Interview, Vernon Whitmore
EDITORS NOTE: Kyra Worthy is the Executive Director of Chevron backed non-profit For Richmond, an organization dedicated to uniting the community and taking active steps toward tackling issues facing Richmond residents. Worthy says her greatest gift is that she won’t accept no for answer.
Incoming Chair of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce, Vernon Whitmore, sat down with Worthy to discuss her passion for Richmond’s youth.
Vernon Whitmore: For Richmond is sponsoring a Black History Month breakfast February 25 with Willie L. Brown, former mayor of San Francisco. How has Mr. Brown’s work at the Willie L. Brown Jr. Leadership Center at San Francisco State helped inspire For Richmond’s own soon-to-be-unveiled leadership series for Richmond youth? What is your ultimate aim with this initiative?
Kyra Worthy: My goal for having that is to be able to develop young leaders within the community. We want to use Mayor Brown’s program at San Francisco State as the goal, and a model, but we are going to implement a few other items within the leadership course to be able to help young people make choices about what they want to do in their life. And also help them gain some confidence and then build some leadership skills to better serve the community.
All of this is in hope that they would want to be involved within the community in which they live and work. A lot of young people right now aren’t engaged at all and so there’s a big age gap with folks who consider themselves as leaders and young people who aren’t being included at all. They are the ones that will somewhat take the torch, or have to live in this legacy that has been built.
In particular with young people of color, we want to make sure that they understand the skills and history that has come from being just community developers, period.
We’re not just looking for folks just to be voices. We want folks to be active participants and involved in the process of designing Richmond.
VW: Last summer, For Richmond sponsored several Richmond high school students’ attendance at out of state collegiate summer programs for early college preparation experiences. Do you plan to offer the same program to Richmond youth this summer and if so, what do you hope to achieve with this effort?
KW: Yes, we will be doing that program this summer again and we’ve extended the program to to include MIT and Morehouse College. We’re including MIT because they’re looking to fill the engineering labor pool and a lot of young black men here in Richmond qualify to go to that program.
We’ll be sponsoring eight young men to go to the MIT program and the Morehouse Leadership program, which is only a week and a half, to sort of get the young men exposed to other young men who think like them and also who look like them. To gain some peer support around leadership, and valuing their education, and then bringing those ideas back to the community and hopefully spreading the word.
We hand pick the kids who qualify for each program, they attend the program and when they come back home they tell their friends all about this great experience they had.
It is definitely spreading through word of mouth, and it’s very helpful to to the school district, as far as getting kids motivated.
VW: I understand For Richmond is focused on assisting West Contra Costa Unified School District with lowering student truancy in Richmond. What strategy will you employ to address this problem and why is this issue a priority for your organization?
KW: Well we’re going to work with the faith-based community, and use their vans that aren’t in use during weekdays. We’re calling this program the Village Vans, and we’re going to establish bus stops throughout the community to help kids, and their families, get them to school on time.
We’re also going to look at the data of who’s truant and have a conversation one on one, my staff with the parent, explaining to them why getting to school on time is important and how being truant is affecting the students’ academics.
By doing that we’re hoping to build a relationship with those parents and then we can ask what else might be going on at home, what problems there are getting kids to school on time, and assist them in any way needed.
I think that it’s important because, of course, the district loses money, but also as a community, we’re failing our kids, and we’re just allowing them to walk by every day late to school.