The Night My View of Richmond Changed

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By Ronvel Sharper, age 16 ­|Photos by Ann Bassette

On July 17, 2015, I joined about a hundred other people taking to Richmond’s streets for a Ceasefire night walk through neighborhoods impacted by gun violence. The weekly walks are the community’s attempt to lessen shootings in the city. Each week a couple of dozen regulars come out to walk in support of the cause, but the walk this week was different—it was the first of two larger citywide walks and, on a personal note, it was the first time I took part in something like this.

One of the first things that struck me was the diverse group of people participating, including Blacks, Whites, Latinos and Asians, all holding signs promoting peace. I felt as if we were all a part of one huge family, as if we are all indirectly related. It was empowering and made me feel as if I could contribute more to my community.

The atmosphere was positive; everyone was chatting with one another, singing, playing instruments and having a good time. As we walked, we chanted, “Ceasefire, Richmond” and, “Alive and Free.” Throughout our walk countless drivers responded to our “Honk for Peace” signs, signifying their support for our cause.

I was astonished to see people in cars waving and cheering for us. Going into this, I thought no one would have cared and would have just driven past. But they did care and hearing them blare their horns was breathtaking. The support they showed opened my eyes to the kind of people that live here in Richmond. There were people talking and hanging out, no one was alone or being a loner. Everyone was happy. They exhibited a different future for Richmond as a happier place to be.

Equally significant to what we chanted was where we were when we chanted, as Tamisha Walker, a frequent Ceasefire participant and founder of the Safe Return Project, a nonprofit that helps people in the area coming out of jail or prison, pointed out.

“We start in North Richmond and it’s really important to walk through Las Deltas projects to show folks that we’re around and we’re here for folks,” she said.

“Then to cross under the train tracks into the Iron Triangle, right in heart of Richmond, and be able to run into folks who’ve lived in Richmond honking and saying, ‘Thank you, we really need this’…and be able connect Richmond to say, ‘We can cross these barriers and feel safe,’ it was just amazing.”

Leaving the experience, I feel as if Ceasefire walks make a difference in the community, or at least can in the future. The sheer number of participants signifies that people are willing to make a change.

Luckily, I wouldn’t say the violence in Richmond has affected me directly, but before this I always thought that no one would help. That if something did happen, you and a small group of friends would have to tackle it alone. Participating in this event has shown me otherwise. Being a part of the walk has opened my eyes to what Richmond can be, if we continue these nonviolent events. Richmond can be a peaceful, safe and friendly community—a town with a bad past, and overall horrible environment, can become a safe and beautiful place.

At this rate, I think, it’s only a matter of time before Richmond becomes a city no longer plagued by a bad reputation and negative stereotypes. Perhaps in Richmond we will see a prime example of the powerful impact people can make when they come together and push for change.

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Remembering Fontino Jr. Hardy

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By Corey Monroe

When I heard that Fontino Jr. Hardy was shot and killed in Richmond on July 15, at 29 years old, I cried, big time. Losing this cool, young brother hurts.

I first met Hardy in 2004, when he came through Omega Boys Club, a youth development and violence prevention organization in San Francisco with some friends. He and his buddies were from Richmond and they bought a new flavor to Omega. A few of us soon became like big brothers to him.

Hardy’s energy, attitude and big heart drew people to him. He cared about getting his friends out of the neighborhood and he went on to bring more people through the club than anyone else I knew. He always brought three or four people to attend meetings with him, rarely coming alone.

In 2005, with the support of the Omega Boys Club, I went with Hardy and his friends on a trip to visit colleges in the South. Dr. Joseph Marshall, executive director and co founder of the program, paid for the tour. Hardy and his buddy were part of a group of 20 youth we took to on the tour in the hopes that they’d be inspired to get out of the Bay Area and into schools.

I remember the look of amazement on Hardy’s face when we stopped at Clark Atlanta University in Georgia and he saw all these black people going from class to class. At Spellman College he kept saying, “I have to go to college in the South.” We also visited Morehouse and Morris Brown College. Hardy was blown away, he said he liked the food, he liked the way everything was green, not to mention all the beautiful sisters walking around and the brothers with books in their hands.

After the tour, he didn’t even want to come home. I’ve never seen anyone so excited on a college tour. He said it helped him see black people in a whole new light, he saw black people motivated to go to school and take their time achieving their life goals.

Eventually, Hardy achieved part of his dream, graduating from Tennessee State University with a degree in criminal justice.

He used to call me on the phone and say, “Monroe, let’s go speak to the youngsters and encourage the youth to go to college and get a trade.”

When he spoke at community colleges or conferences he would pack the rooms. He also had a way with getting women to attend our groups. He would walk around saying, “Come to our group.” I would cry from laughing.

Over the years, we grew apart and though I heard from him occasionally we were never as close as in the early 2000s when I was helping to show him around colleges. I’m not sure what happened in the in-between years, but I wish he had stayed in the South.

Khalid’s Corner: Escaping

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by Khalid Elahi

Escaping

Why does letting go of the hood seem like the hardest thing for some people to do?

The attraction to SELF DESTRUCTION, the interest in the SHINE and the fascination with the ILLITERATE, is unbelievable to me.

To watch the best of the best go down a path and get murdered brings me to a question, “What makes you think you can walk that path and survive it?”

Some say there is love, loyalty and dedication in the hood. I say that’s a lie.

I saw the most disloyal, undedicated, hateful cats in the hood. It is a dream eraser and a life taker. A producer of lies, deceit, fraud, weakness, pain and sorrow.

Young people, if you get a chance to leave the hood — not by ambulance or coroner’s car but by education or occupation — then leave.

Leave to gain experience and success. If later you want to, then come back and help strengthen your hood.

This world is bigger than the block.

How I Learned to Stop Littering… and Start Composting

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Commentary • Ronvel Sharper

Many teachers helped me through my sophomore year at Richmond High, two of them especially: Mr. Angel Ponce-Larsen and Mr. Richard Seeber. They tried their best to prepare students for the future in different ways, though students don’t see that most of the time.

Mr. Ponce assigns loads of work, pushing you to your limit, to help you reach or exceed your potential. For some, that’s absolute torture, but I really enjoyed being his student. I would have deliberately failed his class just so I could take it again — but that would have looked bad on my record, and my parents would have given me a huge lecture before taking away my phone (which is my life).

The same goes for Mr. Seeber. He isn’t a strict teacher — compared to Mr. Ponce, anyway — but he’s one who’ll never hate you at all. He stays laid back and even allowed us to use our phones during certain activities — like one time when he let us listen to music as we wrote essays.

They both emphasized two things: Mr. Ponce always hinted that he wanted us to push ourselves to great heights and be the best we could, while Mr. Seeber always told us to be positive, because there are many things to look forward to in life.

But together, they helped me get involved in making Richmond a more environmentally friendly place.

They introduced me to the Y-PLAN program, which stands for Youth — Plan, Learn, Act, Now! Y-PLAN engages teens in city planning projects and gives them an opportunity to research and present ideas to city officials.

Along with my biology teacher Clare Sobetski — who’s passionate about this kind of stuff — Y-PLAN has made me more aware of my environment.

I’d already worked with another environmental group called Earthteam, so I thought this would be all review to me. I was wrong.

Through Y-PLAN, I learned that environmental sustainability is about maintaining the conditions that let nature and human beings exist together — basically, peacefully coexisting with what we need for human life. But we also learned about individual subjects, dividing into groups that researched topics like “maintenance” and “compost.”

My group created a presentation about why composting has become important for the environment and sustainability, and how it can help make Richmond a more eco-friendly city. I knew from the start that we would create presentations based on our subjects — but I didn’t have a clue we would present to the mayor.

I suck at presentations, but we practiced and I improved my oral presentation skills a bit. When the big day came, my nervousness almost overcame me, until my group members “helped” by giving signs not to forget what I was supposed to say (such as dirty looks every time I stuttered). Now I’m always striving to help make Richmond a better community, and it was really fun, too.

Without these teachers to introduce me to Y-PLAN, I wouldn’t have known how bad the environment had become, wouldn’t have begun to care for it, and would probably be littering to this day.

Richmond Seeks to Bridge the Digital Divide

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News Report • Nancy Deville

The days when homework only required lined notebook paper, a No. 2 pencil and a bulky thick textbook are long gone. Now teachers assign homework that requires Internet access.

But when parents like Lourdes Avila can’t find room in the monthly budget for Internet service, they fear their kids will fall behind.

“We looked into getting Wi-Fi but it’s just so expensive,” said Avila, whose son Alejandro is a rising sophomore at Richmond High School. “Even if there’s a special when the prices go up after a month, it’s just not affordable for us. So far my son’s teachers have been pretty understanding but I worry about what will happen next school year. I try and get him as much help as I can.”

When Alejandro needs Internet access to finish a homework assignment, he’s forced to stay late after school or wait in line at the Richmond Public Library to use a computer.

City officials are working to help ease Richmond’s digital divide by providing free Internet service in underserved neighborhoods. One million dollars will be drawn from Chevron’s $90 million community benefits package to fund the initiative. No timeline is set for when the community Wi-Fi project will launch, as it will depend on when the funds will be allocated, city officials said. But the first phase will start in the Iron Triangle where more than 2,000 homes, or 40 percent of the neighborhood, are without broadband.

“There is a saturation of homes that are already paying for service, but we are looking to assist the community members that currently don’t have Internet access,” said Sue Hartman, information technology director for the city of Richmond.

“Internet shouldn’t be throttled with limited bandwidth for underserved communities and greater bandwidth for the folks that can afford it.”

Last year Building Blocks for Kids provided antennas that offer free Internet to a few households in the Iron Triangle. The city’s program would expand the Wi-Fi offerings.

The city’s broadband program will coincide with West Contra Costa Unified School District’s plan to distribute tablets to students starting in 2016-17 school year.

“Several other Bay Area cities have focused on external community Wi-Fi but Richmond is working to bring free wireless Internet inside the home,” Hartman said.

While the digital divide has narrowed dramatically in the past decade, one in five households in California still doesn’t have Internet access at home, according to a statewide Field Poll released last month. The findings reveal that those least likely to have Internet access at home are adults who have not graduated from high school, seniors, adults with disabilities, Spanish-speaking Latinos, low-income households and non-citizens. According to the poll, 79 percent of California adults have high-speed Internet at home, which is up from 55 percent since 2008.

The divide can also be traced to educational outcomes, a problem known as the “homework gap.” It’s an issue teachers are trying to balance. As they work to integrate technology into the classroom to better prepare students for the real world where computer skills are mandatory, teachers also don’t want to penalize those whose parents can’t afford Wi-Fi service at home.

“The district has done a lot to make sure students have equitable access to technology in schools so that gap is closing,” said Ben Gill, who teaches information technology at De Anza High School. “At-home Wi-Fi is no longer a luxury. It is a necessity and it really comes down to the haves and have-nots.”

Gill says he runs a paperless classroom and it can be hard for some to keep up.

“Those students that don’t have that broadband connection at home, they get creative and use their smartphones for a lot of stuff. But a lot of time, they can’t. So they end up behind and have to stay after school and have to give up other extra-curricular activities.

“A kid shouldn’t have to make the choice of playing football or doing their homework after school just because they don’t have broadband access at home.”

Terror in Charleston: Anger, Sadness and a Time of Bitter Reflection

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Commentary, Various Authors

EDITOR’S NOTE: Last Wednesday, a young, white male entered a Charleston, South Carolina Church and did the unspeakable. While a small group of African American churchgoers prayed and worshipped, Dylann Roof sat for one hour, stood up, and opened fire, killing nine people, aged 26 to 87.

Many are desperately trying to understand why Roof took the lives of so many innocent African Americans, all who wanted nothing more than to spend their evening in quiet prayer and reflection. The following commentaries from our youth and young adult reporters offer three different perspectives on the tragedy and the killer.

Exactly 150 years ago, my ancestors learned that they were finally freed from the bondage of slavery in America. Juneteenth, the celebration of that wonderful event, is one of my favorite days of the year.

In an act of senseless racism last week, nine people were killed in the house of the Lord. So this year, I will not celebrate.

I won’t write an article about how America has shocked me with its racist acts, and I won’t summarize the story for you. I will share that I’m surprised that a young, white terrorist felt the freedom to kill my people in a sacred, holy place.

I mourn with the families of Charleston, but we can no longer simply weep and march in the streets. It’s time for a different solution.

It is time that we police our own communities like the Black Panthers and exercise our Second Amendment rights. We must boycott businesses that fund racist police departments. We must practice group economics and make black Wall Streets all over America. We must come together as a collective and protect, support and serve one another. We must become self-sufficient, as a people.

If I sound militant and angry, I apologize, but I am simply tired of people complaining and offering no solutions while people are losing their lives.

In honor of Juneteenth, I would like for us all to remember how our ancestors revolted, knowing how their peaceful and strategic actions would affect the economy of their oppressors. It was then that our ancestors realized that they were equal – if not better – than their slave masters. We must aspire to that.

–Monet Boyd

In the wake of the tragic Charleston tragedy, my heart goes out to the victims and their families. Unfortunately, this massacre illustrates that all that rhetoric that we live in a post-racial era in America couldn’t be further from the truth. Statistics show that blacks are still the #1 victim of racial hate crimes in America.

The language of the media shows a huge dichotomy between identity descriptions of blacks and whites. Last month, when the citizens of Baltimore rose up, both the city’s mayor and President Obama said that the young, black boys and girls involved were criminals and thugs. And yet, not a single killing took place during these protests.

With the Charleston shooting, President Obama did not refer to the white, young shooter as a thug, criminal or even a terrorist. Some media outlets have referred to the shooter as quiet and soft-spoken, and this narrative will most likely frame him as a troubled child. It’s more likely that he’s a troubled child born from a troubled mother: America.

–Asani Shakur

Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old Caucasian male, is accused of walking into a South Carolina church, a well-known black congregation, and killing nine people.

Roof entered the church, waited for more than an hour, and began shooting. This was a premeditated act, one used to spark fear and terror within the black community. It’s the only way I can define it.

To me, this heinous act was about power, fear and control. What better way to scare people than by showing them that they are not safe, even in their place of worship?

This killer wants to show the world how dominant and aggressive he is, not just by committing the act, but facing the charges based on the crimes committed. Many other killers commit suicide or go on the run. Roof was caught within 24 hours. I believe he wanted to get caught. He wanted the fame and he wanted the notoriety.

Many of these crimes stem from a lack of acceptance within society. People who knew Roof describe him as weird, and say that he only had a few friends. No girlfriend, no frat brothers, no college pals.

So his loneliness and his longing to be accepted drove him to commit an act that not only made the world notice him, but acknowledge what he’s done. With these murders, he got the attention he wanted.

This is a disorder that many people have. They don’t care what type of attention they get, as long as they get the attention.

After being arrested for suspicious behavior at Columbia Mall, and being arrested again for trespassing when he returned a few weeks later, he chose a less secure target – a black church – where anyone can enter. Where people were worshipping. No one would suspect a thing.

I don’t see this as being totally racial — that’s a ploy to get everyone to follow the story. This is a boy who was just trying to be seen. And he succeeded.

— Sean Shavers

Undocumented Kids to Get Health Coverage in State Budget

Calling it one of the “best” budgets the state has ever had, California Gov. Jerry Brown said the $167.6 billion dollar budget the legislature passed Tuesday would pump more money into child care and education, pay down the state’s debt by $1.9 billion and provide health care for its undocumented children.

“This is just one step and we need to do more,” Brown said during a press conference, referring to the $40 million budgetary allocation for providing health insurance to an estimated 170,000 undocumented children in the state  through Medi-Cal – California’s name for Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income people.

A jubilant Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, called the $40 million allocation a “modest investment in health care that will be transformational in the lives of not only children,” but also their families and the community as a whole.

He noted that the budget deal “affirms our commitment to embrace and integrate our immigrant community, to lead where the federal government has failed and to acknowledge the hard work and sacrifice of a community that contributes billions of dollars” to the state’s economy.

“This expansion of coverage to all children regardless of immigration status would make California’s children healthier, our health system stronger, and our families and communities more financially secure,” asserted Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, the statewide health care consumer advocacy coalition.

Lara’s own Health for All bill (SB 4) will provide health insurance for all Californians regardless of their immigration status. It is now before the Assembly, after it cleared the Senate last month. If it is signed into law, California would be the first state in the country to provide state-funded health insurance to its undocumented residents.

The original intent of SB 4 was to provide health care for the state’s nearly 1.5 million undocumented residents, both adults and children, either through Medi-Cal or by allowing them to purchase health insurance on the state’s exchange. But the state must first seek a waiver from the federal government to allow them to purchase health insurance on the state’s exchange, Covered California. The Affordable Care Act prevents undocumented U.S. residents from any federally funded health insurance program. The waiver will be sought if SB 4 passes.

According to researchers at the University of California at Berkeley and University of California in Los Angeles, expanding Medi-Cal to undocumented California residents, under Lara’s bill,  would  have cost the state between $353 and $369 million annually, representing a 2 percent increase from what it currently spends. But now that the state has approved $40 million in its budget to provide insurance for its undocumented children, the Medi-Cal cost in Lara’s bill will go down.

“It would also provide the momentum for SB 4 to move forward,” Wright said.

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, who participated alongside the governor in the press conference and had backed SB 4 since it was introduced in the Senate late last year, said Washington’s inaction has caused “financial consequences throughout the country.”

Lara’s bill, he said, will send a “very strong message” to lawmakers in Washington who have “dithered” on immigration reform.

The governor’s remark that more needs to be done, including how to address the low Medi-Cal reimbursement rates – among the lowest in the nation — will be discussed in a special session in a few weeks.

Brown said that his office would be hiring an immigration coordinator to assist youth who have been granted temporary relief from deportation under President Obama’s executive action of 2012. One million more California residents could become eligible for deportation relief if the federal courts allow Obama’s 2014 executive action to move forward.

How Leaving the Bay Area Allowed Me to Embrace My Queerness

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Commentary, Keisa Reynolds

A high school graduate in Colorado recently came out to her classmates in the middle of her valedictorian speech. Emily Bruell has been added to the list of people I wish I could have been in high school.

I was 12 years old when I realized I liked girls as much as I liked boys. Actually, sometimes more. I was 16 when I learned from the Internet (thank you, online strangers I now call friends) that I could like anyone I wanted, regardless of their gender or lack thereof. It wasn’t until I graduated from high school that I realized I didn’t have to only date straight men.

Growing up in the Bay Area, I interacted with plenty of people who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer. Most of them were older and were settling in long-term relationships with children and pets. A few were my friends, but none of us was very well-versed in queer politics and we could barely articulate our own identities and experiences. While there was a gay-straight alliance at my high school, it didn’t feel like a place for me.

The Bay Area is often seen as a “queertopia” where anyone who isn’t straight can reside and have a blissful life. I can describe the Bay as many things, however, “queertopia” isn’t one of them. It could be a result of being raised in Richmond, not Berkeley, where it is not uncommon to have neighbors in openly queer relationships. It wasn’t that I didn’t know queer people existed, it was more like I couldn’t identify myself as one of them.

One of the best parts of going 1,500 miles away for college was that I got to fully embrace several aspects of my identity: my race, gender and sexual orientation. I was able to proudly say I am a queer black feminist. I did not have to fear people would think there was anything “wrong” with me. I did not have to hide. Most importantly, I was not alone.

I was fortunate to attend a college that prided itself on its diversity. While it is not a perfect place and many students still faced discrimination, it operated as a safe and re-affirming space. There, I made close friends who expanded the acronym to Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer or Questioning Intersex Asexual (LGBTQIA) and introduced me to a language that allowed me to confidently express my feelings. My new friends became a community of people I could turn to, people who also came to college in search of belonging.

The things we thought made us weird were accepted among people also understood what it was like to feel isolated for being their true self. Instead of being taunted by our peers, we were told we betta werk. We were able to reconcile who we always knew we were and who we wanted to be: femmes, bois, gurls, queens, and kings.

When someone did face discrimination, it was often easy to have supporters band together on their behalf. We did not have to take on the battle of being accepted on our own. That was something I didn’t know was possible.

For many LGBTQIA-youth, it still isn’t possible. Not all of us make it to our first year of college. The CDC reports that lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youth. According to the Trevor Project, one quarter of transgender youth have attempted suicide. For youth of color, those numbers are significantly higher. In 2009, the National Coalition for the Homeless reported that 20 percent of homeless youth are LGBT, and San Francisco has almost a thousand homeless youth documented. Harassment and lack of acceptance from peers and family are major factors.

We know from the It Gets Better Project that it is possible to live long, healthy lives as LGBTQIA adults (it is important to note it is more of a possibility for those who are white and cisgender). I wouldn’t have accepted that as truth when I was 16 years old. But here I am, a 20something who finds myself sharing my narrative for the young queer black girl who needs to know we are not anomalies.

We are valedictorians, jocks, band geeks, and theatre nerds. We are writers, filmmakers, performers, multimedia artists, healers, and activists. There are plenty of us who are not, by choice and by force. But we all deserve the community that validates us and allows us to accept ourselves.

While it took moving away to find myself, it took returning home to share my journey.

Family Justice Center Opens at New Location

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News Report, Keisa Reynolds | Photo,  Ann Bassette

After breaking ground in 2013, the West Contra Costa Family Justice Center held its grand opening this month at 256 24th Street. In the first year at its new location, the center is expected to help an estimated 2,000 survivors of domestic violence, family violence, elder abuse and human trafficking.

The center moved from its temporary location at Richmond Police Department’s substation at Hilltop Mall, where it had operated since 2011.

Mayor Tom Butt, who spoke at the opening reception, said the center was the first community construction project to impact the lives of victims and survivors of domestic violence. Other speakers included Police Chief Chris Magnus, Andrea Bailey from Chevron Richmond, and Jodi Ravel and Karen Kruger from Kaiser Permanente. Fourteen-year-old spoken word artist Sukari Wright from RYSE opened the ceremony with an inspirational poem.

County Supervisor John Gioia told the audience that the center “demonstrates what could happen when community and government do well working together.”

In 2001, Contra Costa County became the first Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence County in California. As a part of the initiative, two centers have opened here in West County and Central County (Concord) with a third in East County underway.

Survivors of violence often have to speak with multiple agencies in order to get assistance. The center aims to eliminate this by offering dozens of on-site and off-site providers. Its partnerships give clients access to local organizations including Monument Crisis Center, Children and Family Services, Bay Area Community Resource, Bay Area Legal Aid, Community Violence Solutions, County Mental Health, Familias Unidas, Native American Health Center, and many more.

“We see that at about 50 percent of our clients identify as Hispanic or Latino. Our next biggest demographic is African American: About 30 percent of our clients identify as African American. We also see a significant number of Asian Americans,” said Elizabeth Wilmerding, director of Project Connect at West Contra Costa Family Justice Center.

Between its staff and partners, the center is able to offer services in 10 languages including Spanish, Korean, Lao, and Thai. The center also offers services for victims of many other demographics including children and youth, elders, veterans, and Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer or Questioning (LGBTQ) individuals and families.

Clients work with navigators who help them create goals and connect them with services for long-term solutions. Clients can receive assistance from myriad services such as civil legal services, health care, mental health, housing, job training, tutoring, and prosecution.

Menbere Aklilu, owner of Salute e Vita Ristorante in the Marina, shared a personal story of her experience as a survivor of domestic violence. “Today, I fully love Richmond more, especially when I see this type of thing coming together,” she said.

Aklilu encouraged the community to invest in the center and, leading by example, she said she donated $15,000. “I am doing this for my mother, for me, my sister, brother, for all domestic violence survivors,” she said.

Chevron Richmond followed suit and donated $80,000 to the center.

Family Justice Center Alliance (FJCA) President Casey Gwinn praised the center for “creating a beacon of hope that will impact survivors for generations to come.”

“This is where you break the cycle,” he said, noting that many incarcerated people come from homes where child abuse and other forms of violence are present. “We end up locking people up instead of saving them.”

FJCA donated $65,000 at the beginning of stages of the project. Gwinn acknowledged project director Jennifer Anderson, who had recommended opening a family justice center in Richmond six years ago, and Gloria Sandoval, director of STAND! For Families Free of Violence, one of the center’s on-site partners.

“There isn’t a person listening to my voice who can’t involved in the family justice center going forward. Everybody here can do something to invest in this. This is how we can change the world.” Gwinn urged. “Twenty years from now it will matter that you were standing in this parking lot. It will matter Zero Tolerance was created. It will matter John Gioia said we’re going to make this countywide. It will matter that we invested ourselves here in changing the endings for survivors and their children.”

Residents can get involved with the work of the center by donating, volunteering, or participating in workshops offered by the Family Justice Institute.

Grand Opening of the West Contra Costa Family Justice Center from Alive & Free/ Street Soldiers on Vimeo.

Finding Power

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By Ronvel Sharper

The Young Men’s Empowerment Group at Richmond High School, led by counselors Kawal Ulaneday and Lakeyssia Brown, taught me how to react in bad times, helped me when I felt trapped and made me—and the other people in my group—more conscious of our decisions and how we make them.

When I first joined this group, I didn’t really see the purpose in it. I didn’t think I would need it, because I didn’t think I’d ever be depressed or encounter situations so bad that I couldn’t help myself. I was wrong.

Since it began in 2013, the group has provided support and healing for youth who have experienced complex, traumatic experience in their lives. It is funded by the City of San Pablo and functions as a partnership between YMCA of the East Bay and the high school, to provide counseling services out of the campuses’ health center.

Ulaneday says the group is like a circle at school, where students can feel safe to be vulnerable and share their experience.

For me, it’s like therapy. We talk about our day and week, usually something different each time. At one meeting we talked about what inspires us, everyone listed masculine inspirational figures, but I said I was inspired by the ‘Powerpuff Girls.’ Rather than being teased for these feminine role models, I was accepted—one guy even said he’s also inspired by them. In addition, we also discuss how to help the community and let out anger in a productive way.

“We try to create safety for them and a feeling of connection with others,” said Ulaneday of the environment the leaders aim to establish for us students. “Symptoms of trauma can really affect young men’s ability to form relationships and also with having healthy sense of self.”

Recently, I found myself in a complicated situation in need of honest advice. If I hadn’t been part of the group I could’ve lost some great friends. But the guys offered practical help and now all I can say to them and the staff members is, “Thank you.”