Annual Summer Event Encourages Youth to RYSE Up

Photo Essay, Luis Cubas

It was a beautiful, sunny day, and the rhythm of the music was perfect, along with the scent of food being cooked. For the fourth consecutive August, the RYSE Center, a nonprofit youth center in Richmond, organized its own Summer Jam, an event that features live music, a basketball tournament and other activities, all of which is completely free to the public.

The purpose of the event is to create unity by bringing people together, while addressing the needs of Richmond youth. This year, RYSE gave away 200 backpacks to event participants, ages 13 to 21. Another highlight was the release of the newest RYSE Mixtape, vol. 2, which is a collaboration of the center and its youth members.

In addition, free information about education and job opportunities was made available to young community members. The RYSE Center has always encouraged its members to seek a higher education or find a job. In fact, their resources have opened a lot of doors for me, personally. RYSE’s fourth annual summer event continued that tradition.

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Writing the Future: Innovative ‘WriterCoach’ Program Enters Second Year at Richmond High

News Feature • April Suwalsky

WriterCoach Connection (WCC) is an East Bay-based organization that trains and coordinates volunteers to work one-on-one with middle and high school students as “writing coaches” in their English classes. Coaches help students to hone their writing skills, as well as develop their own writing voices and ideas.

Following a very successful expansion to El Cerrito High School in 2010, WCC last year launched a program at Richmond High School, where coaches worked with roughly 150 students in five, English Language Development (ELD) Level 4 classes, helping them to prepare for the challenging—and often confusing—ELD placement exam.

With the current drive to implement new federal academic guidelines known as Common Core — which among other things emphasize critical thinking, writing, literacy and evaluation of evidence — writer coaches can also provide much-needed support to students while they build skills that will translate across disciplines.

As someone who has served as a writer coach with WCC, I can attest to the power and importance of the program and the coaching model. It was a wonderful experience to work directly with the students, as well as watch their writing evolve and take shape over the course of each semester. I was equally thrilled to hear from one of the young writers I was paired with several months after the school year ended. She asked me to provide her some feedback on an essay project, and later reported that the final essay had garnered her a scholarship.

WriterCoach Connection has built community throughout the Bay Area, and made a significant impact in the lives of thousands of emerging writers. I was honored to speak with Karen Larson, WCC Site Coordinator at Richmond High School. The following Q&A was adapted from a conversation in August—looking back at the last year, and ahead to “writing the future.”

AS: WriterCoach Connection has now been at Richmond High for a year. How has the program been received so far? Were there any challenges in getting started?

KL: I’ve found Richmond High to be the best school I’ve worked in, in terms of support from the school as a whole. Everyone is aware they are members of a community, and the teachers have embraced us. Teachers set the stage, and the students are very appreciative of the coaches.

The Richmond community also has been wonderful. Many of the writer coaches are very involved in other aspects of the community or serve as volunteers at multiple organizations.

When we first started there were some “unknowns” as we were new to the school. One minor challenge was that our meeting space was physically located far away from the classrooms, so sometimes we only had 15 or so minutes of time with each student. But the space itself was great, and we were able to work with each student one-on-one for a total of approximately six hours over the course of the semester.

AS: What does success look like for students and teachers?

KL: We’ve seen many successes. We’ve heard from some students that the coaching sessions stand out as one of the more positive experiences they have at school. If we can get them to write about something that’s meaningful to them, I count that as a success. Perhaps the topic isn’t exactly the same as the writing prompt, but the students are developing their skills, and they are engaged in their learning.

It’s great when teachers report their students’ skills have improved, as well as grades and turn-in rates for assignments. Sometimes teachers are reluctant to get started with WCC, but once they’ve been through four or five class sessions they come to love the program– and become some of its strongest advocates. I’m excited that our teacher partners have expressed interest to continue this year.

AS: How did you first become involved with WriterCoach Connection?

KL: I first become involved eight years ago as a volunteer at Albany High School. The following year, I became the site coordinator at Albany Middle School, and then moved to the role of site coordinator at Fremont High in Oakland five years ago. The students are the reason I’m doing this.

AS: How do you know WCC is working?

KL: For the coaches, it’s seeing that what we’re doing is making a difference. Students are sitting with us and focused; their writing is improving; they are participating in the coaching session. We meet people where they are, and work with one student at a time.

As the site coordinator, I also care about supporting the coaches. I want to help them feel ready to coach and problem-solve. I want them to be enthusiastic about the work they are doing, and return to coach each year.

AS: What qualities does WriterCoach Connection look for in a writer coach? And is WCC currently recruiting more coaches?

KL: Coaches do not need to be academics, professional educators or writers. We want people who like working with young people. Coaches should be fluent in English, and have a high school diploma. We are looking for individuals who are open-minded, and can help students think critically and reflect on their writing process.

We are actively recruiting and training coaches for the fall, and will offer trainings in Richmond, El Cerrito, Berkeley and Oakland through October. Trainings consist of two three-hour sessions. Coaches who would like to coach at Richmond High can attend trainings at any location. We hope to recruit 75 new coaches this fall, for a total of 125 coaches who will work with about 250 students.

WriterCoach Connection is a program of Community Alliance for Learning, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization founded by writer coaches and parents in 2001. Anyone who is interested in becoming a writer coach is invited to visit the organization’s website and click on the “volunteer” tab at

El Rincón de Khalid – September 2013

Sabiduria de un Líder Comunitario, Khalid Elahi

Nunca conocí el valor completo de la vida hasta que perdí a mi amigo más cercano a la brutalidad de una arma en 1991. Vi los efectos que su muerte tuvo en su familia entera y las metas que nunca cumpliría. Me hizo realmente entender el verdadero significado de la pérdida. Dije, la vida no va a ser igual, y no lo fue. Por eso es que no le deseo la muerte a nadie porque no se regresa de eso. No hay nada más valioso que la vida de un humano. •

In Asthma Plagued County, a Move Toward Prevention

News Report, Malcolm Marshall

Richmond High School senior Maribel Navarro remembers what it felt like to have to go to the emergency room every time she had an asthma attack, which was often. “When I was little, I’d get my asthma really bad. I would go to the hospital in the middle of the night. It (was) hard to try to calm down… you don’t know how to react,” she recalls.

Navarro, 17, who has lived in Richmond her entire life, remembers thinking to herself, “I can’t breathe, what else can I do?”

Asthma attacks like the one Navarro describes send tens of thousands of children in California to the emergency room every year. But in Richmond, a city with a particularly high prevalence of asthma, residents will soon have another option. A new asthma treatment clinic, the first in Contra Costa County, is slated to open in September at the West County Health Center in neighboring San Pablo.

The new clinic aims to reduce the number of asthma patients using emergency rooms, by helping to develop consistent management plans and a more preventative approach, with an emphasis on self-management.

The kick off will be September 16 with the first community asthma self-management class. The free classes will be taught by Licensed Respiratory Care Practitioners.

The emphasis on prevention is being driven in part by changes to the health care system that are taking place under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare, which will be fully implemented on January 1, 2014.

“This clinic is not directly connected the ACA now, but it is preparing us (for what) the ACA will be increasingly requiring,” says Wendell Brunner, Director of Public Health for Contra Costa Health Services. “The ACA will move away from paying providers just for seeing patients, [or] fee for service, and more toward paying providers for health outcomes and keeping patients healthy. This is not only more cost-effective, it is clearly better for patients too.”

In Contra Costa County, approximately 191,000 children and adults have been diagnosed with asthma. The prevalence of childhood asthma in Richmond is 17 percent – more than double the national average and higher than the state average of 14.8 percent, according to a 2009 health survey of Richmond conducted by Communities for a Better Environment.

Another study from 2006 by the Contra Costa Asthma Coalition confirmed that in California, African American and Latino children are hospitalized for asthma at higher rates than
 other children. Contributing factors cited include poor air quality that children living in low-income neighborhoods are often exposed to, limited access to health care, and a lack of asthma education programs.

“That’s one of the reasons that asthma’s a big issue for us,” says Brunner. “It’s important throughout the county but it’s also particularly a health equity issue. It impacts our low‑income communities, and it particularly impacts our youth — it’s just another barrier to them being successful. [It’s] not fair.”

Richmond is also home to the Chevron refinery which has long been blamed by many in the community for high asthma rates and other respiratory problems. Two days after a major explosion and fire at the refinery last year, Navarro, who lives about 3 miles from that site, was back in the emergency room.

“I think the big problem with Chevron is probably not its general emissions, but the releases that it has, and that includes flaring,” says Brunner. “So things like the fire, that produces an enormous amount of particulate matter. We’ve done some surveys of the hospitals [and] we know that that triggered off people with asthma or people with underlying lung problems.”

When it come to treating patients, Janyth Bolden, Cardiopulmonary Director at Contra Costa Regional Medical Center, says there are no asthma-specific health services in many underserved areas of the county:

“A system to receive ongoing services and education so (people with asthma) will know what to look for, do some self assessment and learn how to manage their own breathing problems,” explains Bolden. “You have those things in place for people that have insurance.”

Bolden hopes the new clinic will help reduce emergency room visits by 25 percent and hospitalization by 15 percent or more.

County officials say they want to provide asthma education to all residents of Contra Costa County, not just to the patients, and have chosen the Richmond area as their focal point to start off because it is still badly underserved.

“One of the reasons we’re trying to do a number of other things around asthma in West County,” says Brunner, “is because community groups and the City of Richmond and other groups in Richmond, are really pressing the health department to address asthma and to do something about it. And they’re right.”

If successful, officials hope to replicate their efforts in other areas of the county over time. Another asthma clinic is already being planned in the City of Pittsburg, in East Contra Costa County.

Brunner stresses that there is no magic bullet to reducing health risks associated with asthma in West County — a number of things need to be done. The first being, when people are sick, they need to have access to modern quality, evidence-based asthma care.

“One of the things we have to do is make sure that all the kids and adults in West County who have asthma get the most modern medical treatments.”

Second on the list is education regarding prevention and treatments. There is currently no cure for asthma but most care providers agree that managing one’s asthma is crucial to avoiding asthma attacks and improving one’s quality of life.

“(Asthma) medicines aren’t necessarily easy to use. A lot of the doctors who prescribe them have never used them. People need to be educated on how to use these properly. We need to have a component so that patients with asthma can be trained and educated about their disease, because they’re the ones who are living with it every day,” explains Brenner.

There is also the issue of asthma triggers that can often be found in people’s homes.

“Looking at cleaning up the molds, getting rid of some kinds of carpets that hold the dust and the asthma triggers — there’s a variety of things that can be done in the homes to make it better for people with asthma,” says Brenner.

Making those types of changes in the home made a huge difference for Maribel Navarro, says her mother, Rosaria Meza.

“Since we took the carpet out, we put tile in all the rooms. (We don’t have) no cats, and we just have a few plants.”

Even certain flowers can be a trigger for her daughter’s asthma, Meza says. “It depends what kind of plants we have.”

The changes have brought relief to Navarro and to her mother, in more ways than one.

“Almost every week in the nighttime, going to emergency. Plus the money, because every time you go to emergency, you pay. I used to pay $50 [or] $55, and now it’s more.”

One City, Two Success Stories

By Yaquelin Valencia

My name is Yaquelin Valencia. I am 21-years-old, an undocumented Dreamer and a recent recipient of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). I was born in Aquila, Michoacán, Mexico. My mother brought me to the U.S. at the age of two, and I was raised in Richmond, California. I grew up with a diverse group of friends, and we all faced the same struggles: living in low-income neighborhoods, and experiencing violence at school and in front of our very own homes. Still, I get all excited when I hear people say, “I’m from Richmond.”

Growing up, I rarely heard success stories of young people who graduated high school and went off to college. I recently got to know one such success story, however – that of a young African American brother — while I was at a national training for PICO (People Improving through Community Organizing).

Ryan Coogler grew up in Richmond where he played football like many of my friends did. After high school, he attended St. Mary’s College where he fell in love with chemistry and math. “If football doesn’t work then I’ll be a doctor,” he said.

But Ryan took a different path.

Ryan didn’t think about film or writing until one of his professors at St. Mary’s college encouraged him to write. Ryan did, and his words were powerful. His professor asked him, “Have you ever thought about making a career out of this?” Ryan said no. But when he went back to his dorm, it was all he could think about. He eventually transferred to Sacramento State University, where he continued to play football and enrolled in some film classes. From there he transferred to UCLA, where he went from being an athlete to a different sort of team player – as director of the film, “Fruitvale Station.”

Over time, PICO played a supportive role in Ryan’s career. When Ryan was in Los Angeles, PICO founder John Baumann lent him a hand. And when Ryan decided to write the film, he came back to Richmond, but needed a quiet place to write. Once again, John lent him a hand so Ryan could focus on his writing.

A few days before Ryan was scheduled to be at the PICO training, we were given an opportunity to see his film, which was impactful. As we got on two charter buses and headed over to watch the movie, I was full of anxiety. I knew that I was going to experience pain in some sense.

The movie was completely different from how I’d seen Oscar Grant portrayed in the news broadcasts. In the film, I got to see Oscar as a loving human being who was trying to turn his life around. I got to see some of Oscar’s struggles, and I could relate to some of them. Everyone makes mistakes and that’s part of being human. Oscar was a human being. Unlike the news, the film showed that it wasn’t just a homicide — it was one more child who was robbed from having a father.

During the movie I experienced a range of emotions: I felt anger, sadness, and deep pain. After the movie all I could think of was Oscar Grant saying, “You shot me… I have a daughter. Why’d you shoot me?” This played over and over again in my mind.

Ryan and I both grew up in Richmond and both played sports. But now, the connection is that his mother and I are both part of PICO. It’s exciting to see that link and to know that like Ryan, I am working to make a positive impact on the community. In a different way, of course, but I know that we are both doing what we love to do.

I can be very outgoing, but there are times that I feel like I have no voice. Most of my friends are documented, so I’ve mostly had to face my struggle alone. Nevertheless, it was in Richmond where I was given the opportunity to raise my voice and be a part of creating change. I met Adam Kruggel who is the director of CCISCO, a multi faith, multi-racial organization linked to PICO, and I learned to confront my fear of speaking up. To this day I get nervous, but I’ve also had major accomplishments.

Today, I no longer live in Richmond but continue to work with a sister organization to CCISCO called CBC (Congregations Building Community) in Modesto, where I am a community organizer working on immigration. Being connected to the PICO network through both organizations has given me tools – I’ve learned about power, unmasking power, and my highest purpose. I’ve had opportunities to talk about race, and learn about different faith traditions. The tools I’ve collected I will use today and in the future, to transform lives through campaigns that address the issues causing pain in our community.

Through his film, Ryan voiced that Oscar Grant was a human being. I want to build power by empowering people to have a voice, so that like a team, we can create opportunities for all.

New School Year Brings New Academic Standards

By Antoinette J. Evans

If all goes according to plan, Richmond public schools — and the students they serve — will have something positive to look forward to, this fall and beyond.

Back in 2010, California’s State Board of Education voted to adopt a new set of federal academic guidelines referred to as “Common Core”. This year, California public schools including those in Richmond will take one step closer toward the goal of fully implementing those standards by the 2014/15 Academic Year.

Along with California, 45 other states are also in various stages of implementing Common Core.

Teachers, parents and education experts developed the new standards for the purpose of better preparing students with the knowledge and skills they’ll need to have success in college and eventually, in a career. Common Core is expected to provide a consistent and clear understanding for teachers, parents and students alike, of what students in all grade levels are expected to learn and should know.

I discussed the transition to Common Core with my fellow West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) colleagues, who will be tasked with implementing these guidelines into their schools and classrooms. I was curious to hear their general thoughts about introducing Common Core to a generation of students who sometimes seem more interested in Facebook, Youtube and music videos than they do in reading or arithmetic; especially because Common Core was designed to be a bridge for teachers to connect with students in a more creative and engaging manner, with an added emphasis on new technology.

“Students will benefit from receiving instruction that is enriching and inspiring,” according to Valerie Garrett, principal at Verde Elementary School who has been actively preparing her staff for the transition to Common Core. “The standards are bringing about uniformity, and promise to assist our teachers with the promotion of standards-based instruction in a meaningful manner.”

Garrett describes the new standards as a base that will allow districts and schools to identify areas of challenge for students, with the goal of tailoring instruction so schools can meet or even exceed their academic benchmarks. It’s an outcome many educators like myself are patiently waiting to see.

“Eventually all students will thrive,” affirms Mike Aaronian, Coordinator of Educational Services for WCCUSD.

“There are even Common Core ELD (English Language Development) standards which will directly affect CELDT (California English Language Development Test) scores. With more emphasis on writing across the curriculum and learning math ‘outside of the box’ and integrating technology, our students test scores should excel and their goals will be endless,” adds Karolyn Langston-Haynes, a teacher from Grant Elementary.

With all of this said, we must also expect some hesitation and uncertainty from those who may feel differently about the looming new standards.

“Some teachers will immediately be enthusiastic and some will initially resist, but there will always be those resistant to change,” says Aaronian, who confidently adds that most teachers will eventually come to embrace the changes.

And as for the students? Judging from my experience, most students are hungry for a curriculum that will empower them to think critically and gain knowledge they can apply to their everyday experiences. They also want an education that will prepare them for future careers.

As a new teacher, I’m enthused to use the Common Core Standards in my classroom. The Common Core should give teachers more freedom to be creative as long as they stay within their district guidelines. For other teachers with more experience under their belt, transitioning to a new set of standards may prove more difficult.

Luckily, over the last few years, “there have been [Common Core] trainings and workshops for teachers and administrators” says 6th Grade Teacher Karolyn Langston-Haynes from Grant Elementary School in Richmond. “Most of us have been involved in training at one level or another, so this transition should not come as a surprise.”

Sounds like most of us are well prepared to embark on the new journey! Now let’s see where that journey takes us.

To learn more about the Common Core Standards, visit the California Department of Education website at:

Suit Alleges Mistreatment of California Minors With Mental Health Problems

News Report • Susan Ferriss, The Center for Public Integrity

Minors with mental health problems and other disabilities are held in “unconscionable conditions” of 23-hour solitary confinement and deliberately cut off from education and other rehabilitation at a San Francisco Bay Area juvenile hall, alleges a lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court in Northern California.

The class-action suit against Contra Costa County probation and county school officials accuses them of locking young wards in small cells for days at a time in response to behavior stemming from the children’s own disabilities — including bipolar disorder — and then illegally depriving them of education as part of a three-tier system of isolation.

The two most severe tiers of isolation imposed on wards are called “risk” and “max,” requiring 23-hour confinement in cells, when “youth with disabilities are outright denied both general and special education entirely,” according to the suit.

The first tier, called “program,” results in up to 22 ½ hours of solitary confinement, during which, the suit says, the county’s policies illegally permit probation (officials) to withhold education as a punishment or for no reason at all.”

Among the suit’s allegations:

A 14-year-old girl identified as G.F. was put into solitary in a cell for approximately 100 days over the last year, with no education services and short breaks outside only two times a day. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder and attention deficit, the girl was removed from the juvenile hall county school and put into solitary, with officials failing to conduct a mandatory inquiry into whether her behavior was related to her disability.

W.B. a 17-year-old boy — already found mentally incompetent by a juvenile court — was put into solitary for more than two months out of a four-month period. He began hearing voices, talking to himself, thought he was being poisoned and broke down into a psychotic episode and was hospitalized for three weeks before being returned to the hall.

Q.G., 17, has been in full-time special education since third grade and has diagnosed behavior problems. Before entering juvenile hall, he was on a special education plan with specific daily behavior intervention services. After becoming a ward, he was put into general education classes and his behavior plan eliminated and he was marked “absent” from classes when put into solitary 30 times. “While in solitary confinement, Q.G. is denied the opportunity to go to school and receives zero credits for the time he has missed,” the suit says.

The lawsuit was filed by a national pro bono law firm, Public Counsel, and Berkeley, Calif.-based Disability Rights Advocates and the San Paul Hastings private law firm in San Francisco. Lawyers filing the suit say they have corresponded with probation and other officials about conditions. They said county officials declined to meet with them, but contended in correspondence that there were security reasons for confining wards in cells. Officials did not address arguments, lawyers said, that they were legally bound to provide education services and proper assessment of special needs and behavior problems.

Contra Costa County Probation Officer Philip Kader was out of the office until next week, officials at his office said, and they declined to comment. Kader is named in the suit, along with the Contra Costa County Office of Education, which supervises education at the hall.

Peggy Mashburn, chief communications officers at the Contra Costa Office of Education — which is also named as a defendant — said that the office had no comment Thursday because it is still reviewing the lawsuit.

Public Counsel lawyer Laura Faer called the policies inside Contra Coast’s juvenile hall — located in the city of Martinez — “broken and draconian.” She said conditions resemble “maximum-security-like” prisons rather than what state and federal law dictate for conditions inside juvenile and treatment for children with disabilities.

“Contra Costa is failing in its actual legal mission to rehabilitate children,” Faer told reporters. Officials are in “100 percent violation” of laws requiring assessment of students and special-education services.

Wards “are routinely locked for days and weeks at a time in cells that have barely enough room for a bed and only a narrow window the size of a hand,” she said. “In these cells, they are unlawfully denied education and special education and contact with teachers and other students. They are denied textbooks and instructional materials.”

She said 14-year-old plaintiff G.F. has received additional punishment for peering outside her cell while in solitary.

Faer told the Center for Public Integrity that isolation, lasting days, not just hours, can stem from physical fights, but also from defiant comments or refusal to follow staff orders — all behavior that frequently stems directly from a ward’s mental health problems or disability. The law requires officials to assess whether poor behavior stems from a disability, and create a plan that specifically address that.

Mary-Lee Smith, attorney with Disability Rights Advocates, said “it is abhorrent” to confine students with disabilities. The system in Contra Costa, she said, is used “without regard to whether the behavior leading to solitary was related to disability. It does so without even inquiring into whether the child has a disability that may be worsened in solitary confinement.”

The county school at the Martinez juvenile hall enrolls about 1,300 students a year, the lawyers said. The hall’s own records show that at least one-third of the wards have disabilities requiring special education services.

The suit notes that California law declares that juvenile halls exist solely for rehabilitation, and “shall not be deemed to be, not treated as, a penal institution” but rather “a safe and supportive homelike environment.”

Instead, inside the Contra Costa hall, the suit alleges: “Young people with disabilities become trapped in a cruel cycle of discrimination” and “are locked away in solitary confinement where their conditions only deteriorate and they fall further behind in their education.”

Faer said juvenile detention officials are required to create “pro-active, positive rehabilitation plans” for wards, but records obtained and reviewed by lawyers indicate that hall and school officials are failing in that duty.

“These are kids. We have a chance here to help them,” Faer said. “But they are pretty much stealing children’s futures.”

Based on a review of the Martinez hall’s policies, the lawsuit says, wards put into solitary for 23 hours are “outright denied both general and special education entirely.”

The use of solitary confinement in California’s state and county juvenile detention centers has prompted repeated attempts by some legislators to impose regulations barring lengthy isolation beyond relatively short periods and frequent staff observation of youths in cells.

A bill along those lines currently pending in California’s state legislature is sponsored by state Sen. Leland Yee, a San Francisco Democrat. It passed the state Senate, and is now before Assembly members, who have adopted some amendments.

The Center of Public Integrity reported on how a previous unsuccessful attempt by Yee to pass a similar bill was met with stiff opposition from law enforcement officials and prison guards who contribute heavily to legislators’ political campaigns

Call and Response: Community Honors East Bay Center’s Jay Moss

By April Suwalsky

Author’s Note: Jay Moss is one of the most tenacious and hard-working people I have encountered in Richmond. A passionate advocate and organizer at heart, Jay is a steadfast ally — particularly to young people and emerging artists — and a true mentor’s-mentor. He always makes certain that the community is engaged, and that people are recognized and compensated for their work. Jay is often content in a “backstage” role; yet in this, he is one of the critical people who really makes things happen.

I am reminded of a description of Duke Ellington by jazz historian Stanley Crouch. He said Ellington would call himself a “primitive pedestrian minstrel” and this was [mis]interpreted as a joke. But in these words Ellington was actually “obliquely throwing historical daggers.” Similarly, Jay’s usually cool and collected exterior is in jazz-like contrast to a fiery internal drive. Jay is someone who is always planning, curating, envisioning how the component pieces will fit together, thinking about the pitch and the timing, building community knowledge, honoring diverse histories, and progressing the work. It is a special privilege to celebrate and recognize my colleague and ally in this month’s piece. –AS

More than sixty community members, students, faculty and staff of the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts gathered on June 21 to pay tribute to Jay Moss on the occasion of his retirement. Mr. Moss served for the last eleven years as the Center’s Director of Production and Community Engagement. He is also a former board member of the organization, initially engaged in that role in 1990.

“Jay gives a lot to the Center. None of what we do would be possible without him. He helps both with presence and the equipment. I appreciate everything he’s done for us,” said musician and student Eric Diaz, 19.

“He always supported us when we needed him,” agreed Kalin Freeman, 19, also a musician and student at the Center.

Jay Standing Behind Stage

Mr. Moss has more than thirty years of experience as a producer and technical director, having designed and produced technical effects for national touring productions and directed large corporate events. He has worked with Jimi Hendrix, the Beach Boys, Apple Computer, the San Francisco Mime Troupe, and the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, among many others.

Moss is best known in Richmond, however, for his commitment to the East Bay Center’s transformational work to develop young artists and leaders, and building and nurturing community beyond the Center’s walls.

“I play drums. Jay always makes sure I have everything I need, and he’s like a mentor. I love the Center because it’s like home, and it’s like art,” stated Quinn Monteiro, 17.

“I like that Jay has a good taste in music. He’s one of the few people who inspired me to play blues, like Muddy Waters,” added Cristian Ponce, 18. Monteiro and Ponce were among the Center artists who performed tributes to Mr. Moss that evening.

The celebration itself was intimate, short and sweet–reflecting Moss’ request to not have a large party, as well the fact that the event was not intended as a “good bye.” Moss will still be an active part of the Center community, just no longer as intensively involved in the day-to-day. Staff and students alike spoke passionately about Moss’ contributions to the Center and to Richmond. The diverse group in attendance was a testament to Mr. Moss’ ability to connect with people, and the relationships he built in the broader community.

“We’ve never seen the Center without you. You helped so much with your words and wisdom. We love you,” said a young dancer.

“I just want to say thank you for being such a great mentor,” said teacher and staff member Kwesi Anku.

Ruthie Dineen, Deputy Director of Programs and an accomplished musician in her own right, expressed her appreciation for Mr. Moss and helped present a photo montage with well wishes from the group. She said the local Copy Central had insisted on donating its services to produce the piece. An employee there had remarked simply, “It’s for Jay.”

Indeed, to represent the thousands of people Jay has touched, “we’d need a canvas as big as this room,” remarked Jordan Simmons, a Richmond native and the Center’s Artistic Director for more than three decades.

Mr. Moss, a self-described “backstage guy,” then took his position front-and-center to reflect on his years of work and life path. “It was difficult in the beginning,” he explained. “Production guidelines had not yet been developed, and I was still learning about Richmond.”

He recalled his roots in the Civil Rights and Peace Movements, and how this knowledge informed his path. “My experience with community organizing efforts has always stayed with me, and I knew the importance of the Iron Triangle,” he said.

“I don’t think I’ve met anyone who truly stands up for what he believes in with the same level of commitment that Jay has,” commented Charlene Smith, the Center’s Director of Development. “He is someone who talks the talk but who clearly has also walked the walk.”

Mr. Moss cited four experiences that would endure with him forever: 1) the opportunity to interface with the students, see them enter the Center, find their gift and share it with others; 2) the Center’s outward-facing Call and Response Program; 3) the Growing Great Families Project; and 4) the Iron Triangle Legacy Project, which provides community organizations and groups a space to tell their stories, highlight their cultures, and share where they want to go in life.

Jordan Simmons vowed that the East Bay Center community would continue to embrace and embody the lessons Mr. Moss modeled throughout his tenure. We will, proclaimed Simmons: “Liberate the right things. Keep the right values. Challenge what we think. Move forward with a spirit of giving. Keep on the righteous road, with lots of love.”

Youth Left Orphaned and Homeless by Tragic Fire, Need Community’s Help

Report • Keyannie Norford

In our community, when one has a loss, we all have a loss. Early Friday morning on July 5th, 911 received a call around 2:30am regarding a fire in the neighborhood of 21st Street in Richmond. Firefighters arrived to a tragic scene — a detached garage behind a house was burning with two adults trapped inside, and their son was in flames. It was reported that fireworks might have been the cause of the blaze.

The father, 56-year-old Mearn Lee Pom, and the mother, 50-year-old Bounkeo Viengvilai, were found unconscious in the garage and were later pronounced dead after firefighters were unsuccessful in their attempt to revive them. Their son was rushed to the nearest Kaiser Permanente hospital, and then to St. Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco, where he later died.

The family members who lost their life are survived by their son and brother, Sompong Viengvilai, who is well known in the community as a former youth leader at RYSE, a local youth center. It was there that Sompong became part of a youth leadership team. Among his many accomplishments, Sompong participated on the President’s Youth Council, where he represented Richmond, and helped to produce videos examining the negative health impacts of sugary beverages. He facilitated organizing workshops, and sat on an advisory board for Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” campaign. He remains a strong advocate for young community members in Richmond.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, the RYSE Center set up a fund to support Sompong’s family, and issued the following statement in a letter:

“When Sompong first came to RYSE, he was committed to transforming his community so that his family and siblings could thrive. With a huge heart and the warmest of spirits, Sompong has always brought his full self to everything he does and in his time of greatest need RYSE intend to return this back to him ten-fold.”
Thanks to community donations collected by RYSE, burial costs for Sompong’s family have been covered. All future contributions to the fund will go towards relocating Sompong and the remaining siblings, since they were all living in the home at the time of the fire.

For those who wish to support, checks can be made out to the “RYSE Center” with a note in the memo line indicating that the donation is for the “Viengvilai Family Fund.” Donations should be mailed to: RYSE Center, 205 41st St. Richmond, CA 94805

Credit card donations can be made on the RYSE website: If making an online donation, please also indicate in that your contribution is for the “Viengvilai Fund.”

RYSE, in partnership with Community Health for Asian Americans (CHAA), will also be holding grief and healing support groups for Sompong, his family, and any other young people or their families who are grieving a loss. If you or anyone you know is in need of or could benefit from such support, please contact RYSE community health director Kanwarpal Dhaliwal at For all other questions, please contact Kimberly Aceves, RYSE executive director at

For The Colored Boys in The Black Hoodies

By Monet Boyd, 16

The first time I found out that “justice” was just a word was about three days ago. I was sitting on my couch when my friend sent me a text that said, “Monet, you won’t believe this…” I could not even text back because I knew what she was talking about. I turned on my TV, waiting, for what in the back of my mind I already knew. The killer of Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman, was pronounced not guilty. My world slowed down as the words “not guilty” played in my mind repeatedly.

This man will go home and sleep calmly in his warm bed next to his wife, while Trayvon’s mother has sleepless nights wondering what her son could have done, would have done, and what he should have done. This verdict is a reminder that in America, we as brown and black people do not matter in the eyes of the law, in this land of the so-called free.

I suppose that this means that I must submit to the police and other forms of authority. Well, when I am in those situations I will not compromise my life because someone is going through some type of ego trip. I will be calm, cool and collected — as I have been taught to be all of my life, to ease my way out of situations that I do not want to be in.
As a young person of color, I feel as if I must be a living example of the change I want to see. I cannot be angry for a week and then let Trayvon’s life become a distant memory. I believe that I must work hard in my community to let my voice be heard, and raise awareness not only about forms of injustice by authorities against young people of color — but also the injustices done by people of color against other people of color.

Yes, we should rally and fight for justice, but we should also stop tolerating the genocide happening in our own communities. Maybe the “superior race” will stop killing us when we also stop shooting at a human being that looks similar to the reflection in the mirror.