Q & A: Mike Parker on Changing the Nature of Politics in Richmond

Interview, Malcolm Marshall

Editor’s Note: Richmond Progressive Alliance Campaign Coordinator and one time Mayoral candidate, Mike Parker spoke to Richmond Pulse’s  Malcolm Marshall about the recent election, working with Mayor-elect Tom Butt and training new leaders in Richmond.

Richmond Pulse: RPA lost in the 2012 election but came back strong this year. What was the key to success this time? How much do you credit to Chevron’s missteps?

MP_RichmondWallMike Parker: There are many things that contributed to our victory. But I think the key reason that we won in Richmond, even while progressives lost across the country, was that this wasn’t just an election campaign. This was part of a ten year battle to change the nature of Richmond and politics in Richmond.

We had in place people who had developed roots in the community. We had in place people who had reputations so that when the hit pieces came out, we actually had already been door to door with many people talking to them.

The hit piece stuff does damage. It did damage to us here. We would have done much better without them. I don’t think that this is Chevron’s misstep. I think we won. I think we won because Richmond really is much better now than it was ten years ago and people recognize that, and because we built an organization in Richmond to act politically throughout the year, not just at election time, and to help make some of these programs a reality.

RP: As a campaign strategist, what was different this year compared to other recent elections? Are there messages that resonate in Richmond today that didn’t say six or eight years ago?

MP: Chevron’s role in the city was a big issue. Chevron only attacked the three RPA candidates, it did not attack Tom Butt and it didn’t attack Jael Myrick. It wanted to smash the RPA, and its supporters, and I think the reason it wanted to goes back to the political struggle over Chevron’s modernization project.

The project was an opportunity for Chevron and Richmond to see reduced pollution, not just the same levels. It was the opportunity to take steps for making production of oil greener. It was the opportunity for Chevron to work with the community and Chevron in all those places chose not to work with the community, but to do just the minimum necessary to comply with the law. And they didn’t like the fact that people sort of stood up and said, ‘No, we want something more.’

The other big issue facing the city was, and still is, Doctor’s Hospital. We fought the closing of the hospital from the very beginning—wanting to get help early on, when we still could, from the Chevron Community Benefits Agreement. And we continued working with the California Nurses Association to try to keep the pressure up and we’ve made some headway.

We haven’t solved it yet, but there are more people who are onboard with finding ways to save it, and it can be saved—if we get enough good leadership in this county to actually take a look at how to save it.

RP: Mayor Elect Tom Butt has often voted in alignment with RPA members on the City Council, but he is not an official RPA member. What expectations, and challenges, do you see moving forward in working with the new mayor?

MP: I think we’ll work together well. That doesn’t mean that we agree about everything.

One of the basic principles of the RPA is that we accept no corporate contributions. Tom doesn’t get much in corporate contributions, but he doesn’t accept that as a principle. We don’t accept candidates who accept corporate contributions, so that’s one of the areas we have a difference. We also have a difference with Tom on a number of policy questions. We have a difference with him about Doctors Hospital and the importance of it, about minimum wage.

On the other hand, Tom is also somebody who is very smart and understands that there has to be something done in Richmond to bring it together, and I think that Tom will work well with the RPA.

RP: Only 17,000 people voted in this last election. How do you expand the circle of the RPA to bring in more residents, specifically more young people?

MP: That’s the $64.00 question. We recognize that part of the problem with a volunteer organization is that it needs volunteers and it needs people who will work. Well, that means that the main people who can do that kind of work consistently are retired people. People who are working full time, who have families, they can’t put in days and days and days of the consistent work that was necessary to do this.

This wasn’t just a spurt of activity at election time; this was consistent activity every day for the past, well, pretty much the past ten years. I don’t want to exaggerate it, but, you know, we try to maintain an open office, we were involved in all kinds of campaigns, helped various projects get going. All those things take work and it’s hard to get young people to basically put that kind of time into it. But we have to figure out a way to do that.

We have to figure out a way in particular to train new leadership, people to come onto the city council, people to lead in the community–because we want a community that’s active.

The best things that have happened in Richmond have happened because the elected officials have worked with active parts of the community to accomplish things.

RP: You said throughout the campaign that this was about Chevron trying to retake control of the city council. Then we saw that Chevron was willing to spend $3 million to get influence. What lessons can be learned from this experience that the community should build on moving forward?

MP: We built something that looks to residents being involved politically, rather than simply coming out to vote, and in doing that we created a little bit different culture in Richmond around how politics can be run.

I think we pretty much established that we were able to actually go out and make our case about what we stood for, and the people who went to vote agreed with us.

Chevron, by putting all this money into politics keeps raising the bar on what it takes to get active in politics and to do something. Right now it’s not possible, without having $100,000, to be part of a campaign. There are only a few ways you get $100,000. You either get Chevron’s backing, you have the backing of some other powerful institutions—the realtors or maybe the building trades—or you come together in some group as we did. We combined the campaigns, so between the campaigns all together we were able to raise probably $150,000. But, that was a lot of people coming together.

I have nothing against us raising $100,000 from small contributions because it’s lots of people coming together and it’s a lot different than coming into this game and basically owing your allegiance to whatever corporation is willing to sponsor you.

Warriors Give Nystrom Community a New Place to Play

Story and Photos by Chanelle Ignant

Lenora Walker grew up playing basketball near Martin Luther King Park in Richmond. But when the Martin Luther King Community Center closed a few years ago, the park’s run down outdoor courts became her only option.

“All we had left were the courts here that had cracks [and] the backboards were small and old,” Walker recalled. “We didn’t have nowhere else to go around here that’s not in someone else’s neighborhood.”

On Oct. 20, Walker and over a hundred other community members attended the unveiling of two radically different courts in their backyard.

IMG_9997The Mitch Richmond Basketball Courts, named for the Basketball Hall of famer—and former Golden State Warriors great—Mitch Richmond, debuted with the help of the Warriors Foundation, Good Tidings Foundation, the California Endowment and Healthy Richmond.

Featuring four new NBA plexiglass hoop systems and a 14,000 square foot all-weather acrylic playing surface, the renovations came about through the work of the Nystrom United Revitalization Effort (NURVE), an initiative launched in 2002 to address the needs of the Nystrom neighborhood. The renovated basketball courts completed the effort to revitalize MLK Park. The courts are next to the Oakland Raiders themed football field, completed in 2011, and the Oakland A’s baseball field—opened earlier this year.

“What the Warriors did here was just phenomenal,” Jim Becker of Richmond Community Foundation said.

After an Oakland Raiders football field’s renovation and an Oakland A’s baseball field done earlier this year, Becker reached out to Jose Gordon, Executive Director of the Warriors Foundation with the idea of involving the Warriors in the rebuild of the outdoor basketball court. Gordon loved the idea.

According to Becker it’s the only instance in the country where all three major sports teams have helped build a neighborhood park.

“Playing sports was my everything,” said Mitch Richmond during the unveiling ceremony. On the court is where he said he learned the value of teamwork and dedication.

Following the ceremony the Warriors Foundation led a basketball clinic with students between the ages of 10 and 12 from Richmond College Preparatory and the Police Activities League.

Christina Baronian, a sixth grade teacher at Richmond College Prep, said that with the limited space at her school the new court offers a place for her students to go after school.

“This park was always a dangerous park to go,” Baronian said. “A lot of their parents wouldn’t let them come here because it was so dangerous. And now that they’ve fixed up this court and the other field my students are going to be able to come here now, which they’re really excited about.”

Lynette Walker, who lives nearby came to the event and said she hopes the refurbished courts will attract more players.

“For years we would come out here and play and no one would be out here,” she said. “Now that they fixed it up I really think that a lot of people will be encouraged to come back and play.”

NURVE team member Janie Holland said the park involved more than just outsiders.

“We would like for the community to take ownership of this,” Holland said. “We want them to feel like this is ours. We all did this together.”

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More Unity, Less Division

Commentary, Asani Shakur


Recently, I came across some of the rhetoric that has taken place in the Richmond City Council.

I saw on Youtube that Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles was chastised and made a mockery of for wearing an African head wrap at one of the city council meetings. What bothered my heart was that some of the sardonic remarks came from other African brothers.

A brother and minister, Wesley Ellis, is seen in the video recording of that night placing a handbag on top of his head as a joke towards Beckles’ African head wrap. Then to add insult to injury Mr. Ellis is greeted by Richmond resident Mark Wassberg with laughter and a high-five.

I don’t expect a person like Wassberg to embrace our African culture. In that same video he is recorded saying to Beckles, “This is what happens Beckles when you wear that tight funny hat around your head, your brain cells get blocked.” Other times he’s been quoted as saying to Beckles (who is openly gay), “Gays have no morality…You’re filth, you’re dirt.”

What stood out for me was that nobody stood up for this sister.

Politics aside, whether you support her political views or not, whether you like her personally, or not, we should not allow anyone to poke fun of our culture.

It was a poor example of leadership and a disgraceful representation of Richmond for the rest of the world to bare witness to. I placed it on par with the stupidity of some of these reality shows on television, with all the drama. I thought “How could people in leadership positions who are to make decisions for the citizens of Richmond, possibly have the city’s best interest at heart while displaying loathing characteristics? How did they allow it to get so ugly that the media catches wind of it?”

Beckles is often critisized by some in Richmond for not being “really black.” In an SF Gate article council member Corky Boozé is quoted as saying  “she says she’s a black Latina. Well, you’re either African American or you’re not.”

The question I found myself thinking about after reading the article was, “What separates us who are of African decent, whether we live in United States, Brazil, Cuba, Panama, Haiti, Barbados, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic or other Caribbean islands?” I’ll tell you: A boat trip.

Not all of our ancestors were dropped off here in the New World (United States). The middle passage consisted of a three-legged system known as the “triangular trade.” The triangular trade started from Europe as its first leg and on to Africa as its second leg where they kidnapped people and forced them onto a ship before dropping them off to the America’s—leg three, a life of enslavement.

Aside from the boat trip, where our dichotomy lies, is language, which creates further divides us.

An African in the United States speaks English, an African in Cuba speaks Spanish and an African in Brazil speaks Portuguese. The reason is simple—colonization.

Africans here speak English because it was the British who controlled the slave economy in the United States. The same goes for Africans who speak Spanish as a native tongue. It’s because their overseer was from Spain, and through colonization, the native African tongue (language) was stripped from us. As well as our names, culture and the like. The Portuguese, the British, the French, the Dutch Empire, Spain, and so on, all had their hands in the African slave trade.

I point this out so one won’t be fooled by someone else’s accusations of some one not being “Black” because they come from one of the island’s and may identify themselves as “Afro-Latin.” That identification is no different from someone saying I am “African-American” because they were raised here in America.

Beckles did not need to expound on why she wore an African head wrap (it was in solidarity of the 200 Nigerian girls that were kidnapped). We should not have to feel the need to explain to anyone why we may wear something that identifies with our African culture.

We of African decent should not be ashamed of our history and culture. We should hold our Maafa (Kiswahili for African Holocaust) sacred.

Until we educate ourselves, and our children, by reconditioning the mind, we will continue to suffer from “divide and conquer” syndrome.

A School Lunch I’d Gladly Eat

Commentary, Sean Shavers | Video, Ann Bassette

When I was in high school in Oakland, I never really questioned the cafeteria menu, I just knew that I wasn’t eating it because it didn’t look appealing and I had other options. For years school lunch was considered nasty and inedible by me and my peers. Many of us would grab a bag of chips from the vending machine and skip the lunch line entirely.

It wasn’t until recently, that I saw school lunch in a different way. Along with members of the Richmond Food Policy Council, I took a trip to Pittsburg High School to see the school’s nutritional program.

We we’re given a tour around the campus by Matt Belasco, the director of child nutrition services for Pittsburg Unified School District. He explained how and why the school had been remodeled, with child nutrition as part of the design. In fact, six out of 13 schools in Pittsburg were remodeled with a garden facility on campus, including Pittsburg High. Belasco said that child nutrition is his main objective now at the high school.

If kids don’t have a healthy meal before school it will affect how they learn, perform and behave in the classroom, Belasco said, so it’s essential that kids eat well, in order to think well. Belasco also mentioned that before the school was remodeled, they served about 800 meals a day. Now that number has shot up to 3,000.

As part of the initiative they also did away with off-campus lunch. A move that Belasco said was meant to discourage students from eating at corner stores and then not returning to school.

“We developed a system to counter act that,” Belasco said of the unhealthy lunches often eaten by students. “By providing clean drinking water, access to fruits and vegetables and a desirable school menu, we’ve done that.”

On the tour, we were escorted to the campus garden first, where a majority of the school’s produce is grown. Belasco said that the special-ed students were responsible for growing and maintaining the garden. There were fat, juicy looking eggplants, dark green cucumbers and bright colored peppers and tomatoes dotting the flourishing garden. The tomatoes are used for salsa and sauces, according to Belasco. The cucumbers could be used to make fruit infused “spa water.”

Last summer, members of the summer child nutrition program, along with students, grew and pulled up, sixty pounds of vegetables for the summer school lunch program. Their work saved the school money and gave students skills.

After the garden we went to the food carts. These carts were loaded with healthy snack items, like grapes, pears and carrots. These carts were basically small stations, for students on the go, who don’t want to wait in lunch lines. It seemed like a smart strategy to keep the cafeteria from over crowding.

To wrap up the day, we entered the cafeteria—the place where it all goes down. The first thing that struck me was the vending machines. They weren’t stocked with the usual fare: Candy, soda and chips. In place of the unhealthy items were bottle water and 100 percent juice containers.

On each end of the cafeteria were well organized salad bars. Each of them with a color coded system, to show students which food item belongs to which food group: Green for veggies, red for fruits, blue for milk, orange for grains and purple for protein. The system ensures students get their nutritional needs met, even without going through the lunch line.

Aside from the salad bars, there were four lunch stations throughout the cafeteria. At each station students are given food options. One station was the red, white, and blue deli. It served traditional American food, hot dogs, hamburgers and the like. There was a south of the border station, which served Latin cuisine, like tacos and burritos. Another one served Italian cuisine—think pastas, soup and bread. And finally, there was a hot wok express, which served Asian cuisine—rice, noodles and steamed veggies.

All of the variety makes it nearly impossible for students to complain about the menu
After walking around the campus and seeing all of the fresh meals, it was finally time to try the food. I decided to head south of the border.

The two tacos I had with cheese, salsa and sour cream were the bomb. The flavor, the crunch of the taco, the spicy salsa and the melted cheese were just right. It was far better than any school lunch I had ever eaten.

If I had access to all this goodness while I was in school, I would have definitely taken advantage of the free lunch program.

Recreating Richmond’s Home Front

Photo Essay, Ann Bassette

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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‘Youth of Color’ Voting Still Critical in Competitive Political Races

Youth voter turnout in North Carolina, including a sizeable segment of ethnic voters, will play a critical role in determining whether Democratic incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan retains her seat against Republican challenger, state House Speaker Thom Tillis, according to data on the voting patterns of youth of color.

“The issue of the youth vote in North Carolina is related to but not identical to issues of race and ethnicity, but North Carolina’s young voters, ages 18 to 30 years old, are more diverse than its older voters. So who votes in this November’s election will be important to the outcome,” said Peter Levine, the director of the Center for Information & Research on Civic and Learning Engagement (CIRCLE), a nonpartisan institute based at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

In addition to North Carolina, states where the youth vote could affect the outcome in November’s competitive political races include Alaska, Colorado, and Louisiana, according to an analysis CIRCLE released in August. CIRCLE’s data on African American, Asian American, and Hispanic youth show the complexities at play in ways that may challenge common assumptions about what motivates youth to become civically engaged or affiliate with a political party.

For example, the data show “a significant percentage of African American men more often identify as conservatives, given the choice of ‘are you a liberal, moderate, or conservative,’” Levine said, as opposed to African American women, who more often tend to self-identify as liberal. Gender differences are not only apparent in choice of political party, but in how they view their personal involvement.

Though young women of color have typically higher rates of civic engagement than men as measured by volunteerism, they are “still less likely to see themselves as political leaders,” Levine said, adding that this view is fairly consistent with women across all ethnic groups.

The contrasts between different groups of youth can be striking. Data from 2010 shows that nearly 40 percent of young Latinos are “civically alienated” in terms of voter registration and voter turnout, falling behind African American and white youth. Yet, young Latina women were among the strongest supporters of President Obama in 2012.

Asian American youth were the next largest group to be “civically alienated” (just over 30 percent), but they led all groups in terms of donations to political causes (17 percent).

The data illuminates the tension between the idealistic goal of broadening youth participation in politics and the need of political parties to win at the ballot box by devising ways to decrease support for their opponents. That is certainly the case in North Carolina where the youth vote surged in the 2008 presidential election but ebbed in the 2010 midterm election, resulting in a Republican-dominated legislature that has sought to impose limits on youth voting.

“The swing in the electorate from election to election is a fascinating story in North Carolina,” Levine said, “but it is really a story of youth engagement and participation in voting. North Carolina shows that the youth vote does matter in competitive races.”

Levine said the youth vote may be critical in Louisiana as well. African American youth comprise about 40 percent of the state’s approximately 300,000 voting-age citizens overall, though only about one-third of the voters. “That’s still a significant bloc of voters,” Levine said. Should they vote en masse for embattled Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu, it could yield the margin of victory to propel her to another six-year term.

Louisiana underscores the stakes for Democrats in this midterm election as to whether their party can retain control of the U.S. Senate when the House of Representatives already has a Republican majority that can impede President Obama’s legislative agenda.

Levine’s observations are that the younger voters tend to be more liberal on social issues, like supporting gay rights or immigration reform, but that political operatives from either party shouldn’t take the youth vote for granted. “Youth of color voters have diverse interests, and as young people, their votes are often unpredictable,” he said.

DACA Recipients Grateful for Present, Uncertain About Future

Story and Video • Edgardo Cervano-Soto


Manuel Martinez thought his future would follow the life of his father. When he was 17, he thought he’d work in construction after high school. Despite living in Richmond since the age of one, Martinez didn’t think he had many options because of his undocumented status.

Farther north, in Modesto, Yaquelin Valencia, a Kennedy High School graduate, spent a lot of her time driving around the Central Valley. She was 20 years old and passionate about organizing immigrant communities. She was also undocumented, and ineligible for a driver’s license.

On June 15, 2012, President Obama authored a memorandum that would alter the course of the two youngsters’ lives, along with the lives of hundreds of thousands in similar situations. The order granted young immigrants who met specific criteria the chance to apply for what is essentially a temporary reprieve from deportation, or the threat of it.

The administrative policy had an innocuous name, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Those eligible for DACA are granted an opportunity to apply for a work permit and a social security number.

Valencia and Martinez applied for DACA within months of its announcement and both were granted DACA status.

“January 22, 2013, I got a letter in the mail,” Martinez recalled. “My mom cried. She told me how proud she was that I was now an ‘American;’ that I finally belonged in the country.” With a year and a half remaining of high school, Martinez kicked into high gear, re-committing himself to his studies and reconsidering the possibility of what life could be like after graduation.

The last two-plus years since DACA went into effect have impacted the lives of eligible undocumented people, making opportunities such as employment and higher education accessible to many for the first time.

DACA generated national interest when it was announced. It was celebrated as an accomplishment for DREAMers and their supporters, those who advocated for immigration reform for the young undocumented community in the United States.

Obama and Democrats throughout the country, who’d earlier been polling low with Latinos, also enjoyed benefits from the DACA announcement. Obama was re-elected to the presidency a few months later, due in part to a reinvigorated Latino electorate—71 percent of Latinos voted for him that year.

Immigration rights organizations sprung into gear, helping potential applicants throughout the country apply. According to the American Immigration Council, a non-partisan and independent think tank, approximately 670,000 people have applied for DACA, with nearly 550,000 of those applicants approved.

In Richmond, Heather Wolf, an attorney at Catholic Charities of the East Bay, said her office has processed 300 applications and pre-screened over a thousand at workshops. She said the Richmond numbers were substantial.

Despite the boom in applications, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services estimates that of the 1.2 million people eligible for DACA, half a million of them have yet to apply. A fee of $465 for a work permit, and a requirement that all application information be forwarded to USCIS may explain why some are reluctant to apply.

Valencia, who assisted Catholic Charities of the East Bay with the pre-screening process, and is a long time immigration rights advocate, used to be among them.

“My understanding of it was that we were going to get a temporary work permit for two years,” she said. “Well, what’s going to happen after two years? What’s going to happen if it gets revoked?”

Those questions persist, but the effect of DACA on the lives of those who’ve received it is undeniable.

“I haven’t had anyone come through, who didn’t go out and immediately get a job or enroll full time in school, or is saving money to go to a four-year college,” Wolf said. “They have all been very productive and inspiring.”

As for Valencia, DACA allowed her to obtain a driver’s license and enroll full time in school.

“I think my mom had a sense of relief that I would be driving around now safely,” Valencia said.

Today she drives herself to school and gives colleagues rides to community meetings. After being elected to serve on the board of the Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization, CCISCO, an organization she’d previously volunteered at, Valencia said she drives to Antioch for board meetings with a new sense of security and confidence.

“I feel much safer having a driver’s license,” she said, adding, “When I see an officer I still get a little nervous when they are behind me and I know they are checking my tags, but I know that because I have insurance and a driver’s license….I should be okay if they were to stop me.

After receiving DACA, Martinez completely changed the course of his educational career. With the help of his teachers, he increased his grade point average, ending his senior year with an acceptance letter from San Francisco State University. Martinez is now studying computer science at SFSU. But, a recent interaction at school reminded him of the limits of DACA.

“Even though I have a social security number, I still don’t qualify for many types of financial aid, many scholarships and some types of jobs,” Martinez said.
“I kind of feel like this is not a full measure, this is a half measure,” he said. “I am at a disadvantage for no reason again.”

Immigrant rights activists criticize the DACA program because it does not provide a path to citizenship. Now in its third year, those who received DACA status early on need to renew their applications.

According to USCIS, the participation rates of Asian American and Pacific Islanders have been remarkably low. For instance, of the 27,000 from the Philippines who were eligible, only 3,874 applied. Among Koreans, only 7,741 of the 26,000 eligible applied.

The uncertainty of whether immigration reform will become a reality during the last two years of Obama’s presidency, and the possibility of Republicans gaining control of the house following the November elections, puts many on edge. They worry that a shift in the political makeup of Washington could reverse their lives once again.

“DACA just opened so many doors,” said Wolf, of the people she’s seen come through her office in Richmond. “It would be really tragic to see the program shut down.”

Dr. Chris Zepeda-Millán, a political scientist and professor at the University of California at Berkeley, believes that concern for the program is warranted.

“The limit of DACA is that it’s not permanent,” he said. “If Republicans win this election, there is nothing stopping Congress from passing anti-immigrant bills.”

In fact, recent studies show the likelihood of Republicans picking up more seats is increasing, as Latino support for Obama and Democrats falls.

“With the mass deportations, and President Obama postponing executive action, it is actually suppressing the Latino vote,” Zepeda-Millán said. “If Republicans win the presidential election in two years, all this can disappear.”

Martinez and Valencia have taken advantage of DACA’s short-term benefits, but the future remains clouded, and citizenship still elusive.

“It frustrates me because I remember the first line I read on DACA was ‘this is not a road to citizenship,’ which is my ultimate goal,” Martinez said. “Because I feel as American as I can feel.”

The Power of Being Outside

By Zaira Sierra

For over four years, I’ve worked with Richmond families. I’ve volunteered with Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization assisting undocumented youth with their Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) applications and Building Blocks for Kids where I was part of the Community Engagement and Advocacy Team. Recently, I joined the Youth Enrichment Strategies, Nature to Neighborhoods family.

In the short time I have been at Y.E.S. as a summer camp assistant, I’ve seen the love, support and guidance Y.E.S. provides for this community. I feel families connect to Y.E.S. because they find it shares the same values they do.

Parents want their children to grow up safe, educated and successful. I know this because of the conversations I’ve had with parents whose children attended camp through Y.E.S. They know that summer camp contributes to the growth and development of their children.

Of all the parents I met, one stands out: Rocio Villa.

Villa’s son, Saul attended camp through Y.E.S. last summer. Before he came, Villa said Saul, 11, didn’t want to go. He was hesitant about attending the two week long camp and was nervous about being away from his family for so long.

Right before we were about to leave for camp, Saul came to the Y.E.S. office and said he wanted to go. Faced with the choice of going to camp or being homebound for the summer, he worked up the nerve to be away from his family.

10384298_10203446116926774_2399815331618954666_nThis summer Saul ended up attending two weeks of camp at Hidden Villa in Los Altos. The camp is at an organic farm. It’s a place where kids go to have a farm experience with animals and an organic garden.

When Saul returned to Richmond, tears ran down his face as he hugged his Mom. He said he enjoyed the experience but he was homesick towards the end. He told her how much he missed her and his father.

A week later, Villa called to ask if Saul could return to camp. I was surprised—sure that Saul had experienced enough camp for the summer. Villa said Saul was bored back at home. She said he told her, ‘Mom, by this time at camp we had already hiked and played a lot of games.’

The many camp activities filled his day and now instead of missing home, he missed camp. Villa said Saul missed the fun activities, the structure and the schedule.

Saul’s parents want the best for him and realize how essential it is for him to attend summer camp. At first, all they expected was for him to enjoy himself. Now, they notice how much camp has contributed to building his character. He shares with them what he learned about the outdoors, the natural environment, and they notice his growing independence. He is more independent and puts more effort into doing well at school. He’s also no longer scared of being alone.

Opportunities for youth can be costly and difficult to find. The gift Y.E.S. provides youth is something hard to measure. Skills learned at camp help young people with all aspects of life.

Like Saul, kids are able to develop their communication skills, become independent and grow their appreciation of the outdoors. All of these skills might be taught at school, or by family, but camp has a way of enhancing them.

I have listened and seen how one week of sleep-away camp transforms youth. Stories like Saul’s are proof that Y.E.S. is contributing to the development, education and success of our Richmond youth.

After having such a great experience the first week, and getting used to the busy scheduled, Saul ended up attending another week long camp at Loma Mar where he enjoyed zip lining, archery, climbing wall and swimming.

He said he’s looking forward to next year’s camp too.

Training Tomorrow’s Richmond Leaders Starts Today

Commentary, Vernon Whitmore


Approaching the November’s elections, I have been thinking more and more about Richmond’s future, not just after this year’s votes are cast, but in the years and generations to come. When I look at Richmond’s government today, one thing is clear: this city has a lot of older statesman. Richmond’s current city leaders need to look to the future and begin to think about the next generation of elected officials.

To ensure that the city’s future politicians are prepared to lead, what I propose is a Mentorship Program. As Chair of the Richmond Business Political Action Committee, an appointed committee of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, our team interviewed all the 2014 mayoral and city council candidates for office in Richmond. I was excited to see new and younger faces declare their candidacy for political office. But as the interviews proceeded it was evident that the new candidates did not fully understand the political process. However, if these candidates have the gumption to get out there, let’s see if we can sharpen their political acumen and prepare them for Richmond politics.

This sort of education has happened before. I remember when former City Councilman Jim McMillan reached out to a number of potential candidates like former Mayor Irma Anderson and former Councilmember and current EBMUD Director Lesa McIntosh. He saw young, budding personalities and told them that he thought they would be excellent candidates for office. Jim connected with them and he helped them. More than just saying that someone should run, Jim was right there every step of the way guiding and informing them of the political process.

Now it’s time for others to carry the torch and take it even further.

I believe a forum between the established figures and the younger generation is the first step of the process. This will allow us to see where their true passions lie and why they’re interested in politics. What is driving first time candidates to run for a seat in the November 2014 Richmond City Council election. What motivates them?

The second step will be introducing these new political hopefuls to civic leaders in the political arena. Knowing the main players and knowing the landscape is essential. They must understand the 5 ‘W’s’: Who, What, Where, When and Why of politics. It’s good to want to be an elected official, but you have to educate yourself and be prepared for that role.

When I look around at today’s up and coming political crowd, I see that they have an established network, but are too unprepared to jump into the ring. For them to succeed, we need to discover where our interests connect, and where our differences lie. Only by teaming up will we be able to create the best possible future for Richmond. We have to start now preparing for the 2016 election.

Vernon Whitmore is the Chair of the Richmond Business Political Action Committee. 

This article is reprinted with permission from Radio Free Richmond.

The Push to Register Young Voters

by Luis Cubas

It’s no secret that one of the groups least likely to register, or vote, is the youth. Now, a local group is hoping to help change that trend.

September 23 is National Voter Registration Day, a nationwide campaign coordinated with volunteers and organizations to educate and reach out to to voters, while guiding them step by step through the registration process and helping them find their voting location.

In Richmond, one of the organizations helping to register voters on National Voter Registration Day is the local chapter of the League of Women Voters, a national nonprofit aimed at increasing civic involvement.

“We do some advocacy work in that we encourage people to vote in ways that are most equitable and democratic,” said Kia Croom, President of the League of Women Voters West Contra Costa County. “The other part is our voters services in which we get people registered to vote.”

Croom said there are many barriers young people face when it comes to voting. They include, not understand the process, believing that their vote doesn’t matter, feeling that they don’t have a wide variety of choices, and not feeling engaged by politicians.

“Nowadays, I feel like being able to vote just means picking the candidate that’s going to make our situation in the United States of America a little less bad,” 21-year old Anthony Martinez said when asked what voting meant to him.

But, after years of high-profile events showing injustices levied on young people, some younger, would be voters are finding new interest in political involvement.

“I would say events like Ferguson have made me think about politics a lot more,” Christopher Velazquez, 21, said, referencing the shooting of an unarmed, black teenager in Ferguson, MO earlier this summer. “If the community really had a strong say in what happens in their community, things like this would be avoided.”

In order to make a difference and bring change in their communities, many young people have come to understand what a difference their vote can make.

“The injustice that has been happening throughout the U.S. makes me reconsider voting in order to create a positive change and makes me want to have a safer community for my family and friends,” Dalia Ramos, 20, said.

For other young people, the problem of registration is first the hurdle. “I’ve only voted once and that was the Presidential vote,” Xavier Polk, 20, said. “I do not remember the steps.”

It’s voters like Polk that the League of Women Voters is hoping to reach during its Sept. 23 registration drive. To this end, the group will set up three locations throughout West Contra Costa County.

“We will be tabling at local campuses, at local high schools and even at Contra Costa College because we want to encourage as many young people and young adults as possible to get registered to vote,” she said.

At 9:00 a.m., volunteers will be at Contra Costa College, located on 2600 Mission Bell Drive. At noon, they’ll have two booths running at the same time. One at Richmond High School, 1250 23rd street, and the other at Kennedy High School, 4300 Cutting Blvd.

In 2008, six million Americans did not vote, many because they missed the registration deadline, or because they did not know how to register, according the National Voter Registration Day website.


For more information, and to register to vote, visit the National Voter Registration Day website at http://www.nationalvoterregistrationday.org and the League Of Women Voters at http://www.lwv.org.