In Richmond, English Learners Get an Assist From Volunteers

News Feature, Edgardo Cervano-Soto

“Every good story has a conflict,” says the teacher as she draws a story plot map for her students. Arleth and Saul, both 14 and freshmen at Richmond High, follow along, drawing the jagged map onto their notebooks, labeling the exposition, rising action and climax. The lesson has Arleth, Saul and 25 of their English Language Development (ELD) Level 4 classmates learning, and in some cases, re-learning the basics of writing.

ELD students, also known as English Language Learners, are the fastest growing group of students in American public schools. A 2008 study from the Migration Policy Institute, a non-profit, non-partisan think tank on the East Coast, estimated 5.3 million K-12 students in the U.S. are English Learners, with 1.6 million in California alone.

ELD students consistently rank among the lowest in state test scores, high school graduation and college attendance rates. What’s more, the demographics of this population are changing dramatically.

It is common perception that all ELD students are immigrants and non-native English speakers. However, that is far from reality. The Urban Institute in a 2005 study stated that more than half of ELD students in high school are native-born Americans, with Spanish speaking students comprising the majority.

At Richmond High School, Saul and Arleth are among the 45 percent of students classified as English Language Learners.

Saul, whose parents are both from Mexico, was born in Washington but relocated to Richmond because his mother disliked the cold. Of average height and lean, Saul’s choice of black shin high socks speaks to his interest in sports, specifically soccer. He doesn’t read much outside of school, he admits, other than his favorite video game and skateboard magazines. It’s not that he hates doing so, says Saul, it just “depends if I’m in the mood.”

Arleth was born in Berkeley and her parents are also from Mexico – her mother moved to the U.S. at the age of 14 and graduated from Richmond High. A petite teenager and the oldest of five siblings, Arleth has an interest in pencil drawing and photography. Outside of class, she writes often, usually letters to family. It’s one way she’s maintained contact with a cousin soon to be released from juvenile detention in Reno. Arleth has confidence in her writing abilities, and says she feels some resentment about being in ELD classes for multiple years. “I didn’t learn much in middle school or have anyone look over my writing,” she says.

In addition to ELD 4, the students – 27 in all – are enrolled in English 1, a kind of writing and reading boot camp. The heavy emphasis on language classes means ELD students can’t take elective courses.

Principal Julio Franco is determined to improve the rate of learning for ELD students at Richmond High. Recently, Franco and Dr. Bruce Harter, superintendent of West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD), contracted with Writer Coach Connection (WCC), a one-on-one, in-classroom mentoring program that matches students with trained volunteers.

In October, WCC celebrated its expansion to Richmond High with a ribbon cutting ceremony, and 93 resident volunteers were recruited to mentor five ELD 4 classes — approximately 150 students over a one-year period. “We wanted to begin with ELD 4 because we have a lot of students who stay in ELD for a long time,” says Franco. ” And I know that they want to get out and be in regular classes.”

Writer Coach Connection got its start at Berkeley High School in 2001 and has quickly expanded — today the organization operates in a dozen schools throughout the Bay Area. Led by Robert Menzimer, WCC has received accolades for its success in improving student language comprehension, but their work in Richmond marks the first time the organization has mentored a sizable English Learner population.

Given the scope of work – WCC employs only 24 part time staff to operate a program serving three counties and a dozen schools in the Bay Area — it is a modest organization. According to Menzimer, the operating budget of WCC is close to $390,00 with the cost of one school being $23,000. The district pays what it can, while WCC pays the remaining cost with grants and individual donations. The organization heavily relies on volunteers.

The heavy volunteer turnout in Richmond, says Menzimer, was a pleasant surprise. “When you scratch the surface of this community, what you find underneath is an amazing group of people who care deeply about the schools and the city. And if you can tap into that fierce dedication of making the lives of students and people in the community better, you are really on to something,” he says.

After attending a training workshop, volunteers are paired with students, with whom they conduct one-hour feedback sessions on assignment during class time. According to WCC, having the in-class visit deters the stigma of students seeking writing help — the service is brought to them. Shelli Fried, volunteer coordinator for WCC, said the WCC does not create a new curriculum but acts as support for teachers and students. “Our role is to help the student be more successful in understanding and completing the assignment they are given,” she says. “We want to help build their confidence as they learn to write, creatively and critically.”

According to Fried, Richmond volunteers were quick to sign up as mentors. The majority of volunteers are retired, with a few college age students. Fried expects the generation gaps will dissolve and bonds will be formed once the work begins, despite any cultural or generational differences.

WCC volunteers have visited Richmond High now at least three times. The first encounter was awkward, says Saul. “(My coach) was a stranger, and I had forgotten my essay. We didn’t talk much,” he says. Despite this initial awkwardness, Saul says the coach has been very helpful in clarifying his summaries. It is a first for Saul to have anyone read and comment on his paper. Never having personal feedback is a common occurrence, says Franco. “Sometimes students don’t get praise that they can write, that they can express themselves. Now, when people from the community tell you that your writing is as good as anybody’s, that gives you more confidence, says Franco. According to Saul, the sessions have made him feel better about writing.

For Arleth, the Writer Coaches provide a chance to vindicate herself and prove her writing abilities. Enrolled in ELD since elementary, she is itching to pass ELD 4, and she plans to take advantage of the one-on-one connection. Arleth had to repeat ELD 3 in 7th grade, and she often thinks of what could have been if she had only passed the course.

“I couldn’t pass my class, and I wanted to so bad,” she says. Asked what elective would she have chosen if not for ELD 4, Arleth responds quickly: “Art.” She has every intention on taking the elective, next year.

The Writers Coach Connection is looking for additional volunteers. For more information visit,

Piedmont High Students Talk About Slut Fantasy League


Editor’s note: Students first names have been changed to protect them from possible repercussions from other students.

As a former student in Oakland’s public schools, I was shocked to hear about the “Fantasy Slut League” game at Piedmont High – one the Bay Area’s most prestigious public high school.

So I decided to visit the campus to talk with students and get their view.

The Fantasy Slut League was formed by a group of young male athletes to serve as a sex ring made up of female students who got ranked according to the sex acts they were willing to perform. While media reports focus on sexual promiscuity, the issue that bothered me most after talking with students was how boys were degrading girls, and still are.

Once on school grounds I approached Mike, a skinny, blond-haired, 16 year old student wearing a beanie who was eager to talk and who directed me to other students.

School officials say they have yet to identify the students involved. Students told me that the League kept a Facebook page that was deleted as soon as the scandal broke—but not before the names of some of the girls involved got leaked.

“The football players had a private page on Facebook that nobody really knew about but once the story broke they deleted the page and all information along with it,” Carol 16, with long brown hair, told me. “Some of the guys who controlled the page started leaking some of the girls’ names and a few of them have been getting teased for it. Guys are calling them sluts and hoes, just really degrading things.”

This brought to mind news stories about 15 year old Felicia Garcia, the New York girl who recently jumped to her death in front of a train, allegedly after being bullied over sex with multiple football players.

Kim, 16, worried about the scandal’s fallout for girls. She explained to me how the League graded them by how much they were willing to put out. “The way the League works is based on a point system,” she said. “You earn points based on the sexual acts you do, so like kissing is one point, hand jobs are two points, blow jobs are three points, intercourse is four points and anal or strange sex is five points.”

At the end of the year, the guys tally up the points on Facebook and the winner gets a prize. “It’s such a shame because these girls are being judged and bet on, like dogs at a race track.”

The League appears to have been the best kept secret at the school, known only to a select group of students.

Natalie, 15, said, “I was shocked to know this was going on but from what I’ve heard, only juniors and seniors were involved.”

Who would have thought this was going down like that at Piedmont High? In my mind this was the school that couldn’t go wrong. For years kids in my neighborhood tried to get in and it was damn near impossible unless you had a rich family, or a Piedmont address. But now it seems like any other high school.

Mike, my first informant, explained it like this: “People don’t want to talk about it, like it’s a secret but everybody knows. It’s something that happened, and will continue to happen.”

I have to agree with him on this one. These Piedmont students know the school has little to no authority over them once they leave school grounds. And from what I’ve heard, pretty much the whole “ Fantasy Slut League” occurred off campus anyway.

It seems like the boys involved were using their status as athletes to degrade the young women at their school. They made it a sport to have sex with them, record their performances online like it was a form of entertainment.

At the high school I attended — known as a hood school — we didn’t have anything quite like the League. But degrading the opposite sex is part of the air young men breathe.

Mike said the scandal is “funny and ridiculous.” And he blamed the girls. “Piedmont girls will do anything to be popular,” he told me, “no matter what it takes, even if it means slutting around.”

What worries me is that Mike may be more typical of students’ reactions to the scandal than Carol or Kim or Natalie. “Girls weren’t getting raped, or being taken advantage of, they were being drafted,” he said. They were “volunteering for sex.”

Youth Weigh in on 2012 Election

Blog, Various Authors

“A vote is worth more than money”
Edgardo Cervano-Soto

My vote represents me. How I vote informs political power holders and institutions my interpretation of democracy and equity. Although voting is not the only way to engage in politics (I can do this through writing, media and public demonstration), voting is significant because it provides a quantitative value. Voting is democracy at its most basic and accessible, yet also at its most vulnerable to corruptive influences.

This year, Measure N, which places a penny per ounce tax on sugar sweetened beverages sold within Richmond, is receiving a lot of attention, particularly from the American Beverage Association. Although I live in San Pablo, a mere three blocks from Richmond’s city boundary, I cannot vote in Richmond’s election. But Measure N has made me very concerned. While this season’s debate has centered on whether the tax is harmful or helpful to low-income communities of color, what is often ignored by ABA is the recognition that their cash-fueled campaign undermines the value of a vote. With over 2.2 million dollars spent on the campaign against Measure N, the ABA, and its affiliate, Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes, is attempting to buy votes. The reckless spending of corporations in Richmond’s politics puts in danger the most basic and accessible right.

I am disappointed by the large number of billboards in Richmond with messages that claim to look out for the working class. I am offended that the rhetoric of equity for poor communities of color is being co-opted by corporations. I am repulsed that a Washington, D.C. firm names their affiliate, the Community Coalition, when “community” is the very word they fail to understand.

I believe that a vote is worth more than money. A vote is worth hundreds of years of struggle; it’s worth millions of steps in marches; it’s worth infinite hours of sacrifice, courage and solitude; and it will not be undermined so easily. That is why I defend my vote, and encourage others to never exchange their vote like currency. It’s worth more than cash.

“We have the chance to prevent deeper cuts to public education”
Zaira Sierra, 21

Youth in public schools around the nation are being let down by the educational system. In K-12 schools, children are being forced to generate good test results because ultimately test scores determine how much funding the school receives. It may not sound that bad, but in order for a school to get a high score, teachers are forced to teach the curriculum the state demands, leaving limited room for extracurricular activities or teaching creativity. That does not develop critical thinkers because children are focusing on one correct answer.

Now, why should that matter? Youth are our next leaders. Education is important for this country. Our system is broken and needs immediate reform, and the way to get reform is to let our voices be heard. I’m sure parents and kids alike would greatly benefit from having an extra hour of physical education, music and art. In order to have those classes, schools need funding.

How is that done? Well, on Nov. 6, we have the chance to prevent deeper budget cuts to public education. It is done through voting. Yes, voting is a special privilege and should be exercised to the fullest extent. This can improve the health of our community by preventing violence, allocating funding for public safety services, helping our economy and making the nation more stable. It pertains to every individual because we are all a part of a larger society.

We all hear how the world of politics is dominated by wealthy, educated white men. But you shouldn’t give up the power to vote simply because you think your vote will never count.

Our country is so diverse and statistics prove the power within the black and Latino vote can alter the election. What can that mean? Maybe we can let our voices be heard and we can make sure Richmond is represented in the upcoming elections.

“Once I heard Ron Dellums’ plan, I was through with politicians”
Sean Shavers, 21

Voting is something I don’t really think about. I just kind of hear the hype. The commercials, the “Why voting is important” speech. But truthfully, I hadn’t considered it important all. Why should I? I was raised in a home where we didn’t vote, the neighbors didn’t vote and a third of the community didn’t vote.

I remember growing up and hearing people say, “My vote doesn’t count,” or, “What I am I voting for? Those politicians aren’t going to help me.” And to a certain extent, I felt like it was true. Politicians weren’t coming to the ‘hood asking us about anything. More than half of the candidates on the ballot, we didn’t even know.

In my freshman year of high school, I went to a press conference for Mayor Ron Dellums. He was talking about the issues facing the community and how dangerous it was on the streets. His solution to this problem was to hire 50 officers to walk the beat. Now I know for a fact that this is not an effective solution. Adding 50 more officers to the payroll will only create friction between citizens and law enforcement. In Oakland, there has always been a racial divide between police and the black community. Folks just don’t trust the police, so crimes go unpunished and cases go unsolved.

Once I heard Ron Dellums’ plan, I was through with politicians, voting and any other political related thing. I felt like he gave little to no thought about the young men dying on our streets. We needed to build a relationship with the officers we already had, not add more inexperienced officers into the battlefield.

Less than two years later, Barack Obama was elected president of the United States. I felt like Obama was a scapegoat, repairing what Bush destroyed.

I never paid any attention to voting on a local or state level because nothing ever seemed to relate to me. Yes, some of the laws would affect me, maybe some propositions, but at the end of the day, I wasn’t informed about what I was voting for. People would post signs, saying, “Vote on this, vote on that,” but even then, I didn’t have enough information to make a decision.

Voting is just something that I’m not interested in. Even though I know folks fought for my right to vote, I feel like I have that same right not to do it.

If voting means putting your trust in people who don’t care about your beliefs, then I don’t want any part of it. I refuse to help a crook climb the ladder of success and trample over others’ ambitions. I’m sorry, voting is just not for me.

“I can’t understand how someone of African descent doesn’t vote”
Todd Spencer, 24

Politics have always been an interest of mine. I see a problem within my community, analyze the situation, then try and figure out a solution. Voting for someone I feel will represent me in this republic is a great way for me to implement what type of direction I would like us to go.

I’ve come across people who think voting is irrelevant. People always complain about the conditions we’re under in this country. How it isn’t fair that their basic needs aren’t being met. I ask people who complain if they’ve ever voted; virtually every person I asked says, “No.”

I can’t understand how someone from African descent doesn’t vote. During the Reconstruction Era, black people in America were able to vote. Then that right was taken away. People have fought and died to be able to vote again.

Women weren’t able to vote until 1920.

I feel as an American it is our patriotic duty to vote. Since I turned 18, I have voted in every election. My immediate family members who are of age to vote do their patriotic duty as well. I’ve pressured my mom, sister, aunt, and grandmother to vote in every election; I get calls from them asking me to go into detail on certain propositions, due to the fact that the proposition details aren’t always clear.

I first started to understand politics by thinking back on what I was taught in school. I began to watch news networks such as CNN and FOX News to try and understand how politics works. Doing this made me start hating Republican reasoning, as well as every other political group that wasn’t Democrat.

Like most people, I registered as a Democrat based on the fact that I live in a Democratic controlled state and my family members are all in that political party. When I took a political science course in 2007, the instructor assigned the class to take a political compass test. After I received my results from the political compass test I realized my viewpoints don’t match up properly with the Democrats. Since that moment, I’ve been reading books and news articles. I’ve watched many political documentaries, and visited the government’s official websites in order to get the understanding of politics I have now. Based on my experience, TV will get you nowhere in understanding politics.

“I can’t vote because of my legal status”
Anonymous, 22
I can’t vote, but if I had the option to vote, I’m not sure if I would. Either way, I would like it to be my choice, instead of having the decision made for me because of my legal status. I live here as well, and the decisions that will be made this November 6th will affect me as much as everyone else. It is frustrating when you feel like you don’t count and decisions are made with or without you. That’s how things are and as much as we wish things were different, they’re not. Who know? Maybe if my situation were different, I would take it more seriously.

Together, Residents Weave Tale of a Healthier Richmond

First Person, Tania Pulido

During the past three years that I’ve been working at Urban Tilth, I’ve had experiences that have drastically expanded my skills, development and overall understanding of the world. One such experience came on Sunday, October 21st, when some co-workers and I participated in an inspiring event, organized by the Cornerstone Theater Company and The California Endowment. At the event, attended by local residents and organizations participants shared their personal stories related to health issues in Richmond, stories that Cornerstone is now taking and turning into a short play about the community’s vision for a healthy future.

My own interest in working toward a healthier Richmond stems from my upbringing, and now as a community organizer, I was happy to be in a room with so many community leaders, fellow youth, and people who care about the same issues I do.

I can remember, as a very young child, eating lots of junk food – things like Cup O’ Noodles, Hot Cheetos, soda and chips. I ate this kind of food every day, sometimes even for breakfast. No matter how hard my mother tried to get us to eat healthier, my diet consisted of a lot of empty calories.

Now that I’m older and understand health issues better, I feel a sense of responsibility to educate other young people and adults so that they can learn from my experiences. I attended the Cornerstone event with this in mind, and with the goal of connecting with other individuals and organizations to help educate people about the relationship between food and health.

I was inspired to hear the stories and perspectives of other people in attendance. I especially enjoyed a performance by two young spoken word artists from RAW Talent. The two young men wrote and performed a piece about health in Richmond that really truly captured the problems our community is facing.

I was very pleased by the event and I’m even more excited to be part of a community initiative that has engaged such a brilliant, talented, and inspiring group of people. I know that all of the stories we shared that day will come together to make for a great play, and if we can channel all of the passion that we hold for our community, I know we’ll succeed in making Richmond the healthy place that we all dream it can be.

Support the RAW TALENT Kickstarter

Click here for the link to the RAW Talent Kickstarter page.

Romeo Is Bleeding (working title) is a documentary about young artists inspiring change in an impoverished city. The students of Richmond California’s creative writing group, RAW Talent (Richmond Artists With Talent), are no strangers to trauma. Their city is small but the homicide rate is abnormally high, with teens killing each other over turf divisions between North and Central Richmond. In a community so deeply entrenched in a cycle of retaliation, there are many dead-end streets and few positive outlets. Yet the students at RAW Talent have found their voices through spoken word poetry and are determined to change Richmond with their art.

Richmond Co-op Does More Than Just Fix Bikes

News Feature, Monica Quesada

James Johnson, 20, is a bike mechanic. Born and raised in Richmond, Johnson has for years fixed bikes out of his own garage, all the while dreaming of opening up a bike shop where he could work with the proper tools, “without having to use hammers and stuff.”

Johnson’s dream became reality less than a year ago when – along with a group of other young people from Richmond, and under the direction of Brian Drayton, executive director of a non-profit called Richmond Spokes – he launched Spokeshop Bike Lounge, the only bike shop in the city.

“Spokeshop isn’t the regular bike shop,” Johnson said. “There’s not many bike shops where you can come in and instead of buying stuff just hang out, chat with the staff, come use the free wifi, and read bike magazines and stuff in peace, without people bothering you.”

Besides their welcoming atmosphere, Spokeshop has another element that sets it apart from most other businesses in Richmond: It is a cooperative, where all the members are both owners and employees – although, so far, none of the co-ops eight members are receiving a salary for their work.

“We are still working out systems,” Johnson said. “I definitely wanna… get paid, but I’m pretty much satisfied that I actually have my shop, because that is where all my money would have been going anyways.”

As the shop’s first anniversary approaches, members of the cooperative keep on showing up to volunteer their time in order to help it become a successful business.
“It is more like a split of profits,” said David Meza, 20, a co-op member. “We all equally decide what should be reinvested into the shop, and what should be [for] our personal gain. But [we put] the shop first.”

Helping Community, in More Ways Than One
“I like working on bikes because I think it’s a job that really serves the community in many ways,” said Roxana Alejandre, 21, a bike mechanic at the shop.

Alejandre echoes other members, who view the shop and their work as a community service; a way to help Richmond become a better city. Biking, they say, is not only a good way to improve community health by making exercise fun, but also a cheaper way to get around town, find better job opportunities and access better food sources.

“Most [businesses] give opportunities for jobs, but one thing they don’t give you is a way to get to that job,” said Johnson. “But with bicycles, not only are you giving (a person) a job but you are also giving (them) transportation, so you don’t have the excuse of, ‘I don’t have a way to get to work’.”

Filling a Need
Spokeshop Bike Lounge is one of the projects of the non-profit Richmond Spokes, the mission of which is to promote social and economic development through cycling.

Drayton, executive director of the non-profit, said he was approached by young people who told him they’d heard that he was “the person to call” if you wanted to grow a bicycle culture in Richmond.

“I came to Richmond and realized that there was no visible bike community, (yet) there is a large underground community of people that just bike until their bike fall apart and then they get another bike.” In addition to creating healthy opportunities for youth, he said, “The idea was to get some affordable bike repair here in Richmond and train people to build bikes and maintain bikes.”

In addition to Spokeshop Bike Lounge, Richmond Spokes operates other projects and services, like valet bicycle parking for public and private events, which Drayton hopes will build more awareness of the burgeoning bike culture in Richmond.

Youth Opportunity
Gerardo Lopez, 12, is the youngest staff at Spokeshop. He goes to school, but every spare moment he has he spends at Spokeshop helping clients, keeping the store clean and organized, and sometimes assisting the bike mechanics.

“My mom says it’s cool because I can have a lesson in life [about] how to build my own shop and how to do my own business,” Lopez said.
Like every other worker in the shop, Lopez doesn’t receive a salary for his work.
“I don’t really care about the money,” Lopez said. “I just want to help the community. I don’t come here for the money.”

Nonetheless, during the winter break he worked so hard that the other members of the cooperative decided to give him a thank you present, a little black BMX bike that he liked. Now Lopez said he has new friends, three bikes and the experience of participating in the brainstorming that happens at the cooperative.
Members of the cooperative describe the bike shop as an incubator for what could be future youth-led businesses in Richmond.

“I had an idea for a design studio,” said Jari Smith, a volunteer at the shop. “I came here and eventually it grew.” Smith now has plans to launch her studio, which will be the first entrepreneurial business to spin off from the Spokeshop co-op.
“If we had a cafe within the bike shop, eventually that cafe is going to outgrow the bike shop and it will be time for them to launch their business,” Smith explained. “Who knows what kind of businesses could grow from that, from people congregating in the cafe, dreaming, creating goals, putting deadlines on those goals and branching out.”

According to Drayton, Spokeshop already has all the necessary equipment to start a cafe, but they lack the money for the initial investment.

Growing the Ranks
One of the big challenges facing the cooperative, said Drayton, is attracting new members and keeping them active. If a person wants to join, he or she must commit to doing 6 months of volunteer work at the shop, while getting trained by current members.

“In disadvantaged communities, it’s hard to incubate people,” Drayton explained, “because if it takes 6 months to train someone and they don’t have another source of income, we lose people.”

“As people realize what it is that we are doing, they get passionate about it,” he added. “But we all have personal lives, we all have rent and food and bills and things that rack up, so it is a challenge to stay on top of [everything].”

In the near future, Drayton hopes to find bigger funders that could support a salary structure for co-op members, even while they are in training, to sustain Spokeshop’s model and “keep it going.”

Cooperativa de Richmond Hace Más Que Arreglar Bicis

Reportaje, Monica Quesada

James Johnson de 20 años es un mecánico de bicicletas. Nacido y criado en Richmond, Johnson ha arreglado bicis en su propia casa por años, mientras soñaba con abrir una taller de bicis donde pudiera trabajar con las herramientas adecuadas, “sin tener que usar martillos y cosas”.

El sueño de Johnson se hizo realidad hace menos de un año – cuando junto con un grupo de otros jóvenes de Richmond, y bajo la dirección de Brian Drayton, Director Ejecutivo de una organización no lucrativa llamada Richmond Spokes – lanzó Spokeshop Bike Lounge, el único taller de bicis en la ciudad.

“Spokeshop no es el taller típico de bicis”, dijo Johnson. “No hay muchas tiendas de bicis donde puedes entrar y en vez de comprar cosas solo pasar el tiempo, hablar con el personal, usar el wifi gratis, y leer revistas de bicis y otras cosas en paz, sin que gente te moleste”.

Además de su ambiente amable, Spokeshop tiene otro elemento que lo distingue de los otros negocios en Richmond: Es una cooperativa, donde todos los miembros son propietarios y empleados – aunque, hasta ahora, ninguno de los ocho miembros de la cooperativa están recibiendo un salario por su trabajo.

“Aún estamos ajustando los sistemas”, dijo Johnson. “Definitivamente quiero… ser pagado, pero básicamente estoy satisfecho de que actualmente tengo mi tienda, porque de todos modos a ese fin estaría usando mi dinero”.

Mientras se acerca el primer aniversario del taller este mes, miembros de la cooperativa siguen presentándose para dar su tiempo de voluntarios para ayudarla a convertirse en un negocio exitoso.

“Es más como compartir las ganancias”, dijo David Meza de 20 años, un miembro de la cooperativa. “Todos decidimos de igual manera que debe ser reinvertido al taller, y que debería ser para nuestro beneficio personal. Pero [nosotros] ponemos al taller primero”.

Ayudando a la Comunidad de Muchas Maneras

“Me gusta trabajar en las bicis porque creo que es un trabajo que realmente ayuda a la comunidad de muchas maneras”, dijo Roxana Alejandre de 21 años, una mecánica de bicis en el taller.

Alejandre comparte como muchos otros miembros, que ven a su taller y su trabajo como servicio comunitario; una manera de ayudar a que Richmond sea una mejor ciudad. Andar en bici, dicen, no es solo una buena manera de mejorar la salud comunitaria al hacer el ejercicio divertido, pero también una manera más económica de andar por la ciudad, encontrar mejores oportunidades de trabajo y conseguir mejores fuentes de alimentos.

“La mayoría de [negocios] dan oportunidades de empleo, pero la cosa que no te dan es una manera de llegar a ese trabajo”, dijo Johnson. “Pero con las bicis, no solo le estas dando un trabajo [a una persona] pero también [les] estas dando transportación, para que no tengas la escusa de, ‘No tengo manera de llegar al trabajo’”.

Llenando un Vacío

Spokeshop Bike Lounge es uno de los proyectos de la organización no lucrativa Richmond Spokes, cuya misión incluye promover el desarrollo social y económico a través de usar bicicletas.

Drayton, Director Ejecutivo de la organización, dijo que jóvenes llegaron a él porque habían oído que el era a quien acudir si querían desarrollar una cultura de bicicletas en Richmond.

Llegué a Richmond y me di cuenta de que no había una comunidad de bicicletas visible, (pero) hay una grande comunidad clandestina de personas que usan su bici hasta que se descompone y luego consiguen otra bici”. Además de crear oportunidades saludables para los jóvenes, él dijo, “La idea era de conseguir reparación de bicis económica aquí en Richmond y entrenar a las personas a construir y a mantener bicis”.

Aparte del Spokeshop Bike Lounge, Richmond Spokes también maneja otros proyectos y servicios, como valét de bicicletas para eventos públicos y privados, lo que Drayton espera aumentara la concientización de la creciente cultura de bicis en Richmond.

Oportunidad para Jóvenes

Gerardo Lopez de 12 años, es el empleado más chico en Spokeshop. Asiste a la escuela, pero pasa cada momento libre que tiene en Spokeshop ayudando a clientes, manteniendo limpia la tienda, y a veces asistiendo a los mecánicos. “Mi mama piensa que esta bien porque puedo tener una lección en la vida [de cómo] construir mi propio taller y como mantener mi propio negocio”, dijo Lopez.

Como cada otro trabajador en el taller, Lopez no recibe un salario por su trabajo.

“Realmente no me importa el dinero”, dice Lopez. “Yo solo quiero ayudar a la comunidad. No vengo aquí por el dinero”.

Sin embargo, durante el descanso de invierno él trabajo tan duro que los otros miembros de la cooperativa decidieron darle un regalo de agradecimiento, una bici BMX negra que le gusto. Ahora Lopez dice que tiene nuevos amigos, tres bicis y la experiencia de participar en la lluvia de ideas que ocurre en la cooperativa.
Los miembros de la cooperativa describen el taller de bicis como un incubador de lo que podrían ser futuros negocios de Richmond mantenidos por jóvenes.

“Yo tuve una idea para un estudio de diseño”, dijo Jari Smith, una voluntaria en el taller. “Llegue aquí y eventualmente creció”. Ahora Smith tiene planes de lanzar su estudio, que seria la primer empresa filial de la cooperativa Spokeshop.

“Si tuviéramos un café dentro del taller, finalmente ese café quedaría chica para el taller y sería tiempo de lanzar su propio negocio”, explicó Smith.“Quien sabe que tipo de negocios pueden crecer de ahí, de gente uniéndose en el café, soñando, creando metas, poniéndole límites a esas metas y creciendo”.
Según Drayton, Spokeshop ya tiene todo lo necesario para empezar un café, pero les falta el dinero inicial para invertir.

Aumentar la Base

Uno de los retos más grandes que enfrenta la cooperativa, dijo Drayton, es atraer nuevos miembros y mantenerlos activos. Si una persona quiere unirse, él o ella tiene que comprometerse a 6 meses de voluntariado en el taller, mientras reciben entrenamiento de los miembros actuales.

“En comunidades desfavorecidas, es difícil desarrollar a la gente”, explicó Drayton, “porque dura 6 meses para entrenar a alguien y no tienen otra fuente de ingresos, perdemos a personas”.

“Cuando la gente se da cuenta de lo que estamos haciendo, se entusiasman con ello”, agrego. “Pero todos tenemos nuestras vidas personales, tenemos la renta y la comida y los gastos y cosas que se acumulan, entonces es un reto de estar encima[ de todo]”.

En el futuro cercano, Drayton espera encontrar financiadores mas grandes que puedan apoyar una estructura de salario para los miembros de la cooperativa, aún cuando están entrenando, para sostener el modelo de Spokeshop y mantenerlo en operación”.

Jóvenes Reaccionan Al Desastre de la Refinería de Chevron

En primera persona, Varios

La noche del lunes, 6 de agosto, a los residentes de Richmond, California, se les aconsejó buscar refugio debido a una serie de explosiones que resultaron en un gran incendio en la refinería de petróleo de Chevron, la refinería más grande del norte de California. El fuego envió columnas de humo negro hacia el cielo, cuales se elevaron lo suficientemente alto como para ser vistas por millas a través del Área de la Bahía.
Inaugurada en 1902, la refinería de petróleo hace mucho tiempo hizo a Chevron el mayor empleador de la ciudad de Richmond. La refinería también ha sido culpada por las tasas históricamente altas de la ciudad de asma y otras cuestiones de salud asociadas con la contaminación, las toxinas y residuos industriales, que es un subproducto de la industria.

Richmond Pulse colecto los siguientes blogs y reacciones en las horas inmediatamente posteriores al desastre de la refinería, el cual según la Agencia para el Manejo de Emergencias de California, soltó dióxido de azufre, química óxido de nitrógeno, óxido de hidrógeno, ácido sulfúrico y dióxido de nitrógeno al aire.

Edgardo Cervano-Soto, 22:

Cuando las sirenas sonaron, me levanté de mi asiento y casualmente cerré las ventanas. Mi mamá, cansadísima mentalmente y físicamente de cuidar a niños todo el día, me preguntó por qué cerré la ventana. Por que no es el miércoles, dije (la refinería de Chevron suena una alarma de prueba todos los miércoles) … y esto es real. Ella me miró, confundida por el tiempo y el sonido, y finalmente escuchó las sirenas.
Llevé a mi mamá y mi papá afuera de nuestra casa y vimos el embudo de los humos negros creciendo. Al haber vivido esto antes, sabíamos que hacer. Cerramos las puertas y ventanas, y colocamos trapos debajo de los huecos que habíamos fallado de asegurar completamente durante las reparaciones de la casa.
Por supuesto, la tele estaba prendida. Y el teléfono no paraba de sonar durante el pico de la quema. Parientes en San Francisco llamaron a preguntar si papá (él trabaja cerca de la refinería) había llegado a casa. Papá les aseguró a los familiares que estaba a salvo, y bromeó con los amigos del trabajo por el teléfono. La quema fue banal como un hecho natural, sin embargo, dejamos la televisión prendida, para presenciar el acto que había provocado un torbellino de atención de los medios.

La casa rápidamente se convirtió muy caliente y sofocada. Me sequé el sudor de mi frente, y sentí la humedad que se acumulaba en el borde de mi camiseta. Antes de las sirenas, mi mamá estaba friendo pescado y olía delicioso. Ahora, el calor se junto en la cocina y lleno la casa con el sonido del chisporroteo del aceite sobre el fuego abierto como su propio sonido de advertencia.
Esta casa fue construida en la década de 1960 y siempre ha tenido mala ventilación. Atrapa el calor y el frío según la estación. En parte por la resignación y el humor negro, mis hermanas y yo bromeamos sobre si la explosión fue una señal definitiva de mudarnos de nuestra casa. En el último año, hemos estado pensando en mudarnos de nuestra casa, ya que su valor ha disminuido dramáticamente, mientras que la hipoteca sigue siendo alta. Y las casas embargadas en nuestra calle sólo han añadido a una mayor devaluación del barrio. Me apoyé en la ventana porque se sentía fresco, e imagine por un momento cómo sería vivir en algún lugar de la naturaleza, alejado de las llanuras y en lo alto de las colinas. Pero incluso esos lugares se prenden en fuego a veces.
La hora mágica, en la producción cinematográfica, es cuando el sol se apaga en la oscuridad y no hay un resplandor en el cielo. Afuera era como una película, y adentro estaba muy caliente y pegajoso. Abrí la puerta principal y salí a la calle para ver los humos. La calle estaba en calma; el interior de las casas encendidas con luz, el aire por encima de mí pintado con tonos de púrpura, azul, anaranjado y negro.
Mis padres salieron de la casa y se pararon en el patio. Caminé hasta el centro de la calle y con mi cámara de 35 mm y tomé una foto de mis padres y el humo que cierne sobre ellos. Sonrieron y me llamó la atención. Vivimos cómodamente en el humo … y eso, es la cosa más innatural.

Adrienne Cheney, 17:
He vivido en Richmond toda mi vida, y estoy muy acostumbrada a escuchar la sirena de prueba de Chevron cada primer miércoles. Como muchos otros, sospecho, ya no hago los pasos de refugiarme en práctica para una emergencia cuando escucho esas sirenas. Sin embargo, esto es algo que es muy problemático, especialmente en situaciones como el incendio de la refinería de Chevron.

Al igual que muchos otros residentes de Richmond, me quede contemplando durante unos segundos pensando, “¿Es esa la sirena de Chevron?” y pensando, “No se son las 11 am en el primer miércoles. ¿Es una [emergencia] real?” Después de un minuto de pura confusión, la lógica entro y fui a investigar. Había oído dos explosiones fuertes sólo unos minutos antes, y cuando miré hacia afuera, podía ver la columna de humo negro elevándose hacia el cielo. Sólo entonces fui a cerrar todas las ventanas.
El siguiente paso para mí era llamar a ciertas personas. Un vecino mío sólo ha vivido en el área de la bahía por un rato, y me pareció que era muy importante llamarle y asegurar que sabía lo que significaba la sirena, y que se dirigiera hacia la casa y cerrara sus ventanas. Después de unas cuantas llamadas más, me senté y empecé a ver las noticias. La cobertura en vivo mostraba el fuego, y me enteré de que efectivamente se trataba de la refinería que se estaba quemando. Y entonces simplemente era sentarse y esperar, ya que cada media hora, las sirenas se repetían, y se oscureció el cielo, y poco a poco empecé a preguntarme cuánto tiempo duraría este fuego, y por cuánto tiempo duraría el peligro del humo tóxico sobre mi casa.

William Hayes, 20:
El asma, el smog, toxinas – estas son sólo algunas de las cosas que afectan a mi ciudad, Richmond, California. Se trata de una “ciudad puerto”, el hogar de una comunidad de diversas personas que han venido de diversos países, con diferentes convicciones y actividades. Pero la mayoría de la gente de mi comunidad sabe poco del peligro en que se colocan, simplemente por respirar el aire de aquí.
Por esa razón, he tenido una campaña personal en contra de Chevron toda mi vida, antes de que yo supiera lo que era una refinería de petróleo.
Gracias a Chevron, yo crecí en una comunidad donde el asma se considera normal y el smog se pensaba ser una parte del clima. Cuando yo era joven, mi hermana y yo vimos el humo blanco saliendo de las chimeneas de Chevron y los apodamos “los que hacen las nubes”. No sabíamos, que estas nubes blancas de humo aparentemente inofensivas eran en realidad la causa de la mayor parte de los riesgos de salud ambientales a los que estábamos siendo expuestos a sin saberlo. Por unas pocas semanas durante mi infancia hasta tuve que usar un inhalador para el asma, que en ese momento pensé que era algo muy bueno, pero en retrospectiva, es una imagen triste. No me gustaría que mi hijo este en una circunstancia donde tenga que usar un dispositivo para respirar.
Como nativo de Richmond, el reciente incendio de Chevron no me sorprende en lo más mínimo. Mi pregunta a los funcionarios de Chevron es, ¿Cómo siguen adelante después de esto? Estoy seguro de que no pueden asegurarles a los residentes de Richmond que algo así no vuelve a suceder, como estoy seguro de que tienen este tipo de accidentes contabilizados como el costo de hacer negocios.

No estoy demasiado preocupado acerca de quién tiene la culpa. Estoy más preocupado por lo que son los siguientes pasos para prevenir que este tipo de cosas se vuelvan a repetir. ¿Van a tomar en cuenta a los residentes de Richmond? ¿Puede alguna cantidad de dinero o donaciones para becas ser suficiente para que Chevron su merecido? Supongo que sólo el tiempo dirá.

Molly Raynor, de 25 años:
Maldita sea. Hoy ha sido una locura. En medio de nuestro taller de Romeo y Julieta, se escucharon las sirenas de Chevron y miramos por la ventana para ver una enorme nube de humo negro levantarse de la refinería y avanzando hacia nosotros. Tuvimos que refugiarnos en el lugar de Making Waves con mis estudiantes y mi primo que esta visitando la ciudad, filmando un documental sobre RAW y nuestro próximo show: una versión moderna de Romeo y Julieta situada en Richmond. “Verona”, sin duda estaba alumbrada hoy. Escapamos de las toxinas de Chevron, sintiéndonos mareados y apretados en el pecho, pero al final vamos a estar bien.

Estoy más preocupado por mis alumnos que regresaron a sus hogares bajo la nube negra y brumosa, quienes respiran Chevron todos los días. 50% de los residentes de Richmond tienen asma. Y eso es sólo una de las injusticias ambientales de tantas. Como Donte dijo ayer: “Ya sea humo de mota, de pólvora, o Chevron”. Estoy esperando que las nubes se aparten, esperando el sol. ¡Manténgase fuerte Ciudad Rich!

Richmond’s Latina Center Supports a Growing Community

News Feature, Edgardo Cervano-Soto

Wearing white caps and gowns, 25 women — ranging from young to middle-aged — pose for photographs in front of a water fountain at San Pablo City Hall. They call their group a sisterhood, born out of a need to speak to others but ultimately enabling them to reach themselves. For most of the women, graduating from the Latina Center’s 2012 Women’s Health and Leadership Program is a milestone, marking two years of involvement with the Richmond-based organization.

“Now, embrace the person next to you!” directs Yenny Velazquez, a program coordinator at the Latina Center. The women joyfully face the classmate beside them and giggle, “Hi, how are you?” and “What’s your name?” as if they were strangers to each other. “Come over here!” they laugh, breaking with formality as they hug like reunited family.

“We have students who received only an elementary education and others that are university graduates and professionals,” says Alejandra Escobedo, who coordinates the Women’s Health and Leadership Program. Yet, she explains, they have two core similarities: “First, these are women that want to progress and will progress. And the other similarity is that upon arriving in this country, they feel anxiety over how to survive in a society completely foreign to them, and (anxiety over) how to contribute and be significant.”

The Latina Center was founded by Miriam Wong in 2002 to serve Richmond’s growing Latina community. Today, the center offers support groups, domestic violence prevention workshops and leadership programs to women in need of healing, empowerment and understanding.

Despite the importance of the work, mental health services like thoseoffered at the center are yet to be fully embraced by the immigrant Latina community. The National Alliance of Mental Health, a policy research non-profit, reports that fewer than 1 in 20 Latino immigrants use mental health services. Breaking through the stigma of treating mental health issues is especially difficult among Latinas, who are 46% more likely than Latino men to experience depression, according to some estimates.

Overcoming the taboo of seeking mental health services, while also trying to build trust and guarantee privacy, is a challenge for mental health providers – but The Latina Center seems to have devised a successful approach. In their model, women can participate in support groups while also being trained as promotoras, or community health leaders. But before they can take part in the leadership trainings, the women must undergo the group process. The Women’s Health and Leadership Program is one of those leadership programs – it is now graduating its 12th class.

The group of 25 line up near the entrance of Maple Hall before entering. They look attentively toward the main room, trying to catch a glimpse of arriving family members. On each table, adorned with deep purple tablecloths, are quotes from the graduates. One reads, “I am a leader who has achieved changes in my neighborhood. I am proud of myself.”  The ceremony’s MC, Martha Cuevas, a graduate of the Latina Center’s programs, welcomes the audience and signals to the 25 women to enter the room. They enter, applauded by their community.


The Women’s Health and Leadership Program is a yearlong program with a new class offered every July. Students are required to devise a community health project, research their topic, conduct a presentation or workshop to peers, and finally execute the project to the proposed audience. This year’s projects included anger management classes, financial literacy workshops and even do-it-yourself cleaning solutions that are ecologically safe. No matter the topic, the program demands research from the students, and the experience has encouraged many graduates to continue community work beyond the program.

Teresa Palafox’s project on co-op business models led to her and some classmates attempting to open a restaurant called Fusíon Latina Restaurant. “More than anything, the program prepared us to initiate the co-op,” says Palafox. “I’ll continue taking classes and attending conferences on how to manage co-op businesses and gain extra income.” Palafox and the other women involved in Fusion Latina Restaurant are now being expertly advised by Arizmendi Bakery co-founder, Terry Baird. “We’ve received a lot of help from different [people],” says Palafox.

The experiences of other graduates have been more internal, but no less life altering. “I am nothing compared to who I was before The Latina Center,” says Maria Gamboa, a middle-aged woman who describes herself as only caring for her family, and always being at home. It was her first time participating in any type of support program.

For her project, Gamboa decided to share her expertise in tailoring by offering free classes to the public. “I discovered many qualities I already had in me,” she says of the process. “I want to continue opening doors to people like me who only care for their children. There is so much more one can do to help their community.”

After receiving their certificates, the class of 2012 welcomed the next class of women, who will begin developing their projects as early as August. The new class includes students not only from Richmond, San Pablo and Contra Costa County, but as far away as Solano and San Joaquin County. There is no other organization like the Latina Center, say the graduates.  No other that transforms, with love and friendship.

The Latina Center is located at 3919 Roosevelt Avenue in Richmond. The center accepts walk-ins, and appointments can also be made by phone, at (510) 233-8595