Black Families on Front Lines of Displacement in Richmond

News Report, Edgardo Cervano-Soto

 

Richmond resident J.C. Farr, 72, remembers the days black families populated his neighborhood in Richmond’s Southside. Walking through Booker T. Anderson Park, Farr points to a house where a black family used to live. It was sold, gutted and flipped by another owner, he says.

“We have people who come in and buy a house, renovate it, put in about $30,000 and leave with $200,000,” says Farr. “I tell everybody, ‘Don’t sell your house. Rent it. Make the money. You still own it and it’s part of you.’ But no, they sell it.”

This traditionally black neighborhood is changing as more Latino, Asian and white families move in. There is more diversity, Farr says, but he’s worried that with the way things are going, South Richmond will no longer be familiar to him.

Richmond’s black population dropped by a striking 35 percent between 2000 and 2013.

A study released in February by UC Berkeley’s Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society found that the black population of Richmond fell from 35,300 in 2000 to 22,800 in 2013. During the same period, the Latino population nearly doubled to 42,600, while the Asian and Pacific Islander population grew from 12,500 to 15,800.

The study found that Richmond is in the early stages of gentrification, as neighborhoods in the Iron Triangle, North and East, North Richmond, the Richmond Annex and Southside are seeing housing prices rise. These are the same neighborhoods that have seen a decline in the black population.

However, the study did not explore why black families are leaving Richmond.

“The Census data only tells you where people are at, specifically at the time. It doesn’t tell you where they moved to or why they moved,” explains Eli Moore, researcher and one of the authors of the study.

In order to identify the reasons for the decline, Moore says the city and community of Richmond need to engage in a serious effort – either through community forums, workshops or funding more research — to find out whether the black population is leaving Richmond for greater opportunities or if they are leaving because of pressures they face in the city.

‘It’s deja vu’

Anne Omura, director and attorney of the Eviction Defense Center, says 100 percent of her clients who are evicted from their homes in Richmond are low-income black and Latino residents.

A housing rights attorney for over 20 years, Omura says the same pattern she saw in Oakland, particularly the displacement of low-income black households, is about to intensify in Richmond.

“It’s deja vu from the late ‘90s during the dot-com boom, when all of a sudden we went from regular clients to a grandmother walking in with a 30-day notice when they have lived 40 years in the home,” says Omura. “We are seeing the exact same ingredients in Richmond. All low-income folks being evicted from Richmond are African American and are being priced out largely because there is no rent control there.”

Unlike some other Bay Area cities – including San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Hayward, Fremont, East Palo Alto and San Jose – Richmond does not have rent control.

Nearly half of Richmond’s residents are renters, many of them low-income. According to the Haas Institute study, nearly 49 percent of Richmond households are renter occupied. That figure is as high as 80 percent in North Richmond, central and south Richmond. Among renters, more than one-third (37 percent, or about 6,740 households) earn less than $35,000 annually and spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

According to Omura, this leaves low-income renters, including many black families, more vulnerable.
“With a large working class base, why is Richmond behind other major cities? Why isn’t there rent control? They have those protections; why don’t we? Its about fairness, and the fundamental right that you shouldn’t just be able to lose your home,” says Omura. “Richmond would be on top of my list [in establishing rent control].”

‘There is no affordable housing in Richmond’

Stephanie Hervey, 42, a single mother of two teenagers and former North Richmond resident, was evicted from her home in May 2014. She and her children have been homeless and staying with friends until they can find housing in Richmond.

“For two bedrooms, there is no affordable housing in Richmond that we can find, that does not have a one year waiting list,” says Hervey. “And these are in not the best neighborhoods.”

Beginning in January 2014, Hervey was in dispute with her landlord for what she claimed were poor and unsafe housing conditions. She said the landlord did not fix home utilities and let pit bulls run into her space. Hervey was evicted by the Richmond Superior Court after a second hearing when, according to the judge, Hervey didn’t pay her complete rent.

Hervey says in order to find a home in Richmond, she and her family will have to share with other people. Yet her biggest challenge has been finding potential housemates who have good credit.

“It could be that I’m not looking in the right places,” says Hervey.

‘Once poor people are evicted, it’s really hard to stay’

Melvin Willis, community organizer at the Richmond chapter of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), sees a need for a just cause eviction ordinance and a rent control policy in Richmond.

“With things changing in Richmond, crime going down, new business in the market, it makes it seem that Richmond is thriving. Yet as rent goes up significantly, we have not seen an increase in living wages, which unintentionally forces people out,” says Willis.

“We want to work together and make sure we have rent control and just cause eviction so vulnerable tenants are not displaced, and so landlords are not allowed to jack up the rent as much as they want,” he says.

In January 2013, the Richmond City Council debated stricter just cause eviction protections, and establishing rent stabilization and a rent control board. According to a report by Richmond Confidential, the City Council did not vote on these, opting instead to allow the Planning Division to take all of 2013 to research eviction and demographic data, and the cost of maintaining a rent control board.

On Feb. 17 of this year, the City Council passed a motion for city staff to convene a working group to bring the Council clear policy recommendations or a draft ordinance. According to City Council minutes, the motion directs staff to “establish a Just Cause requirement for evictions and consider the use of a Rent Board or a smaller Tenant Protection Commission.” The staff has until mid-May to give their recommendations.

But for Mayor Tom Butt, rent control addresses the symptoms, not the root cause of the problem.

“I think it’s a solution that sounds really simple to people but by and large it doesn’t work,” said Mayor Butt in a phone interview. “I don’t think a day goes by that you don’t read about the housing crisis in San Francisco and Oakland and Berkeley.”

Instead, Mayor Butt advocates “attracting business, job developers and building affordable housing are the way to go.”

“Rent control and just cause ordinances just scare the hell out of housing developers,” he said. “It could turn around and bite Richmond.”

Meanwhile, Omura of the Eviction Defense Center says that whether the City Council passes an ordinance, residents organize a ballot measure, or the city pursues other methods, Richmond has to act now.

“In Oakland, we failed the first time to place [rent control] on the ballot, but succeeded the second time. But that only stopped the bleeding,” she says. “So much damage had been done, entire neighborhoods wiped out. Once poor people are evicted, it’s really hard to stay.”

For Hervey, who has been homeless for a year now, the future remains uncertain.

“I want to stay in Richmond,” Hervey says, “because Richmond is really about change. I have established roots here and I don’t want to throw it all away.”

Black Families on Front Lines of Displacement in Richmond

News Report, Edgardo Cervano-Soto

Richmond resident J.C. Farr, 72, remembers the days black families populated his neighborhood in Richmond’s Southside. Walking through Booker T. Anderson Park, Farr points to a house where a black family used to live. It was sold, gutted and flipped by another owner, he says.

“We have people who come in and buy a house, renovate it, put in about $30,000 and leave with $200,000,” says Farr. “I tell everybody, ‘Don’t sell your house. Rent it. Make the money. You still own it and it’s part of you.’ But no, they sell it.”

This traditionally black neighborhood is changing as more Latino, Asian and white families move in. There is more diversity, Farr says, but he’s worried that with the way things are going, South Richmond will no longer be familiar to him.

Richmond’s black population dropped by a striking 35 percent between 2000 and 2013.

A study released in February by UC Berkeley’s Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society found that the black population of Richmond fell from 35,300 in 2000 to 22,800 in 2013. During the same period, the Latino population nearly doubled to 42,600, while the Asian and Pacific Islander population grew from 12,500 to 15,800.

The study found that Richmond is in the early stages of gentrification, as neighborhoods in the Iron Triangle, North and East, North Richmond, the Richmond Annex and Southside are seeing housing prices rise. These are the same neighborhoods that have seen a decline in the black population.

However, the study did not explore why black families are leaving Richmond.

“The Census data only tells you where people are at, specifically at the time. It doesn’t tell you where they moved to or why they moved,” explains Eli Moore, researcher and one of the authors of the study.

In order to identify the reasons for the decline, Moore says the city and community of Richmond need to engage in a serious effort – either through community forums, workshops or funding more research — to find out whether the black population is leaving Richmond for greater opportunities or if they are leaving because of pressures they face in the city.

‘It’s deja vu’

Anne Omura, director and attorney of the Eviction Defense Center, says 100 percent of her clients who are evicted from their homes in Richmond are low-income black and Latino residents.

A housing rights attorney for over 20 years, Omura says the same pattern she saw in Oakland, particularly the displacement of low-income black households, is about to intensify in Richmond.

“It’s deja vu from the late ‘90s during the dot-com boom, when all of a sudden we went from regular clients to a grandmother walking in with a 30-day notice when they have lived 40 years in the home,” says Omura. “We are seeing the exact same ingredients in Richmond. All low-income folks being evicted from Richmond are African American and are being priced out largely because there is no rent control there.”

Unlike some other Bay Area cities – including San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Hayward, Fremont, East Palo Alto and San Jose – Richmond does not have rent control.

Nearly half of Richmond’s residents are renters, many of them low-income. According to the Haas Institute study, nearly 49 percent of Richmond households are renter occupied. That figure is as high as 80 percent in North Richmond, central and south Richmond. Among renters, more than one-third (37 percent, or about 6,740 households) earn less than $35,000 annually and spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

According to Omura, this leaves low-income renters, including many black families, more vulnerable.

“With a large working class base, why is Richmond behind other major cities? Why isn’t there rent control? They have those protections; why don’t we? Its about fairness, and the fundamental right that you shouldn’t just be able to lose your home,” says Omura. “Richmond would be on top of my list [in establishing rent control].”

‘There is no affordable housing in Richmond’

Stephanie Hervey, 42, a single mother of two teenagers and former North Richmond resident, was evicted from her home in May 2014. She and her children have been homeless and staying with friends until they can find housing in Richmond.

“For two bedrooms, there is no affordable housing in Richmond that we can find, that does not have a one year waiting list,” says Hervey. “And these are in not the best neighborhoods.”

Beginning in January 2014, Hervey was in dispute with her landlord for what she claimed were poor and unsafe housing conditions. She said the landlord did not fix home utilities and let pit bulls run into her space. Hervey was evicted by the Richmond Superior Court after a second hearing when, according to the judge, Hervey didn’t pay her complete rent.

Hervey says in order to find a home in Richmond, she and her family will have to share with other people. Yet her biggest challenge has been finding potential housemates who have good credit.

“It could be that I’m not looking in the right places,” says Hervey.

‘Once poor people are evicted, it’s really hard to stay’

Melvin Willis, community organizer at the Richmond chapter of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), sees a need for a just cause eviction ordinance and a rent control policy in Richmond.

“With things changing in Richmond, crime going down, new business in the market, it makes it seem that Richmond is thriving. Yet as rent goes up significantly, we have not seen an increase in living wages, which unintentionally forces people out,” says Willis.

“We want to work together and make sure we have rent control and just cause eviction so vulnerable tenants are not displaced, and so landlords are not allowed to jack up the rent as much as they want,” he says.

In January 2013, the Richmond City Council debated stricter just cause eviction protections, and establishing rent stabilization and a rent control board. According to a report by Richmond Confidential, the City Council did not vote on these, opting instead to allow the Planning Division to take all of 2013 to research eviction and demographic data, and the cost of maintaining a rent control board.

On Feb. 17 of this year, the City Council passed a motion for city staff to convene a working group to bring the Council clear policy recommendations or a draft ordinance. According to City Council minutes, the motion directs staff to “establish a Just Cause requirement for evictions and consider the use of a Rent Board or a smaller Tenant Protection Commission.” The staff has until mid-May to give their recommendations.

But for Mayor Tom Butt, rent control addresses the symptoms, not the root cause of the problem.

“I think it’s a solution that sounds really simple to people but by and large it doesn’t work,” said Mayor Butt in a phone interview. “I don’t think a day goes by that you don’t read about the housing crisis in San Francisco and Oakland and Berkeley.”

Instead, Mayor Butt advocates “attracting business, job developers and building affordable housing are the way to go.”

“Rent control and just cause ordinances just scare the hell out of housing developers,” he said. “It could turn around and bite Richmond.”

Meanwhile, Omura of the Eviction Defense Center says that whether the City Council passes an ordinance, residents organize a ballot measure, or the city pursues other methods, Richmond has to act now.

“In Oakland, we failed the first time to place [rent control] on the ballot, but succeeded the second time. But that only stopped the bleeding,” she says. “So much damage had been done, entire neighborhoods wiped out. Once poor people are evicted, it’s really hard to stay.”

For Hervey, who has been homeless for a year now, the future remains uncertain.

“I want to stay in Richmond,” Hervey says, “because Richmond is really about change. I have established roots here and I don’t want to throw it all away.”

 

Ceasefire Walks, Rain or Shine

Commentary, Leslie Basurto

It was 7 p.m. on a Friday night and I was attending my first Ceasefire night walk — a weekly trek where members of the community walk together through streets where gun violence has occurred in the hopes of putting an end to it. In recent years Ceasefire has received a lot of credit for Richmond’s reduction in crime and violence, and I wanted to learn about their approach.

The night was dark and pouring rain, I was thinking maybe they’d call it off because of the weather. But, I figured I would at least knock on the door of the Bethlehem Missionary Church — the meeting point — in case anyone was there.

To my surprise, the door opened and I was greeted by a group of people sitting in a circle. The mood was palpably serious. Rev. Donnell Jones, Community Organizer for the Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization, was telling them about recent deaths in the area involving gun violence. The men involved in the shootings were between 18 and 23 years old. “Babies,” Jones said, “robbed of the ability to dream.”

Jones explained the purpose of the walks and the strategy to end gun violence including “call-ins” where parole officers meet one-on-one with perpetrators, which has proven successful. Members of the group discussed the lengths they would go to get these youth help. Before we headed out, we gathered in prayer “for a generation of people that have been lost.”

After grabbing candles and signs reading a variety of things like, “Peace for Richmond” and “Honk to end gun violence,” we hit the streets, heading towards Cutting Blvd.

The signs we held suffered in the rain, but the enthusiasm and perseverance of the group persisted.

“I almost thought that maybe I wouldn’t come out to walk tonight because of the rain,” said Jane Eisenstark, a Richmond resident. “But then I realized that it was that much more important that I do.”

Throughout the trek the group chanted, “Ceasefire: Alive and Free,” and despite the poor visibility, drivers passing by honked in support.

We reconvened at the initial meeting point at the end of the walk, drenched from the rain. The gathering closed with a prayer and some words from Jones about taking the work to the next level outside of walking. The goal, he said, is getting at risk youth help through any means.

I left feeling overcome with emotion. I thought about peers who had been lost too soon and how senseless these deaths always are. Gun violence does not occur everywhere. We do not need it. It is hurting our community.

I also felt intense gratitude for the people who walk weekly, as well as those who are involved in the fight against violence in other ways. It is clear that these people have unconditional love for their community. Any of them would help if someone who needed it reached out.

Spotting and Avoiding Scams in Ethnic Communities

News Report, George White | New America Media

LOS ANGELES – To Lang Zhao, the business she expected to ship her valuable package to in China appeared to be legitimate. After all, the clerk at the shipping store in the Los Angeles suburb of Monterey Park gave her a tracking code after she paid the shipping fee and the customs charge.

When the package was not delivered, she tried to contact the business.

“I called again and again and the line was always busy,” she said. “I went back to the (shipping) store and it was closed … I called customs in Shanghai and gave them the tracking number. They told me that the name of the store – not my name – was on the package.”

Zhao also later discovered that more than 100 people were also victims of that shipping scam. If any of the previous victims had been more outspoken about the ruse by, for example, relaying their stories to local news outlets, Zhao might not have been victimized. That is one of the messages the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is conveying in a campaign to warn and educate ethnic communities about scams.

Zhao and several other victims of recent financial stings joined representatives from the FTC, the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs and the Los Angeles Police Department to warn and inform ethnic communities – often the targets of scams – at a February 10 news briefing hosted by New America Media.

Many ethnic communities are now even more of a target because hundreds of thousands of undocumented residents are now coming out of the shadows following two executive orders by President Obama. The first, the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, allows children of parents who immigrated illegally to remain in the U.S. The other in 2014 offers a reprieve from deportation for undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and for those who have resided in the country for at least five years.

“When there are new opportunities, scammers are ready,” said Thomas Syta, the Los Angeles-based assistant regional director of the FTC, during discussions at the news briefing.

The FTC says fraud and scams cost U.S. residents $1.6 billion in 2013 – the most recent tally – and that immigrants are frequently targeted because they do not fully understand English or U.S. law. Many of these schemes would have failed if scam targets had consulted friends or relatives, said Monica Vaca, assistant director of the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection.

“We collect reports from those scammed and those not scammed,” Vaca said. “We found that many of the people who paid the money to the scammers did not talk to anyone else.”

A warning could have helped Alba Montoya avoid a costly scam. She wanted to get a green card for her husband. She was contacted by a woman at a company that claimed it excelled at obaining green cards.

“She told me they were not going to charge a lot,” Montoya said. “When I went to meet with her, I was told to pay $500. But two weeks later they asked for more money.”

In all, Montoya paid $2,500 to the grifters. Her husband did not obtain a green card.

Other scams involve aggressive frauds that generate a lot more money, said Rigo Reyes, chief of investigations for the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs. He relayed the experience of a man who used his credit cards to borrow $29,000 to pay grifters who contacted him by phone claiming to be representatives of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). He realized he had been defrauded when he tried to reach the bogus IRS collectors by phone after making the payment. That phone had been disconnected.

“Our system does not allow the IRS to make such (collection) calls,” Reyes said, noting that the IRS sends collection notifications by mail. “He’s not going to get that money back. Scamming is difficult to stamp out. It’s like (a game of) Wack-A-Mole. One head comes up and we go after it and then another head pops up.”

Ethnic media can help government agencies and law enforcement identify scams, said Lt. Al Labrada, a community outreach liaison for the Los Angeles Police Department. He said a news producer at Univision recently contacted the police about a woman who had convinced a cancer patient in South Los Angeles to rely on her herbal treatments instead of medical care. The patient’s health declined dramatically. LAPD found and arrested the woman.

Labrada said all victims should report scams and that the undocumented can do so without fear of the police.

“We don’t care about their immigrant status,” he said. “We need them to come forward. There is no immigrant checkbox on our complaint forms.”

 

Scams: Warning Signs, Tips and Protections



The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says scams perpetrated in ethnic communities are frequently framed as job offers, immigration assistance, mortgage modification, rental listings and sweepstakes. Some scams are used for identity theft. Here are some FTC tips for avoiding fraud.
• Do not pay to obtain employment or information about a job.
• Do not deal with anyone who says you have to act fast.
• Do not go to a notario publico (notary public) for legal advice because they are not lawyers.
• Get immigration information from U.S. government websites. If it is a legitimate government site, it includes .gov.
• Never sign a form that is blank and never sign a form that has false information.
• Do not let anyone keep important documents such as a passport or birth certificate.
• If you believe you have been defrauded call the FTC at 1-877-382-4357 or report it at the FTC website at www.ftc.gov/complaint.

Residents at Troubled Housing Complex to Soon Move Out

News Report, Malcolm Marshall

During the first week of February, newly elected Mayor Tom Butt announced that residents of the dilapidated Hacienda public housing complex will receive federally funded Section 8 vouchers to move into new housing.

At a press conference at the 150-unit Hacienda complex at 1300 Roosevelt Ave, Butt—along with Richmond Housing Authority Director Tim Jones and Congressman Mark DeSaulnier—announced the new developments.

The news came a year after the Center for Investigative Reporting published a series of articles detailing terrible living conditions in the complex filled with mold, roach and mice infestations and leaky roofs. A month after the stories broke, the Richmond City Council voted to relocate residents, many of who are elderly and or disabled.

The vouchers, which were recently approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), will allow residents to move to other public housing structures or private market housing.

The Richmond Housing Authority will help residents with costs associated with moving, and has opened a relocation office to assist tenants with finding new places to live.

After all the tenants have moved out of the building built in 1966, the Hacienda will undergo around $20 million in renovations, paid for by HUD. Jones estimates the renovation will take 18 to 24 months to complete and current tenants will have the option of returning after it’s done.

“The residents of Hacienda were in dire need of safe and improved living conditions,” said DeSaulnier in a statement. “I am pleased to have assisted the City of Richmond in expediting the issuance of vouchers which will allow individuals and families to immediately begin finding and settling into a better housing situation.”

Sandra Burell says she has lived at the Hacienda a little over ten years. She says the last year has been difficult, “waiting, not knowing what their going to do, not knowing how long I’m going to live here.”

“I’m the type of person that believes in action,” said Burell after the press conference. “Now they’re actually doing something, and I’ve heard it from the horses mouth, so I’ll believe it.”

Burell says she would like to stay in Richmond, close to the area she’s in now. “Hopefully right around Kaiser. All my doctors are at Kaiser and everything is a walk away for me and I’m in the chair now,” she said, referring to her wheelchair.

Jacobi Williams, 32, says he’s lived in the complex for the last five years and describes his last year at the Hacienda in the same way, “full of waiting, waiting, waiting, and waiting.”

“But not just last year,” he said. “This goes back to the relocation process that was happening in 2012.”

“There has been a few things changed,” said Williams. “They did the floor in here and they painted. You can change the comforter but if you don’t change the sheets your still going to get dirty,” he added, detailing the ongoing issues with health hazards that he said include rotting and mold growth on walls throughout the building.

Bernice Smith, a longtime Hacienda resident, said she’s heard promises of improvements at the Hacienda for years. “They been saying this for ten years,” she said. “I’ll believe it when I see it. They’ve disappointed us so much and I’m still paying rent.”

“What they say they’re going to do they don’t do it,” she added.

Edward Dunlap hasn’t lived in the building as long — just three years — but after losing a beloved dog because of, he suspects, the toxins in the building, he is ready to leave.

“I want to go somewhere else, I’m tired of this place,” he said. “All I want to do is live out my last days.”

A Local Leader, a National Movement

by Nancy DeVille

The decision was easy for Phil Lawson.

On a brisk morning in March 1965, he packed his car for a long trek from Delaware, Ohio to Selma, Ala. answering Martin Luther King Jr.’s call for people to join what would be the final and successful march from Selma to the state capitol in Montgomery to persuade white lawmakers of the need for a voting rights act.

Lawson, then a senior at the Methodist Theological School, understood the risks. Just weeks earlier, Black residents of Selma had attempted to peaceably march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge en route to Montgomery to demand equality in voting rights in the segregated South. They faced a blockade of state troopers who ordered the marchers to disperse, and when they refused, the marchers were attacked with tear gas, beaten unconscious and trampled by police officers as white onlookers cheered.

“Nothing had to spark me or set me on fire to go to Selma,” Lawson said during a recent interview at a coffee shop in nearby Hercules. “I was born black in America and I was living among racist white people. Every time I left home I was encountering a hostile racist world.”

IMG_6219 copyLawson traveled with three of his white classmates to join the last leg of the 52-mile march. Despite their backgrounds, they shared a common sense of outrage over the humiliation of Jim Crow laws. But it was a risky move for whites and blacks to travel together through the segregated South. Although Lawson and his classmates returned home unharmed, after the march civil rights activist Viola Gregg Liuzzo was murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan while driving a black man from Montgomery to Selma.

“Driving down I didn’t think about the potential danger or the sense of peril that we may have faced,” he said.

Half a century later, Lawson, now 82, relived the memories of that march as he watched “Selma,” the Oscar nominated film that depicts the violent weeks when King led a movement for federal action to protect black voting rights in one of the most racist counties in Alabama.

“Watching some of the scenes was like I was living the experience all over again. There was never any doubt; I had to go to Selma. I didn’t have any choice.”

“Selma” was released at a pivotal time in American history. The “Black Lives Matter” movement continues to gain traction as protesters rally against police violence, sparked by the non-indictments of officers involved in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

Lawson believes this kind of groundswell is important but says it doesn’t compare to the civil rights movement.

“A protest is not a movement,” he said. “A protest is saying, ‘Ouch you hit me,’ but a movement is developing a remedy for that. And you have to have a methodology. People have not decided on a firm methodology of dealing with issues they want to solve.

“You can’t have a protest every night,” he added. “It will wear you out, dissipate your spirits and you won’t get many recruits.”

A life long battle

Lawson was deeply rooted in the fight for equality long before the Alabama march. His grandfather was a slave who escaped on the Underground Railroad from Maryland to Canada. His father, James Lawson Sr. was a Methodist preacher.

By the time Lawson finished high school in 1950, he knew he’d follow his father into the ministry. Since moving to California in the 1970s he’s led three congregations – El Cerrito United Methodist Church, First United Methodist Church in Vallejo and most recently Richmond’s Easter Hill United Methodist Church. Before coming to California, Rev. Lawson was pastor and executive director of the Methodist Inner City Parish in Kansas City, Missouri.

But his vow to nonviolence began when he was 14 years old and a high school freshman in Massillion, Ohio. While trying to grab an after school snack with his white band members, Lawson was denied service at a local drugstore.

His four white classmates stood by him, saying, “If he can’t eat, we won’t eat.”

“They didn’t want to lose the money so they served us,” Lawson said. “But when he brought me a Coke, it was saturated with salt. And when my classmates threatened not to pay because of it, he brought me another Coke. That was my first time understanding how to combat racism in an nonviolent way,” Lawson said.

It was just the beginning of a lifetime of work in nonviolent resistance and the battle for freedom and equality.

Following his high school graduation, Lawson joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a national interfaith peace organization. As part of the organization, he traveled to Washington D.C., joining other youth from around the country where they experimented in non-violent direct action to integrate movies, swimming pools and drug stores in the nation’s capital.

“That was dramatic,” he said. “That was the first time I was attacked and hit with stones. I had to learn how to be nonviolent and I was only 17 years old.”

Although it’s been decades since Lawson had to worry about segregated public places he continues to help those who remain opposed. He still follows the techniques of Gandhi and King to combat nonviolence, ideals that were also endorsed by his order brother James Lawson, also a Methodist minister. The older Lawson, who now lives in Los Angeles, was drafted by King to teach the principles of passive resistance to Nashville college students, who waged a war against segregation with sit-ins, stand-ins at movie theaters and the Freedom Rides in which they integrated interstate bus facilities.

During the late 1960s, Phil Lawson’s ministry for justice took a surprising turn that brought him in close relationship with the Kansas City Black Panther Party following the assassination of King. When the U.S Internal Security Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives began its investigation into the Black Panther Party, Lawson was one of the first to be subpoenaed.

“I did not consciously decide or look for something to get in to,” he said. “My understanding is that God does that; He calls people to rise up.”

Lawson recently retired as the interfaith program director for East Bay Housing Organizations (EBHO), which works to expand affordable housing options in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. He currently leads EBHO’s initiative, the interfaith action in housing program and continues to work with several Bay Area organizations like Richmond Vision 2000, Northern California Inter-Religious Conference and the Greater Richmond Interfaith Program (GRIP).

Lawson spent years advocating for justice for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, the homeless, immigrants and refugees. During the Occupy Oakland movement, Lawson offered training to dozens of ministers and participants. In 2012, the retired pastor joined his brother Jim Lawson and Vincent Harding, also an activist in the civil rights movement, to organize the National Council of Elders. The national organization supports equality for the women’s, immigrant justice, labor rights and the LGBT movements.

Rev. Lawson is a champion for social justice,” said Kia Croom, community relations director for GRIP. “He is a person who regardless of one’s color, creed or denomination, he advocates for civil liberties and rights for all people. And he’s just overall a great person.”

Even at 82, Lawson has no plans of slowing down.

“He who believes in justice cannot stop until it comes,” he said.

 

Order Online

Richmond’s Seniors Have a Ball

Photo Essay, Ann Bassette

With a smile spread across his lined face, Eli Williams, 76 surveys the senior filled tables around him in the Richmond Memorial Auditorium. He says he likes what he sees.

“This reflects Richmond,” Williams said of the diversity of people around the room, people who reflect the history of this working class community. Raised in the city since age three, Williams now heads the Commission on Aging in Richmond. .

He was one of many who helped put on the 17th annual Winter Ball for seniors in Richmond.

As the Junius Courtney Big Band, featuring vocalist Nina Causey entertained the festive, elderly crowd of about 300, dinner was served, catered by local business Gaye Williams & Company. Students from Pinole Valley High School’s Interact program donned Santa hats as they volunteered their time for the event, seating seniors and serving them dinner.

Compared to the centennials that were honored at the party, Williams is relatively young.

Willie Jo Payne, 101, and Mattie Alonzo, 104, both received roses and certificates honoring their long lives.

According to Williams this is one the most anticipated senior events in the Bay Area. “We sponsored the Ball as a give back to the community, it’s also a fundraiser to help continue our efforts in the community.”

Invalid Displayed Gallery

Recreating Richmond’s Home Front

Photo Essay, Ann Bassette

Richmond hosted its 8th annual Home Front Festival on October 11 with a new theme — Kids Can Do It.

As always, it was a popular event driving scores of families to come out, enjoy the Richmond waterfront and celebrate the impressive history and beauty of the area.

The day kicked off with the 5k/10k Homefront Run and Walk along the shoreline from the Ford Point building on Harbour Way South, hosted by the Hilltop Family YMCA. Afterwards, there were plenty of free festivities in the Craneway Pavillion, on the S.S. Red Oak Victory Ship and at the nearby Lucretia Edwards Shoreline Park.

The historic World War II ship was built at the Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond. Veterans climbed the shaky stairs to board the ship. Once on deck, with the American flag flying high, a ukulele band performed and encouraged visitors to pick up an instrument and join in. Guests were also allowed to explore the enormous ship, which is one of the lasts of its kind. Only three of these ships remain, floating in the world. The Red Oak saw service in World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars.

At Lucretia Edwards Park, families enjoyed the beautiful Richmond shoreline while visiting local vendors, playing games and listening to music from local bands and choirs. Kids kicked off their shoes and bounced around in three large jump houses. A brightly painted children’s train circled the grass and travelled along the waterfront with smiling kids in tow.

This year’s festival coincided with Fleet Week and provided people a great view of the Blue Angels, the United States Navy’s flight demonstration squadron, who spun, flipped and showed off their aerial acrobats high above.

Rich City Rides offered bike tours along the bay trail, along with bike valet service and bike rentals for people to enjoy the area on two wheels.

The day was rounded out with top-notch entertainment for the whole family by Alvon’s Blues, Angelas de la Banda, the Elite Jazz Band, Switched Up! and the Contra Costa Chorale.

[flagallery gid=26]

RUHS Class of ’59 Shares Memories at 55-Year Reunion

Photo Essay, Ann Bassette

Members of the Richmond Union High School class of 1959 celebrated their 55-year reunion at a two day event at the Hilton in Concord last August. It was a chance for old friends to reconnect and share memories of their youth in what is now a much different Richmond.

The former classmates laughed and smiled as they looked over photos that captured their youth. They told stories of palling around with friends. Still identifying as “Oilers,” they posed for photos in front of a four-foot tall red and blue oil can, a symbol of what was once a booming gas industry on the San Francisco Bay. It was a time they said they’d always share.

During dinner and dancing on the second night the class sang their school song in unison:

“The Navy Blue and Red

Waves high over head;

Our hearts are true to Navy Blue, and

Reds the nerve to dare and do.

Whenever Richmond calls,

You’ll find the boosters there,

To fight and win for Richmond High…

The gallant Navy Blue and Red!”

They were a playful bunch, laughing and cracking jokes during dinner. They’re also a diverse crowd. Among them are doctors, restaurant owners, dog breeders boxers, baseball players and a former Richmond Chief of Police.

For some, like Joyce Tarbet it was the first time they’d made it to a reunion. Tarbet said she flew all the way from Louisiana to attend, Don Ciucci on the other hand, said he is one of the few from the class who hasn’t missed any reunions.

In his early 70s, former high school and college basketball player William La Nere said he is still into basketball. After graduating from Richmond High, he said he went on to play in a professional league in New Zealand for nine years. Now though, he can mostly be found on the sidelines—coaching. Over the years, he said he’s coached for the College of Marin as well as the girls’ team at Hercules High School and is now coaching his granddaughter at De Anza. “I consider myself one of the lucky people,” La Nere said. “I had the chance to do what I always wanted to do since I was a small kid, which was play and coach.”

But he added with a laugh that his granddaughter is the last one he’ll coach. “I promised myself, as soon as she’s done, I’m done!”

Old friends, Mary Chavez-Grey and Sandra Hendrixson-Vilariga have known each other since third grade. “One time we were seniors at Richmond High, and right now, we are seniors,” said Hendrixson-Vilariga with a chuckle as they enjoyed the festivities.

Even Sigfried Helming, a foreign exchange student from the class of 59’, attended the celebration. He said he left Argentina to make a home in El Cerrito because of the warm welcome the community gave him during his time studying here.

During the dance, Sock Hop music played and the former students, now in their 70s, showed off their moves on the dance floor. Golden oldies group, Contraband, provided live music as well, and had everyone dancing and singing along to the music of the 50s.

Between the dancing and celebrations, former classmates reminisced about their youth in Richmond, when the place to cruise was 23rd Avenue and they had a choice of movie theaters to attend. It was a time when it was normal to enter the military, go to college or get married straight out of high school.

Over fifty years, they’ve seen a lot change in Richmond. They’ve watched the city evolve, decline and now begin to rise again.

[flagallery gid=24]

Why Doctors Medical Center Can’t Close

Commentary, Melvin Willis

Back in March 2014 while I was visiting my mom at her home she suddenly lost her breath, and couldn’t catch it. Her breathing was so labored she could barely talk. An ambulance came and took her to the nearest public hospital, just 5 minutes from her house—Doctors Medical Center.

The team there quickly went into action and by the time I arrived, she was stabilized. Now, the fate of Doctors Medical Center is undetermined and I keep wondering what if her ambulance drive had been fifteen, or twenty minutes longer? That’s about how long it’d take to get to the next nearest public hospital in Oakland.

Thankfully, my mother’s health is good now, but anything can happen in the future, and until now, she has always been able to rely on Doctors Medical Center when a real emergency came up.

Doctors Medical Center is the only public hospital that serves West County residents; it has 25 emergency room beds and serves 40- 45 thousand people per year, according to California Nurses Association spokesperson and registered nurse (RN) Liz Jacobs. But, the hospital is on the brink of closure. A closure that I, along with other members of the community, is fighting.

Earlier this year, a parcel tax measure to generate funds to go toward keeping the hospital open failed to get the necessary support. Just a couple of weeks ago, the county approved an emergency influx of six-million dollars to keep the hospital open while officials try and figure out how to keep funding it.

I work with a community group called ACCE (Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment) and we’ve attended several meetings with the Contra Costa County supervisors, as well as health care board meetings to constantly call on our decision makers to do whatever it takes to keep the hospital open. We think it would be catastrophic for everyone in West Contra Costa County if the only public hospital that serves this area closed. In many of the meetings I’ve been to, I’ve heard many community members say, “If the hospital were to close people will die.”

I understand the sentiment, Doctors is my hospital too. Until I got health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, I’d go there when I got really sick or injured. It was comforting to know that I would be treated at Doctors Medical Center.

The most recent proposal is to down size the hospital and keep only the emergency services open. Those who needed to be admitted to a hospital after emergency care would have to be transferred to a different location for inpatient care. But, this proposal is far from popular.

“We need a full hospital and we can not accept stripping Doctor’s down to only an emergency room,” said Mike Parker, a Richmond mayoral candidate.
Others have expressed their personal issues with Doctors as well, from the quality of care to the condition of the building. Despite these problems, the hospital is an important part of the community. It may have its fair share of issues but it is there as a safety net, and to service the health of our community when a real emergency arises.

If the hospital were to close it would be devastating, and the problems we have with it now will be nothing compared to the ones we’d have if Doctors shut down. If someone were to have a heart attack or severe asthma attack, the chances of them surviving a 15 to 20 minute trip to a hospital in Oakland become extremely low.

There continues to be an ongoing effort to save the hospital from closing. Community groups like ACCE, RPA (Richmond Progressive Alliance), REJC (Richmond Environmental Justice Coalition) and the California Nurses Association (CNA) know how important this hospital is and we are all working together to ensure that Doctors stays around for the long term.

On July 1st 2014, there was a rally in front of Doctors medical center with about 150 people against the closure of the hospital or it being downsized to a emergency care only center. “Our union, that is the nurses at Doctors Medical Center believe that the only sustainable solution would be for Contra Costa County to take over Doctors Medical Center and make it part of their medical system,” said Maria Sahagun, a nurse at Doctors and also part of CNA.

Doctors is an important part to many people in the community and for my family too. My mom is in good health now, but anything can happen at any time. I want to be able to know that if my mother’s health becomes compromised again, there is a hospital not to far from where she lives. A full hospital that can take care of all her medical needs and that is close enough for me to visit her. That is what everyone who depends on Doctors deserves.