When Richmond Men Read, Kids Listen

By Nancy DeVille

When Ron Shaw stood up to read the children’s book, “Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears,” his audience — second-graders at North Richmond’s Verde Elementary School — stared, giggled and raised their hands to ask questions.

Shaw thumbed through the pages of the West African tale, reading the colorful story about a mosquito who tells a lie to an iguana and annoys him. By the end of the story, the youngsters tugged at Shaw’s leg, their way of thanking him for coming to their class.

Shaw joined about 15 others who gathered at Verde for the Real Men Read program, in which men from a variety of professions, many who grew up in Richmond, have signed up to read in classrooms once a month. The program, part of a national initiative, has entered its second year at Verde.

The volunteers, mostly African American, offer a familiar message: Reading represents the foundation for all learning.

“This is nourishment for the kids, and letting them know that men do read and reading is fun,” Shaw said. “I always have a very good experience with the young people and I’ve been doing this the last two years.”

This year readers have visited the same class each month, allowing them to forge relationships with the students, while teachers select the books to reinforce what the students are already learning. Organizers say the volunteers become instant heroes for the children, who may not have someone to read to them at home, and that the program shows boys that men in all professions read for both work and relaxation.

“This is my responsibility,” Shaw said. “We are supposed to serve our kids, and whatever is going to make it better for them, we need to do it. Reading is a gift, and we’re letting students know that it can be fun and exciting.”

The program at Verde, launched by Rev. Cassandry Keys of the Davis Chapel Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, intends to put more men into the schools and in front of kids, some of whom lack positive male role models.

“Hopefully these readers will become mentors and give them hope that they can have a future outside of their current environment,” Keys said. “If we can get them interested in reading in elementary, those habits will continue in junior high and high school.”

She said she hopes other churches will consider partnering with Richmond elementary schools to continue the initiative across the city.

This school year, administrators have committed to improving literacy after testing revealed that student lagged two to three years behind grade level in reading skills. The Real Men Read program represents additional support, and school officials say students are checking more books out of the library and want to read more.

In February, Verde students read 2.4 million words — up from 1.2 million the month before. In March, students read 4.5 million words. Teachers say the students are voluntarily reading more books and that classroom disciplinary actions have declined.

“This is really showing my students that reading is a part of your life,” said Merrill Pierce, who teaches fourth and fifth grades at Verde. “They are just listening and there is no need for behavioral management. This year so many people have come together to make reading the focus of the school, and the kids are so into it. My students care about how many words they are reading.”

Khalid’s Corner: I Speak for Them

Wisdom from Community Leader, Khalid Elahi

I am the voice for all the brothers that don’t have a voice. Maybe they are in the bowels of one of these prisons, confined to a cell for a long period of time or for the rest of their life. Or maybe they are underground in a hole with six feet of dirt on top of them.

I speak for them! I say what I know they would say if they were here.

They would tell you to live instead of die. They would tell you that all that the street mentality leads to is a dead end. They would tell you it’s not worth the inhumane treatment that you receive once your feet touch the ground of one of these prisons. The buck-naked strip search is so dehumanizing and mind blowing. You go from thinking you are a boss on the streets to being a first-class slave once you are in their grip.

The brothers in the grave will tell you that it cost about $10,000 to run around and play with guns in the streets, or to be in the way in the streets, because when you get killed, that’s how much it costs to have a funeral for you.

If you don’t have that type of money, why would you put your people through that stress to try and come up with that type of money, on top of the agonizing grief that they already have?

This is why I write from time to time because I am the voice for people that don’t have a voice.

ER Nurse: Closure of DMC Will Be ‘Catastrophic’

By Nancy DeVille | Photo by David Meza

As the threat of Doctors Medical Center’s shutdown draws closer, Maria Sahagun says she still hasn’t given up hope.

An emergency room nurse at DMC, Sahagun and her colleagues have spent months urging the West Contra Costa Healthcare District to come up with a solution to save the financially strapped hospital from closing. She posts updates on Facebook to inform residents of the latest hospital news and she regularly attends community and city council meetings advocating for resources to keep DMC afloat.

Her latest campaign is a series of YouTube videos offering warnings of the dire effects the hospital’s closure will have on the San Pablo and Richmond communities.

DSC_0048“I cannot let this go without turning [over] every stone,” she said recently following her shift in the hospital’s ER. “There are so many families out there that will be affected because of the lack of access if this hospital closes.”

For Sahagun, the fight for quality accessible health care is personal. She vividly remembers watching her ailing mother, who was battling terminal cancer, wait for 12 hours in a Compton, CA. emergency room just to see a doctor. That experience is the drive that keeps her fighting, she said.

“If this hospital closes,” she said, “there will be increased waiting times at area hospitals. And it hit me that so many families with a great matriarch will be affected like I was because of lack of access to the medical system.”

“The impact is going to be catastrophic,” she said.

Sahagun says residents are already seeing an impact since services at DMC have been discontinued. Former DMC patients are now forced to ride public transportation to chemotherapy appointments three times a week, she said, while others have complained about relatives being transported to Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley since DMC no longer accepts ambulance service.

Shuffling these residents around could have “devastating” effects on their health, Sahagun said.

“Because of the increase in transport time, there will be death and disability,” she said. “If you have a stroke or heart attack, every minute counts.”

Sahagun, who lives in Richmond, started working for DMC seven years ago. Despite its financial woes, she said, she believed that the hospital played a crucial role in the community.

As the hospital’s board continues to debate its future, Sahagun says she has no plans of walking away.

“We’re really serving a population in need,” she said. “I am committed to staying until the end.”

Six Months Later, Family of ‘Pedie’ Calling for Officer to Be Charged

News Report, Edgardo Cervano-Soto

The family of 24-year-old Richard Perez III marked the six-month anniversary of his death with a protest March 17 at a Richmond City Council meeting, demanding that prosecutors charge the police officer who shot him, despite a conclusion by the District Attorney’s office that the officer had acted in self-defense.

Perez, better known as “Pedie,” died Sept. 14, 2014 in an altercation with Richmond police officer Wallace Jensen, who shot him three times during a fight at Uncle Sam’s Liquors on Cutting Boulevard after what the officer described as Perez’s attempt to take the gun from his belt. Perez had been intoxicated, and according to investigators had told family members he expected to be killed by police by the age of 25.

But Perez’s family said that focusing on such statements amounted to an attempt to discredit their loved one and to divert attention from what they say were the officer’s lack of training and mistakes made during the fatal events.

“We don’t approve of their police brutality, we don’t appreciate their lies, we don’t appreciate their lack of training, their lack of accountability, and their lack of transparency,” said Perez’s father Rick, at an hour-long rally after the council meeting. “They sit there at the table and yet they hide so much, [and] they misrepresent the rest of it… it’s not right for them to do that, but they get away with what they want.”

A canine patrol officer with seven years on the force, Jensen said he had patrolled the liquor store even though it wasn’t on his beat because it had repeated issues with loitering. He said he entered the store when called out by a store clerk. Jensen testified he attempted to detain Perez for public intoxication — and that when Perez resisted, his calls for backup never went through. According to Richmond Confidential’s report of the inquest, Jensen’s calls for support never went through because he had mistakenly set his police radio to a private channel.

IMG_7184Perez’s grandmother Patricia, who picketed the plaza outside the council chambers with other family members and supporters, wore a black T-shirt with her grandson’s picture on it. “He deserves to be in jail,” she said. “He murdered Pedie, plain and simple. There is no way to explain it.”

A coroner’s Dec. 10 inquest to determine the manner and mode of Perez’s death took testimony from homicide detective Hector Esparza, president of the local police union, along with Contra Costa County District Attorney investigator Jeff Soler, who had interviewed Jensen after the shooting, and from Jensen himself. The prosecutor’s office in January declined to file charges against Jensen, who had re-entered the police force in early October after a two-week paid administrative leave.

“It is not possible to prove Officer Jensen did not act in self-defense,” Deputy District Attorney Barry Groves wrote in a letter to Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus. “The facts and circumstances indicate that the officer acted in lawful self-defense.”

At the protest rally, however, Perez’s family criticized the inquest for excluding eye-witness accounts. Furthermore, according to the Huffington Post, the inquest didn’t feature any video footage from a witness’s cell phone camera.

Rhonda Reeder-Perez, Perez’s aunt, also criticized Jensen’s lack of preparation and crisis training. “As a canine handler, wouldn’t it be your first nature to push that button on your lapel to let your dog out if you are in fear of your life?”

“But he didn’t do that,” Reeder-Perez said. “He just stepped back and blew my nephew away.”

Kris Kelly, sister of Mario Romero, a 23 year old Vallejo resident killed by Vallejo Police in September 2012, spoke at the rally in solidarity with the Perez family.

Kris Kelly, sister of Mario Romero, a 23 year old Vallejo resident killed by Vallejo Police in September 2012, spoke at the rally in solidarity with the Perez family.

Roberta Shriver, a family friend, spoke during the public-comment portion of the council meeting, and urged council members to take action.

“Something could get a white, conservative, FOX [News]-watching woman off her couch, and that’s when a friend of her son is killed,” Shriver said. “Pedie and his family are precious to us. I was also married 19 years to a police officer, have a degree in criminal justice and worked for the LAPD, so I know about the brotherhood of the badge. I sat in that coroner’s inquest and I listened to every detail.

“At several points that officer could have used non-lethal force, and chose not to,” she said. “It’s up to you to do the right thing.”

The Perez family has hired civil rights attorney John Burris and has filed suit against Jensen and the city, arguing excessive force and violation of civil rights. Police Chief Chris Magnus, in an emailed statement to Richmond Pulse, reiterated the District Attorney’s conclusion that Jensen had acted in self-defense.

“We realize the Perez family has experienced a huge loss and appreciate that Pedie’s death was incredibly tragic to those close to him,” wrote Magnus. “In fairness, however, I need to remind our community that following a lengthy and thorough investigation into this incident, the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office determined that the officer acted in self-defense and that the shooting was justified.

“It is understandable that Pedie’s family and friends are unable to accept this finding,” he continued. “We support the family’s right to pursue their case through the civil court process and believe a courtroom is the appropriate venue to reach a just resolution to this matter.”

New City Councilman Discusses Working With Business Community

Interview by Vernon Whitmore

EDITOR’S NOTE: Richmond’s newest city council member is Vinay Pimple (pronounced Pim-PLAY), a 47-year-old attorney who has been on the job for less than a month. Pimple was selected unanimously by the city council from a group of 17 contenders to fill the seat vacated by Mayor Tom Butt. Born in India, Pimple has been completely blind since the age of 10. He came to the United States in 1993. Vernon Whitmore, Chair of the Board of Richmond Chamber of Commerce, sat down with Pimple to discuss his approach to working with the Chamber of Commerce and the local business community.

 Vernon Whitmore: How has your adjustment been to your new life as a city councilman?

Vinay Pimple: It is exciting. I’ve gone to quite a few neighborhood councils and it’s really nice to meet the people and I definitely feel like people are very warm, very welcoming. You know, I didn’t quite know how people would react but now I’m getting kind of used to people being so welcoming of me. Initially I just felt very touched by it because of the first council I went to was the Santa Fe Council.

VW: Yes, we were so happy to have you there!

VP: I was just really touched by it, you know? It was just, it was so warm and welcoming, you know?

VW: And then I saw you at the Marina Bay neighborhood council meeting last week and they were very receptive.

VP: Oh yeah, there, too. And so it was just really nice. You go in thinking that yes, I’m here because I want to help people out, you know? Because otherwise there’s no point in this job. But you so often read the media and the media tends to be very negative about politicians. And so you just have this fear, as someone who is new to this, that people probably don’t look at you in a very nice way. But actually most of the people who are actively engaged, if you go out to them and if you engage them and try to help them out, they’re actually very appreciative.

I have to say that I’ve been welcomed by not just the folks in neighborhood councils but even the political people so far. Certainly even the political people that I have talked with across the board, they have been pretty welcoming. That could be a false perception but at least it seemed to me like they are pretty welcoming. Everyone from RPA to Chevron, they all seem to be very welcoming and positive, prepared to work with me, and so I feel that I really want to work with everyone on the council and every one of our engaged constituents.

VW: As chairman of the Board for the Chamber of Commerce, one thing I’ve been doing recently is to work on the huge disconnect between the city and the Richmond Chamber of Commerce. As you know, the chamber has found out information late, so we’re always a day late and a dollar short. When you show up to the council after the deal is done, what can you really do? What is your vision for working with the chamber and the local business community?

VP: Well, see my thing is this… Not just does it happen that you are late, but also it means that you are not always able to gather and give all the pertinent information. You’re going to give your opinion rather than an opinion backed by information. And so what I would ideally like to do is any important thing that is going to affect our business community should be told it beforehand. I’m interested in your perspective, sure, but more than the perspectives, I’m interested in systematic information… because sometimes opinions differ.
I know that Mayor Butt was saying to me how the Richmond Chamber of Commerce is not connected with the National Chamber of Commerce, and I certainly don’t agree with a lot of the policies of the National Chamber of Commerce, I don’t think they are good for small businesses. I think they’re maybe good for big businesses. I don’t think they’re good for small businesses and small businesses are very important for us. And so sometimes my opinions may be quite different but definitely I always want information. I want information first and perspectives based on that information. The more time we give you the more likely we are going to get that information.

If I work with the chamber I might also tell you, hey, let’s try and figure out some of the information that we may need about our business. So we have a good sense of how many businesses do we have or how many larger businesses do we have or of what sectors are our businesses in, so when we try to design policies we know exactly what the impact is likely to be.

I think that perspectives can be more important in things like how do you recruit a businesses, because recruiting businesses is often not just about information. You can tell people all you want about the advantages of Richmond but if they’re not open to that, they wont do it. It’s not like because I’m into facts, I will put facts ahead of everything. You have to understand with which situation facts are more important, and which situation opinions are more important.

VW: I saw Mayor Tom Butt was a little distressed after some council members went against city staff at the last city council meeting on the youth projects.

VP: Yeah, well, you know, I did vote against most of those spending measures and I was the one who voted against the largest number of those ’cause I voted against almost everything. I really felt that there was not a process being followed and people were putting things on the agenda without any idea of how much it would cost.

I was kind of shocked that people voted, like, OK, say initially it was $4,000 for the plaque and many of the people thought that was for the chair plus the plaque; it was just for the plaque. And then they cut it down to $1,000, even though five minutes before they had checked on the web that a plaque cost $60. I’m like, Well, why are you spending $1,000 when you just found out that it costs $60? I tend to be kind of reluctant to see money go.

Some people’s approach is I’ll say yes unless there’s a really good reason to say no. Mine is the opposite. I will say no unless you convince me to say yes. With spending of money, one thing where I do think I need to work on is I tend to be more focused on saving than on growing the money. I think that is the kind of place where I think interfacing more with the business people would actually help.

Farewell, Ferrari: A Star Falls At Richmond High

By Joanna Pulido

It was a chilly night in February at the North Coast Section Division II boys soccer championship, and there was Richmond High School computer graphics and animation teacher Mario Ferrari, cheering the home team loudly, clenching the rails of the stands and pacing back and forth with nerves and adrenaline.

His enthusiasm was magnetic. As he jumped up and down, his eyes glowed with excitement. “I was there at the last NCS game they won in 1994,” he said. “I still remember!”

News of his sudden death in his sleep earlier on March 9 has left many at the school contemplating their own memories of him. This was the same man introduced to me five years ago, when I attended Richmond High. I first met him during a reading period, but it was when he attended a couple of my track meets and practiced with me a few times that we became friends. His high energy, optimism and creativity were things that made me happy to be around.

“He had an aura and energy that always impacted people,” said his sister Elena Evans, alternately laughing and crying as she remembered him. “I think he got that from our mother, because I sure don’t have it.”

IMG_6276While attending his memorial ceremony on March 15, it became clear how much Ferrari affected me and many others. He was a colorful character — spontaneous, youthful, noble, artistic and perhaps sometimes goofy. This reminded people to live life with great excitement, full-on force, strong emotion, curiosity and passion.

Of Italian descent but raised in England, he moved to the United States in 1972 as a teenager, Evans said. While here, he attended Contra Costa College before transferring to the University of California at Berkeley, where he obtained his undergraduate degree and two masters degrees in art and printmaking. He began teaching at Richmond in 1993 and never left.

“He spent half his life here,” said John Ohlmann, a fellow teacher in the Multimedia Department at Richmond. “He evolved and grew with the school through the rough times and the better times. He really loved his kids and always advocated for them to have the most current equipment, and he always wanted them to learn the skills that would help them in employment… I can’t see how anyone can replace him.”

IMG_6280When news of his death first reached the school, students gathered to create a large memorial outside his classroom, making drawings, writing letters and bringing flowers and pictures. Some constructed a huge poster that described him as majestic, friendly, energetic, remarkable and intelligent. Among the tributes: a drawing of the boys soccer team with a trophy and the words, “we won NCS for you”.

Both students and teachers continue to deal with their shock and sadness as his absence becomes more real.

“He was part of the Richmond High culture,” said school Principal Jose DeLeon. “It’s really sad.”

Jamey Jenna, another teacher at Richmond, described him as a person who never really had anything bad to say about anyone.

“He was a fun person that never stopped enjoying his job, he never got angry and continued his art life his whole life,” she said.

Ohlmann elaborated on Ferrari’s creativity, which didn’t stop with the visual arts.

“He was a painter, a drummer and a DJ for parties,” Olhmann said. “He would exhibit his art and was once a part of a punk band. We would have long conversations about music… he was always of high interest and new ideas, of how to make things better.”

My own favorite memory of Ferrari comes from 2010, when the school held a fundraising event in which teachers would get hit in the face with cream pies for money. My best friend and fellow Richmond alumni Liliana Ontiveros paid $25 to pie him, but Ferrari was the last teacher to get pied and looked a bit nervous. Ontiveros smashed the first one onto his face, and after three more he became unrecognizable, his face covered in whip cream. But, through that, you could still see a huge smile as he gave a thumbs-up.

“That’s what I remember most about him,” said Ontiveros. “That he had a great sense of humor, and even though he sometimes got upset he would quickly be happy again.”

In my high school yearbook, Ferrari described me as a star in the school universe. But, as I talked to the students and staff at Richmond High, I realized more how he was the star of the school’s universe, and whom many of us will forever remember, miss, appreciate and admire.


Photographer to Document Bike Culture in Richmond

By Joanna Pulido

Gracefully riding through the bike lanes of Richmond, Josue Hernandez gets to his destinations with speed and ease. At 23, he has the energy and athleticism to bike everyday, but is calm and soft-spoken, with a mix of confidence and down to earth personality.

Hernandez is a North Richmond resident working to beautify, teach and improve his community. And now, with a recently awarded Neighborhood Public Art Mini Grant, he is taking on the challenge of capturing the life stories of 60 Richmond cyclists.

10830590_2754196608186_8570842443455679319_oBorn near San Diego in Chula Vista, CA, Hernandez lived in Los Angeles and Oakland before his family moved to North Richmond in 2005. Despite the difficulty of having to start over in a new city, Hernandez quickly made friends in Richmond — but life wasn’t always easy.

During his teenage years he struggled with academics at Richmond High School, and was transferred to Gompers continuation school.

“Because of moving I needed to adapt to a new place, new people, new school, which made it harder,” he said. “I had a negative attitude about the whole thing like, ‘Why am I even here? I don’t really care.’”

Uncertain about his future goals, Hernandez dropped out of school and took a job in a fast food chain restaurant.

After almost a year of that lifestyle, Hernandez realized he wanted to get back to school, and joined the Literacy for Every Adult Project a night General Educational Development program, and successfully earned his degree.

“I didn’t want to be working dead in job,” Hernandez said. “Some of my co-workers had goals of finishing school and I wanted something like that too. LEAP opened up new opportunity for meeting people and with my writing and reading.”

While at LEAP, he also worked as a busser, waiter and host at restaurants on Pier 39 in San Francisco to help support his family.

After getting his GED Hernandez’ life changed as he pursued what he loved and cared about; photography and biking.

His passion for biking was sparked when he was 17, after purchasing his first bike, which he describes as one that needed some work.

“It was a way for transportation and it was cheap, like 50 bucks. I bought it but they didn’t tell me that there were issues with the bike,” he said. “So I watched Youtube videos and learned how to fix the bike. It wasn’t that hard.”

In 2012, Hernandez became the first youth leader for Rich City Rides, a cycling organization in Richmond that is building a bike culture, community riding skills and is also promoting healthy living and expanding the local economy.

Hernandez excelled at Rich City Rides’ program activities and was selected out of 20 youth to attend the United Bicycle Institute in Portland for bicycle mechanic certification and shop operation.

As an active employee of Rich City Rides, Hernandez’ hard work, personality and generous actions play a strong role in the shop, where he works part time as a sales associate and bicycle mechanic.

In this role, Hernandez paints and customizes bikes, sells merchandise, fixes bikes, has lead two bike parties and helps with Friday workshops. He also leads weekly rides to the Bay Bridge.

Executive Director of Rich City Rides Najari Smith, is a mentor and friend to Hernandez, helping him become more involved with the community. Through Smith, Hernandez was introduced to Urban Tilth, a non-profit organization in Richmond that helps build sustainable gardens and educates the public on health and just food systems.

10532349_927758083908393_1496969588146986915_nHernandez is now on staff with Urban Tilth and is working on the newest farm-building project in North Richmond. He is receiving training in urban agriculture, community organizing and leadership skills. And, he uses his talent for photography to document the work of Urban Tilth and Rich City Rides.

In addition to all of this, Hernandez plans to begin working on a project he for which he was awarded a Neighborhood Public Art Mini Grant in March. He says this is his first grant, and to win it he required learning how to write a competitive application, present his idea clearly and create a budget.

The project is a photo documentary in Richmond of cyclists interviewed in different locations. It will depict where they ride, how they ride and why they ride.

The project’s three set goals are to show that Richmond has a strong bicycle community, to showcase a form of alternative active healthy transportation and to document the expanding bike culture and how it impacts the city.

Moreover, Hernandez hopes to share his photography and promote healthy living at the same time. He dreams of opening his own bike shop in Richmond one day, where he sees himself continuing the work of customizing bikes and sharing his photography.

“I’m excited about this project,” Hernandez said. “I think it will show that Richmond’s bike culture is already here and it will also make it stronger.”

“Focusing on the Youth” – Q&A with Kyra Worthy of For Richmond

Interview, Vernon Whitmore

EDITORS NOTE: Kyra Worthy is the Executive Director of Chevron backed non-profit For Richmond, an organization dedicated to uniting the community and taking active steps toward tackling issues facing Richmond residents. Worthy says her greatest gift is that she won’t accept no for answer.

Incoming Chair of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce, Vernon Whitmore, sat down with Worthy to discuss her passion for Richmond’s youth.

Vernon Whitmore: For Richmond is sponsoring a Black History Month breakfast February 25 with Willie L. Brown, former mayor of San Francisco. How has Mr. Brown’s work at the Willie L. Brown Jr. Leadership Center at San Francisco State helped inspire For Richmond’s own soon-to-be-unveiled leadership series for Richmond youth? What is your ultimate aim with this initiative?

Kyra-Worthy-PhotoKyra Worthy: My goal for having that is to be able to develop young leaders within the community. We want to use Mayor Brown’s program at San Francisco State as the goal, and a model, but we are going to implement a few other items within the leadership course to be able to help young people make choices about what they want to do in their life. And also help them gain some confidence and then build some leadership skills to better serve the community.

All of this is in hope that they would want to be involved within the community in which they live and work. A lot of young people right now aren’t engaged at all and so there’s a big age gap with folks who consider themselves as leaders and young people who aren’t being included at all. They are the ones that will somewhat take the torch, or have to live in this legacy that has been built.

In particular with young people of color, we want to make sure that they understand the skills and history that has come from being just community developers, period.

We’re not just looking for folks just to be voices. We want folks to be active participants and involved in the process of designing Richmond.

VW: Last summer, For Richmond sponsored several Richmond high school students’ attendance at out of state collegiate summer programs for early college preparation experiences. Do you plan to offer the same program to Richmond youth this summer and if so, what do you hope to achieve with this effort?

KW: Yes, we will be doing that program this summer again and we’ve extended the program to to include MIT and Morehouse College. We’re including MIT because they’re looking to fill the engineering labor pool and a lot of young black men here in Richmond qualify to go to that program.

We’ll be sponsoring eight young men to go to the MIT program and the Morehouse Leadership program, which is only a week and a half, to sort of get the young men exposed to other young men who think like them and also who look like them. To gain some peer support around leadership, and valuing their education, and then bringing those ideas back to the community and hopefully spreading the word.

We hand pick the kids who qualify for each program, they attend the program and when they come back home they tell their friends all about this great experience they had.

It is definitely spreading through word of mouth, and it’s very helpful to to the school district, as far as getting kids motivated.

VW: I understand For Richmond is focused on assisting West Contra Costa Unified School District with lowering student truancy in Richmond. What strategy will you employ to address this problem and why is this issue a priority for your organization?

KW: Well we’re going to work with the faith-based community, and use their vans that aren’t in use during weekdays. We’re calling this program the Village Vans, and we’re going to establish bus stops throughout the community to help kids, and their families, get them to school on time.

We’re also going to look at the data of who’s truant and have a conversation one on one, my staff with the parent, explaining to them why getting to school on time is important and how being truant is affecting the students’ academics.

By doing that we’re hoping to build a relationship with those parents and then we can ask what else might be going on at home, what problems there are getting kids to school on time, and assist them in any way needed.

I think that it’s important because, of course, the district loses money, but also as a community, we’re failing our kids, and we’re just allowing them to walk by every day late to school.

Richmond Residents Look to ‘Fresh Start’ With New Mayor


News Report,  Malcolm Marshall | Photos by David Meza

It was all smiles in a packed house at the Richmond City Council chambers Tuesday, where newly elected Mayor Tom Butt and a handful of council members were sworn in. Notable among the faces was California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, who gave the oath to Butt.

The festive atmosphere – after years of contentious battles behind these same walls – was a welcome breath of fresh air for city leaders and could point to a fresh start in local politics.

“[This is] one of the most diverse cities, in the most diverse region, in the most diverse state,” Newsom told the crowd of public officials, police, local leaders and community members. “What makes Richmond great is its capacity to celebrate all of its interesting differences, as Bill Clinton would say, but unite around our common humanity, as Martin Luther King would say.”

Butt replaces outgoing Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, whose progressive policies won her both friends and opponents in a city where racial and economic disparities abound.

Butt is widely seen as a pro-development centrist.

“He’s not always beloved. I read the paper,” Newsom joked to the crowd before the swearing in. “At least you know where Tom stands. Isn’t that nice? He doesn’t say one thing privately and another thing publicly. And I admire him. And that why I was honored and quick to get over here.”

Newsom added that he looks forward to working and collaborating with Butt. “I think the state’s vision can only be realized on the local level,” he said.

In his remarks, Butt thanked family, friends, his campaign team and even the reporters who covered the election and put him in the national spotlight.

“If my name had been Smith however, I know that Rachel Maddow would not have not taken interest,” Butt said, to laughter from the crowd.

He also thanked McLaughlin for eight “great” years.

“I’ve done this for 20 years,” he said. “People always ask me, ‘Is it fun?’ For many years, I’ve said, ‘No, it’s not fun.’ But the last six years, they’ve almost been fun. They’ve certainly been productive. They’ve been some of Richmond’s best years, I think.”

Outside the chambers attendees shared their views on what the change in mayor means for the city.

“Each mayor has their own strengths and weakness. I’m sure that they will come into play,” said Juan Reardon, a member of the Richmond Progressive Alliance. “We will get some good things from Tom Butt being mayor and perhaps we will miss a few things that Gayle had.”

“But I’m confident that the strong presence of Gayle and the progressives on the city council will help the new mayor reaffirm the direction that we want this city to realize, “ said Reardon.

Despite leaving her post as mayor, McLaughlin remains a presence as one of the city’s newest council members. She was sworn in alongside Jael Myrick, Jovanka Beckles and Eduardo Martinez.

The evening also marked the departure of council members Jim Rogers and Corky Booze. Both lost their seats in an election that will be remembered for the losses suffered by candidates tied to oil giant Chevron.

Antwon Cloird, founder of the local nonprofit Men and Women of Purpose, said he wants to see Mayor Butt embrace the whole community and engage with Black leaders on economic development for the Black community.

“He understands development and how it can affect our community. I think with the re-entry population, Tom will understand the needs and values of the whole community, though he’s often pointed out as a Point Richmond person.”

Point Richmond, on the western edge of the city, is a pocket of relative wealth in this largely working class city.

“Hearing the views of activists like myself, he’ll get a better picture of how to address the issues of the Black community and our bottom youth,” Cloird added.

Richmond resident and community activist Don Gosney believes the new mayor will move the city away from some of the more progressive policies pursued by McLaughlin.

“I don’t believe he will embrace the eminent domain issue the way [McLaughlin did], or some of the immigration issues. He will definitely have more influence in Sacramento and Washington DC,” said Gosney.

McLaughlin spearheaded a push to allow the city to make use of eminent domain laws to keep homeowners in properties on the brink of foreclosure.

Former mayoral candidate Uche Uwahemu says it’s not about whether the city becomes less or more progressive. “It’s really about creating opportunity for people,” he said. “I hope that this mayor takes it there. You can’t create upward mobility when there’s no opportunity. That’s really where I hope this new mayor will go.”

Richmond resident and elder statesman Betty Reid-Soskin sees a more balanced city on the horizon. “I think the city that has found its direction, and that direction is going to need more discipline. This Mayor is going to provide that. I think it’s all good.”

Art and Soul Within: Richmond Celebrates the Life of Anthony Allen

By April Suwalksy

10897788_984680271547606_8989865283691681962_nWriter’s Note: I met Anthony Allen about seven years ago while working with the Richmond Community Foundation. I was new to Richmond, and Anthony welcomed me and helped me get settled. We worked together on several projects for the Nystrom United Revitalization Effort (NURVE), and with youth who were organizing for community change.
One of my favorite memories was co-designing outreach materials and a logo for NURVE. He had the vision, and I helped render it in Illustrator. When we were finished, Anthony proudly displayed it as wallpaper background on his phone.
He and I also bonded over our passion for community work, and fear of public speaking – which we both endeavored to overcome.
An ever positive, deeply caring, and insightful person, Anthony never failed to ask how I was doing, or give me a big bear hug when ours paths crossed. He always brought a smile to my face, and I loved running into him and his family at the Richmond College Prep Schools.
I am proud to have known him and honored to have watched him change Richmond. The true magnitude of his impact will continue to be realized for years to come.
RIP, Anthony. You are missed.

Anthony Charles Allen, born in San Francisco on September 24, 1962 and attended Galileo High School where he excelled at track and field, making it to All-City championships and setting records along the way. His drive and love for athletics carried through to adulthood, and to his children.

As an adult, Allen coached and mentored young people in their athletic pursuits, focusing especially on his two youngest daughters Zarrie and Atallah who shone as members of the Oakland Police Activities League (PAL) Track and Field team. He was a dedicated and devoted husband to his wife Anissa Jones, who described him as her “rock and soul mate.”

Margaret Dixon, board president of Oakland PAL and a retired Oakland police officer of 25 years, recalled how fortunate the team was to have “not one, but two stars!” in the Allen daughters, as well as a team dad who was a steadfast supporter and mentor.

But Anthony’s involvement in the community went beyond his children’s hobbies. Anthony loved his Richmond community, and that love translated into concrete action in ways that were publicly visible.

In 2009, he helped organize and champion the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts’ Iron Triangle Legacy Project that sought to honor and preserve the history of the neighborhood through storytelling, art and media projects. He was active in the Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO) and the Iron Triangle Neighborhood Council, where he partnered with local nonprofits and city agencies to improve public safety, beautify the Iron Triangle neighborhood, amplify the voices of residents and support schools.

During his life-honoring celebration at the historic North Richmond Missionary Baptist Church on Saturday, Jan. 3, about 500 people gathered to show their love for Anthony — who died unexpectedly of a heart attack on December 27.

As family, friends, and community members crowded into the church – even filling the choir space behind the altar – warm sunlight shone through towers of gold and pale yellow windowpanes, dappling the aisles and enveloping the sanctuary with serene, palpable energy.

The service, an expression of love and faith, included tributes by the diverse community of people whose lives Anthony touched. There were powerful and moving speeches by family members, as well as remembrances and proclamations by local dignitaries and civic leaders who knew him well, including Richmond’s Police Chief Chris Magnus and Richard Boyd, a community leader and organizer. The North Richmond Missionary Baptist Church and the Iron Triangle Neighborhood Council issued resolutions recognizing Anthony’s service, leadership, and contributions to his community.

Luma Cortez, a close friend of the family, read an obituary that included some of Anthony’s own words: “Just because you’re poor, it doesn’t mean you’re spiritually dead…Art comes from within – soul. When you create a piece, something that people can related to or react to, it acknowledges that you are alive.”

Anthony was a talented architect and designer, working on many projects in different sectors. His work included designs with Sephora and Chiron, and he also contributed significantly to local community revitalization efforts – such as Richmond’s Elm Playlot, Nevin Park, and the Nystrom United Revitalization Effort.
He envisioned these spaces as family-friendly areas that were safe, beautiful, inclusive and alive.

“If you want to know why the kids are able to play soccer at Nevin Park…thank Anthony. If you want to know who taught the young people how to build a model to scale so they could create Pogo Park…ask Anthony,” said Boyd, a close friend of Anthony’s, and an organizer with CCISCO and Richmond’s Safe Return Team.

CCISCO’s Executive Director Cristina Hernandez said she knew Anthony for about nine years. She said that much of the improvement in community relations between “black and brown residents” was due to Anthony’s work. She pointed to the beautiful and large community in the pews as a tribute to Anthony’s ability to bring people of different backgrounds together.

In 2013, Anthony rededicated himself to the Baptist faith and joined the North Richmond Missionary Baptist Church. Reverend Dana Keith Mitchell, who officiated the “homegoing” service, recounted Anthony’s participation in the church. He was a member of the Usher Board, Men’s Choir and Brotherhood Ministries.

As ushers wended their way through the aisles with tissues, a choir member led the church in “My Soul Has Been Anchored in the Lord.” Hundreds swayed, sang, raised their hands in praise, and tapped their heels to the beat. When the song ended, the crowd erupted with applause and “Amen!”

Anthony was 52 years old. He is survived by his father, wife, seven children, four sisters, two brothers and seven grandchildren.