s needed when times get hard and she finds herself in down and out circumstances. And that’s exactly what she found at MFI.

MFI focuses on the reunification of families separated due to addictions, poverty, domestic violence, mental disease, incarceration, and childhood abuses. Since its inception in 2000 (and official non-profit recognition in September 2009), Cockerham shares that MFI has positively impacted her and her baby girl by providing support and a good foundation for building her life. At MFI she receives guidance, encouragement, counseling, and diapers.

Raquel Smith, Executive Director of MFI, says the idea behind the organization is, “Love in action. Clothing our people with love by meeting basic needs, food and shelter. Then individuals can build toward independence and awaking. Once fed we can address medical, spiritual needs and encourage vocational training so they are able to produce. That’s why when I think of Richmond I call it Richland, rich in hope, rich in love, rich in culture.”

Through their year-round diaper give out and Annual Resource Fair, Cockerham receives educational and nutritional health information that includes better eating habits for herself and her children. “What you don’t have knowledge of you can’t grow from,” she shares. “I was informed of stuff I didn’t know, life essentials.”

Want to help?
MFI is accepting donations to achieve their goal of 10,000 newborn to toddler diapers for 500 families by June 30th. Diaper Donation locations include: Hilltop YMCA 4300 Lakeside Drive Richmond CA 94806 (Anytime) and Rock Harbor Church 2652 Church lane San Pablo CA, 94806 (Wednesdays 7-9pm). Please visit for more information.

Looking for Resources?
MFI’s 2nd Annual Resource Fair will be held June 30th 2012, 10am-2:00pm at the Coronado YMCA, 263 South 20th Street Richmond California. Supporting organizations in attendance include Kaiser, YMCA, Safe Kids Now, Saffron Strand, and Healing Circles of Hope.

Richmond’s Latina Center Developing Next Generation of Leaders

News Report, Edgardo Cervano-Soto

Tired of all the fights, drama, violence, bullying and hate, members of the Young Latina Future Leaders program at the Latina Center hosted the first “Forgive and Forget” dance party to encourage other young people to live a drama free life. 8th graders Alondra Reyes and Vanessa Jimenez came up with the creative idea of having a dance with this theme, and they invited speakers to talk to the students about making healthy choices.

About 80 students showed up for he dance party, which was held in late May at LaVonya DeJean Middle School.

“When you begin to start drama, you get conflicts and consequences,” says Reyes. “Drama develops into bullying.”

The dance is only one of the many projects of the Latina Center. Founded in 2001 by Miriam Wong, the Latina Center began its work in Richmond by empowering immigrant Latina women, many of who were victims of domestic violence.

The community advocacy projects of the Young Latina Future Leaders (YLFL) program cover a wide range, says Yenny Velazquez, YLFL’s program coordinator. Current projects address drug prevention, dating violence and citizenship/immigration. Velazquez says the efforts form part of a larger movement to build a healthier Richmond. At the Latina Center, this means empowering women to be leaders in the community.  It is a process that can alter lives.

Over 1,200 women have graduated as leaders and have conducted over 457 community advocacy projects. YLFL focuses on developing leaders with an emphasis on teenage girls, like Reyes. YLFL currently has 45 members and the program is held at LaVonya DeJean and Helms Middle School. Members will continue their community advocacy projects over the summer.

Velazquez took a leap of faith when she attended a peer support group at the Latina Center four years ago. “I was going through post-partum depression and it was a really difficult time in my life,” says Velazquez. “ I started going to their support group and the director, Miriam Wong, said to me, you know what, you can do this,” Velazquez remembers.” Velazquez participated in the support group for a full year and then took part in the Women’s Leadership program. She graduated from the program and remained at the Latina Center to develop the Young Latina Future Leaders program. In the program, Velazquez coordinates mentors for the student members and runs support groups. The group is now coming into its own.

In March, YLFL members addressed senators and assembly members in Sacramento in support of AB 1880, a teen dating violence prevention measure. On April 28, the Latina Center hosted its second health fair, where YLFL members spoke with parents about improving communication with their children.

Norma Diaz, an adult participant at the Latina Center, has witnessed the growth of YLFL and is proud of their involvement with the community. During the “Forgive and Forget Dance,” Diaz was selling food to the students. “Perhaps I don’t like to dance much, but this is important for them, so they learn how to cooperate. It’s important for the youth to have friendships and learn to be united,” says Diaz.

Although the school year has ended, the Young Latina Future Leader members will continue to meet during the summer and plan advocacy projects. Their graduation from the YLFL program is scheduled for July 22nd.

The Latina Center is located at 3919 Roosevelt Avenue. For general questions about the Latina Center’s services or the Young Latina Future Leaders program, call (510) 233-8595.

Escoger el SAT en Vez del Baile de Gala

Comentario, Iraida Santillán

Cuando mi novio me invitó a ir al Baile de gala el año pasado, ya habíamos estado juntos unos seis meses. Él era un estudiante de 12º grado escolar en Richmond High School y yo una estudiante del 10º grado escolar en Middle College High. Me había estado preguntando si me iba a invitar, así que cuándo finalmente me preguntó, yo estaba encantada. Pero luego pensé: ¿Me dejarían mis padres asistir?

Mi familia es de tradiciones mexicanas y cree que el hombre debe pagarlo todo cuando saca a una chica a pasear. Así que no me extrañó cuando al final mis padres me dieron permiso para asistir, pero bajo una condición: Que mi novio pagara mi boleto del baile de gala. Cuando se lo dije a mi novio, no se puso muy contento — se quejó — pero al final consintió.

Prepararme para el baile de gala no era un gran problema para mí. Me fijé un presupuesto de no gastar más de 100 dólares en mi traje, porque no les quería pedir dinero a mis padres — ya era mucho que me dejaran ir. Resulta que no tuve que gastar ni eso. Fui al Outlet de Jessica McClintock en San Francisco donde encontré un vestido verde precioso que me recordaba a Campanita — y por tan solo 20 dólares. Estaba contenta porque había encontrado una ganga que se ajustaba a mi presupuesto.

Unos días más tarde, recibí el horario de la semana de exámenes finales, lo que me causó mucho más estrés que buscar mi vestido del baile de gala. El examen final del laboratorio de física estaba programado de las 2 a las 5 el día del baile de gala y yo había previsto salir para el baile a las 7:00 p.m. Mientras tomaba el examen final, hice todo lo posible para no mirar el reloj — prepararme y estar bonita para el baile de gala era importante, pero sacar una buena nota en mi examen final era aún más importante. Terminé el examen por las 3:30 p.m. y corrí directamente a que me arreglaran el pelo y el maquillaje.

A las 7:00 p.m. salimos para la ciudad. La chica que manejaba conducía a toda velocidad, porque llegamos de Rodeo a San Francisco en menos de veinte minutos.

El lugar del baile de gala, Club Mist, era fantástico. Tenía un ambiente divertido y cuando entramos por la puerta la gente ya estaba bailando. En la primera planta, el DJ tocaba R&B y hip-hop y arriba, en la segunda planta, el DJ tocaba música en español. Mi novio y yo decidimos tomarnos la foto del baile de gala primero, antes de empezar a bailar — no me quería despeinar después de tanto esfuerzo por arreglármelo antes de la foto.
Bailamos toda la noche y, cuando el baile de gala terminó a la medianoche, mis padres vinieron a recogerme. Pensaba que mi novio se quedaría a pasar un rato con sus amigos, pero decidió venirse con nosotros. Mis padres nos llevaron a una taquería en The Mission District donde pasamos una hora comiendo y platicando. Me pareció tierno y significó mucho para mí que decidiera pasar tiempo con nosotros.

Este año iba a ser mi baile de gala de 11º grado escolar y aunque mi novio y yo todavía estamos juntos decidí no asistir. No solo eran excesivamente caros los boletos con un precio de $115, sino que también tenía que presentarme para tomar el examen del SAT al día siguiente. No pensé que fuera una buena idea trasnochar en el baile de gala y luego despertarme temprano para tomar el SAT, que es un examen de cuatro horas.

Por lo que parece, creo que tomé una buena decisión. Me desperté tarde la mañana del SAT y solo tenía cinco minutos para vestirme. Si hubiera ido al baile de gala, probablemente no me hubiera despertado a tiempo.
A pesar del costo, tengo muchas ganas de ir al baile de gala de mi 12º grado escolar el año que viene. No tendré que preocuparme por ningún SAT y probablemente será una de las últimas veces que estaré con todos mis compañeros de clase. El baile de gala de 12º grado escolar solo ocurre una vez en la vida y solo se vive una vez, así que no pienso perderme lo que será uno de mis recuerdos más importantes de la escuela secundaria.

Choosing the SAT Over Prom

Commentary, Iraida Santillan

When my boyfriend asked me out to prom last year, we’d already been together for about six months. He was a senior at Richmond High, and I was a sophomore at Middle College High. I’d been wondering if he was going to ask me, so when he finally popped the question I was ecstatic. But then I had a thought: Would my parents let me go?

I come from a traditional Mexican family that believes a man should pay for everything when he takes a girl out on a date. So not surprisingly, when my parents eventually gave me permission to go, it was on one condition: That my boyfriend would have to pay for my prom ticket. When I told my boyfriend, he wasn’t thrilled – he complained about it — but eventually came through.

Getting prepared for prom wasn’t a big deal for me. I set a budget for myself of not spending more than 100 dollars on my outfit, because I didn’t want to ask my parents for any money — it was already enough that they allowed me to go. As it turned out, I didn’t even need to spend that much. I went to the Jessica McClintock Outlet in San Francisco where I found a beautiful green dress that reminded of Tinker Bell – for only 20 dollars. I was happy I’d found a great bargain that fit my budget.

A couple of days later, I received my finals-week schedule at school, which caused me a lot more stress than the prom-dress shopping! My physics lab final was scheduled for 2-5pm on prom day, and I was already scheduled to leave for prom at 7pm. As I was taking my final I tried my best to not look at the clock — getting ready and looking good for prom was important, but getting a good grade on my final was even more important. I finished the test at around 3:30pm, and ran straight out to get my hair and makeup done.

At 7pm we left for the city. The girl who was driving was literally stepping on the gas, because we made it from Rodeo to San Francisco in less than twenty minutes.

The location for the prom, Club Mist, was amazing. It had a fun atmosphere, and when we walked in the door people were already dancing. On the first floor, the DJ was playing R&B and hip-hop, and upstairs on the second floor the DJ was playing Spanish music. My boyfriend and I decided to take our prom picture before we started dancing — I didn’t want my hair to get all messed up after all that hard work of getting it done before the picture.

We danced all night, and when prom ended at midnight my parents came by to pick me up. I thought my boyfriend was going to stay and hang out with his friends, but instead he decided to come with us. My parents took us to a taqueria in the Mission District where we stayed for about an hour, just eating and joking around. I thought that was sweet, and it really meant a lot to me that he chose to hang out with us.

This year was supposed to be my junior prom, and even though my boyfriend and I are still together I decided to not go. Not only were the prom tickets overpriced at $115, but I was also scheduled to take the SAT exam the next day. I didn’t think it was a good idea to stay up late at prom and then wake up early to take the SAT, which is a four-hour test.

As it turns out, I think I made the right decision. I woke up late the morning of the SAT, and only had five minutes to get dressed. If I’d gone to prom I probably wouldn’t have woken up on time.

Despite the cost, I can’t wait for my senior prom next year. I won’t have any SAT’s worry about, and it’ll probably be one of the last times I get to be together with all of my classmates. Senior prom only happens once in a lifetime and we only live once, so I don’t plan to miss out on what will be one of my most important memories from high school.