Local Students Get Loud With Poetry

During his junior year at Kennedy High School, Anderson Esteban learned about Poetry Out Loud, but since only seniors can present, he helped out and waited.

This year, his senior year, Esteban read “The Last Laugh” by Wilfred Owen, a poem about young men dying on the battlefield. “I like history a lot and it was interesting to me,” he said.

In front of fellow students, parents, teachers, peers, and administrators in the library at Kennedy High School on Jan. 26, Esteban was deemed the winner of the site competition.

An initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts, Poetry Out Loud encourages students to learn about poetry through memorization, performance, and competition, helping them master public speaking skills and build self-confidence.

Poetry Out Loud is a site, regional, state and national competition where students are able to recite poetry in front of judges. The Kennedy site competition was arranged by AP English literature teacher Ian Bader and his students.

Bader said that he wanted to give students an interactive assignment that they would enjoy. Bader said Poetry Out Loud can give his students public speaking skills and bring the community together to see it.

Kennedy had 11 students compete at the site level to go on to the county competition. The students rehearsed, performed, and actively expressed their favorite poems and the audience responded with thunderous applause.

“Poetry Out Loud inspired me to go out and do more pieces of poetry and be able to go to an open mic,” Ursula Cabriales, a senior and one of the final candidates at Kennedy, said.

While Esteban took first place at the site competition, a scheduling conflict prevented him from taking part in the countywide competition. Though he would have liked to compete further and represent his school, he also has plans to join the Marines Corps and is mandated to go to training.

“I feel good [that we are represented at county] because it shows that Kennedy is not just a ghetto school,” Esteban said. “We are doing something.”

Instead, the runner-up, Luis Arzate, a fellow senior at Kennedy, took his place at county competition. Bader joined Arzate on an early Saturday morning to compete with nine other students around the county.

“Going into high school, I didn’t like poetry at all until he showed me William Blake, who’s now my favorite poet,” Arzate said. “I think just that introduction into it really opens your eyes. The county one is more real. I had a lot of fun.”

In the end, students from other counties took home top prizes at the regional competition. The Poetry Out Loud state finals are scheduled for March 18-19 in Sacramento.

Convening Brings Parent Leaders Together

On a cold Saturday morning in January, parents and children were greeted with warm hugs and soft smiles from other parents and community leaders at the Nevin Community Center. About 60 parents from various ethnic backgrounds, with children in schools around Richmond, gathered to celebrate local parents’ commitment to making schools better and their role as community leaders.

Hosted by Healthy Richmond — a coalition of community organizations, resident leaders, and advocates — the event, titled Time to Celebrate Richmond Parent Power Convening, was aimed at increasing parental engagement and honoring those who are actively involved in their children’s schools and advocating for changes in the school district.

Healthy Richmond, part of the California Endowment’s Building Healthy Communities initiative, focuses each year on developing projects in the community to build lasting health equity.

Ryan Bealer, project coordinator and communications specialist with Healthy Richmond, said the event was intended to address barriers parents and students encounter at school and create a platform for parents to share stories about what they are doing to make changes in the school district. Bealer said he he hoped people would leave feeling connected to a larger community of support.

“The event itself was led by the parents to try and hold space for celebration and storytelling in order to spark new connections between parent leaders and parents who are looking to find ways to advocate for their children,” he said.

 Featured speakers Wendy Lopez, a parent volunteer, Blanca Hernandez, program director at YES! Nature to Neighborhoods and Zelon Harrison, a parent advocate, all spoke about challenges they’ve faced in schools and how they have effectively advocated in the district.

Hernandez described the barriers she experienced while growing up in San Diego as the only Latina in her class. Her experience with racism and discrimination in education resonated deeply with many parents in the room.

“We are lucky to be in this community full of support,” Hernandez said. “You are not alone.”

Harrison shared her story of raising several successful children, all while dealing with the impacts of poverty and violence. “It took my children feeling loved, feeling safe, having a place to grow and get their education,” she said, followed by applause from the audience.

Other speakers shared what they think is working well and what could be better with the West Contra Costa Unified School District. Many said that creating change in the district requires everyone working together. A crucial first step is getting everyone together, to let them know they are not alone.

Attendee Myisha Dozier, a mother with a daughter at Richmond College Prep and another at El Cerrito High School, said she grew up on the south side of Richmond surrounded by “nothing but negativity.”

“Each of the cousins I grew up with, neither of them made it out of high school,” Dozier said. “All of them are pretty smart people,” she added. “Generation after generation we are watching our kids fail. It’s time for some kind of change.”

Dozier said she really connected with the speakers at the convening. “[They grew up] going to different public schools and [they] got the same outcome from all of it,” she said. “Not really anybody there pushing you to graduate, pushing you to be somebody in life. I connected to that.”

Parents also discussed, amongst themselves, what they thought of the speakers’ experiences, analyzing how they related to it and what they believed would be best for families in Richmond.

Ana Villanueva, a mother with a son and daughter at Grant Elementary, has volunteered at her children’s school for six years. Villanueva said events like this one give parents courage to fight for an equitable education for their kids.

“This event motivates us more as parents to keep fighting for the wellbeing of our children and the whole community,” she said. “In our community, we have children who do not have a voice. We are that voice for those children.”

Parent leaders planned the festivities in just four weeks. Healthy Richmond recruited a group of local parents: Alicia Jackson, Guadalupe Calvario and Mark Saephan. Calling themselves the Plan It Team, they met once a week for three weeks until the event. They also served as emcees and said they were happy with the end result.

“I am a parent volunteer and I work with the different non-profits. It’s the same people, just in different locations,” Calvario said. “This event is a chance to bring everyone together. Plant it down, see who we all are and start working together.”

Following the success of the meeting, the Plan It Team and Healthy Richmond intend to continue bringing families together annually in similar events. They hope to build strong connections between parents and showcase the work they’re doing.

For those in attendance, it was also an opportunity to address feelings of disconnection and isolation and to help open up space where issues affecting parents can be talked about with compassion.

“I would like to see us fighting for our community and what is happening in our community,” Dozier said. “I would like to see a walk or a march with Hispanics and Blacks together. I think that would be so strong and it would send a message to our government right now. We will not stand by and [watch] one race after another get attacked. We will fight together.”

Being Head of the Class Offers New Perspective

It’s the first day of school. I’m nervous.

I’ve been thinking about this day for a while now. I want to make a good impression. I put on my t-shirt and my pants, and I head over to Kennedy High School. I come to school early and countdown the time until class begins.

I’ve done this before, but this time it’s different. I am the instructor. I was born and raised in Richmond and went to district schools. For my own K-12 experience, I attended Nystrom Elementary, Lovonya DeJean Middle and Leadership Public Schools. I know the drill.

Having been in a student in the district myself, I’m knowledgeable about the community and the students I would be teaching. I knew, however, that every day is a learning experience for me. I learn how to better serve my students with every chance I get to be in front of them. I teach Digital Arts.   

I took Media Studies classes as an undergrad at UC Berkeley. As a college student, there is only so much you can learn in the classroom. I began searching for ways that I could apply what I was learning. I starting working for several outlets, including The New York TimesThe Daily Californian, a startup called Prynt, LA School Report, and Fusion. Once I knew that I was going to be an educator, I was so happy to share what I learned.

I spent most of my summer planning for this. I knew that I had to set high expectations for my students and share the knowledge and skills that I have used in the industry. I did forget how technologically illiterate I was in high school. That was apparent in the first day.

Students are comfortable with their phones. Putting a computer in front of them, however, was a bit of a shock that first day.For some, it was one of their first times typing.

I knew I had to slow down and work with my students individually to show them how to effectively use their computers.

As a student, you don’t think about these little things. I recalled thinking how my teachers were so forgetful. What I didn’t realize is that they were concerned with fulfilling the needs of about 180 students. They have more than 90 conversations a day on a block schedule and 180 on a seven-period schedule.

In high school, I really admired the teachers that had classroom management down to a T. Those teachers were able to keep the room quiet and on task. That’s still important today, but I have a lot of empathy for the teachers that struggled to keep complete command of a classroom. It takes a lot of patience that, to be completely honest, I did not initially know I had.

I grew up dreading getting paired up in group projects with what teachers and students alike identified as “troubled students.” Those students needed the most help. I knew that in high school but not to the depth that I realize now.

Now that I am a teacher, I connect with my underserved students the most. I know the struggles they face and how far my encouraging words can go. I support all my students, but the conversations that make the biggest difference are centered around how they can best be model citizens.

I can’t wait to see where my students will be in a few years, and I am happy to lead them through that journey. I couldn’t have picked a better space to express and connect with my community. I love my job as a teacher at Kennedy High School.

‘Crime Prevention is Everyone’s Responsibility’

In the past 10 years, crime and violence has overall been trending downward in Richmond. Along with the police department’s community policing efforts, residents and community organizations have all played a role in lowering the city’s crime rate.

Richmond Police Lt. Felix Tan says one thing that has helped is the relationship between police and residents who are willing to be the eyes and ears of the neighborhood. It encourages people to report crimes as they’re occurring.

“Crime prevention is everyone responsibility,” Tan said. “The department can lead in it, but we need everyone to participate.”

Tan would know. He was among 10 people honored at the Crime Prevention awards banquet on October 21 at the Recreation complex. The banquet also celebrated the partnership between RPD and the community. This included honoring civilians and officers for their dedication to Richmond.

Along with Tan, RPD staff recognized for outstanding service in crime prevention included Officer Jameiz Terrell, Officer Savannah Stewart, Lt. Sean Pickett (retired), and Lt. Joseph Schlemmer.

On the flip side of the community-police coin, citizens recognized for outstanding service were volunteers of the year Jessie West, Vivian Williams and Madalyn Law. Tony and Maria Maura of Portumex, and Sergio Rios of Bob’s Cleaners were recognized as businesses of the year.

In Richmond, the roots of the current Crime Prevention Executive Board effort started about thirty years ago with Richmond residents Myrtle and Abraham Braxton. It started with community activism and eventually spawned neighborhood watch groups. Now, the Crime Prevention Executive Board aims to reduce crime with a focus on education, organizing and promoting safety.

Crime Prevention board members Karla and Al Perez first got involved about 10 years ago when their apartment complex registered nearly 100 shootings in a single year.

“We’ll do whatever it takes to get this community back,” Karla Perez said. “People don’t need to be afraid. It takes a village and people need to start standing up.”

Awardee Officer Jameiz Terrell, who works in the Southern District, became aware of the “crime-free” housing on her beat, a crime prevention program designed to eliminate crime and/or drug violence in apartment complexes. This caused Terrell to reach out to be a part of the crime prevention action.

“I just wanted to build a good relationship with the community there. I want to know the individuals over there,” she said.

Terrell says that while there can be a perceived negative stereotype of police officers, she has hope for the work that the officers in Richmond do.

“We’re always a police department trying to be better, strive for, I know you can’t be perfect, but we strive for perfection,” she said. “We’re always moving in a positive direction.”

While some crime numbers have improved, namely gang-related activity, Officer Savannah Stewart says other areas of crime prevention need attention.

“What people don’t realize is that there is still a lot of domestic violence and sexual assaults occurring,” Stewart said. “The shootings may have gone down, the property crime might have gone down a little bit but that comes in spurts.”

Captain Al Walle said, typically in most other places, first responders only go to a neighborhood to take a report “and that’s about the level service they provide.”

“The Richmond Police Department tries to take a more holistic approach,” he said. “We’re trying to break these patterns of victimization or violence.”

One way of doing that is by taking victims of violence alongside officers to share their story with neighbors to ultimately drive home a core message.

“Don’t be a victim, be a victor,” Tan said.

If you’re interested in getting involved, the Richmond Crime Prevention Executive Board meets every third Wednesday of the month at the Richmond Recreation Center.

RYSE Festival Showcases Films Tackling Social Justice Issues Through Youth Lens

RYSE Youth Center’s third annual film festival on October 28 showcased the works of youth filmmakers, exploring themes dealing with a range of complex issues, including social justice, gender equity and human rights.

The short films, up to12 minutes in length, were made and produced by local and international filmmakers between the ages of 13 and 24 to highlight justice. The film festival’s aim was to give youth a platform to share their truth, tell stories of injustice and hope, and provide visions of equity in the world.

In total 29 short films, animations and music videos were chosen for the showcase by the judges. Nearly a hundred audience members attended the event.

Stephanie Medley, Education and Justice Director at RYSE, said she has enjoyed seeing the festival grow and gain recognition over the years.

“This year we had 800 plus submissions compared to our first year where we had 60,” Medley said. “Additionally we opened submissions so we could showcase out of state and international spotlights.”

Lilly Chen of Bay Area of Legal Aid’s Youth Justice Team was one of 11 volunteer judges for the festival. She judged films in the documentary and narrative categories.

“Each judge got 15 to 20 short films to view in different categories,” she said. “The films ran the gamut, all different types of genres, different media, different geography/location.”

Chen said her favorite films were “Hands Up,” by Michael Love and “A Life Like This,” by Isaiah Tour. “Those really stood out to me,” she said.

“Hands Up” won the Best Narrative Short category by filmmakers ages 19 to 24. The story centers on a young black man from Inglewood who is struggling with the recent loss of his father from police brutality.

Another guest in attendance, Henrissa Bassey, had a few films stand out to her too. “School to Prison,” by Idaliah Chavez and Ernie Terrazas Jr., members of RYSE, received an honorable mention in the Best Narrative Short by ages 13 to 18 category. Their film focused on how the actions and words of people in a young person’s life can affect their outcomes in life.

“I liked the juxtaposition between what could happen and what usually does happen,” Bassey said of the film. “And that it was all from the young woman’s perspective.”

“I think it’s important when we are talking about a system of racism, and all that comes with it, to not just make it this abstract thing that no one has any control over,” Bassey said. “She focused on the day-to-day and how people can actually change their actions.”

After the showcase, RYSE staff awarded a raffle to attendees with prizes including shirts, gift cards and home decor. Audience members took part in the awarding too, by voting on a showcased work to receive $1,500. Filmmaker and rapper Leo walked away with that prize for his music video, “Plus,” about an overworked young father fighting mental illness.

Chen said that overall the event was eye-opening and rejuvenating.

“The films were very inspirational and moving,” she said. “I was really impressed with the breadth of different issues that were covered and how thoughtful they were.”

Medley, who helped facilitate the event, said that the importance of film festivals like this are their ability to create a platform for young people to express their views on critical issues in ways other mediums can’t quite capture.

“Being able to go on a journey with them and seeing what they see through the camera is inspiring,” she said, adding that the festival’s location in Richmond is another point of importance.

New California Bill Would Help Protect Undocumented Workers

A new bill being proposed in California would increase protections for undocumented workers.

Currently, employers have the right to refuse to let ICE agents into their workplace without a warrant.

The Immigrant Worker Protection Act, AB 450, would make it a requirement for employers to ask immigration enforcement officials for a warrant before allowing them to enter a workplace. Employers would also be required to ask for a subpoena before handing over any private information about workers.

“These protections are critical because we know that enforcement actions at the worksite have really serious negative implications for workers at that worksite,” said Michael Young, a legislative advocate for California Labor Federation, which co-sponsored the bill.

Young spoke on a recent telebriefing hosted by Ready California and New America Media.

“When immigration enforcement actions happen at the worksite, you typically see the result of that is a downward repress on wages and working conditions for all workers at the workplace regardless of immigration status,” Young said. “The threat of immigration raids prevents workers from wanting to complain or take advantage of state remedies or federal remedies to workplace violations.”

Undocumented communities are increasingly worried as they see reports of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids in homes and the workplaces. In California, where there are over 2.6 million undocumented immigrants, immigration officials have targeted areas with a high density of Latino communities such as Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area.

“The tools that Immigration [and Customs Enforcement] is using have been the same that they have been in the past,” said Grizel Ruiz, staff attorney at the national nonprofit Immigrant Legal Resource Center. “We still see … cooperation between local enforcement and federal immigration officials.”

Since the election, there has been a heightened sense of urgency in immigrant communities.

“What we are seeing is a normalization of violence across the board immediately after the election of Trump,” said Cal Soto, national workers rights coordinator for National Day Labor Organizing Network. “There is an increase of hate crimes, openly and on corners. There is clearly an emboldened segment of the population that now thought they have the backing of full force of the federal government.”

“There is a newfound fear since the election,” added Ruiz. “That, coupled with reports of increased enforcement practices on the ground, have left a real lasting impact in the community.”

But when it comes to implementing his plans, Ruiz said, the Trump administration is constrained by their budget.

“Even though the current administration has put a laser focus on immigration, it is important to note that for the president to fully play out his plan, it actually requires quite a bit of funding from Congress,” Ruiz said. “He is still working with the budget that there was before.”

Meanwhile, there are steps immigrant families and business owners can take to secure their finances, such as protecting their credit and saving their money.

“There are three main steps that we would like to share with the community,” explained Mohan Kanungo, director of programs and engagement for Mission Asset Fund. “The first is how to protect your money. The second is how to protect your belongings. The third is to create an emergency plan. Within all of these categories, to really think about an action plan.”

New Play About 1940s North Richmond Gets Rave Reviews

An original play written by 23-year-old Richmond resident DeAndre Evans takes the audience back to what it was like to live in North Richmond in the 1940s. Richmond Renaissance, performed by young people from Richmond’s RYSE Center, debuted at the El Cerrito High School Performing Arts Theater to a sold-out crowd that gave the actors a standing ovation.

To open the show, Randy Joseph of RYSE introduced Betty Reid-Soskin, the oldest serving park ranger. In her remarks, Reid-Soskin mentioned how essential Richmond was to the success of World War II. Henry Kaiser built 747 ships in 1942 to “turn the world [war] around.”

“I bet you did not know that Richmond saved the world,” said Reid-Soskin. “Young people on the stage tonight will bring that history back.”

That is just what they did.

To begin the play, the audience hears real-life testimonies on an audio recording from Robert Ellison and Elmer Williams, about how Richmond was a very popular destination in that era.

Richmond Renaissance takes place in the bustling 1940s, and centers on a fictional nightclub run by Annabelle, a Louisiana migrant who moved to North Richmond. One of Annabelle’s table waitresses, Lucinda, had a troubled past but found comfort when she found Annabelle’s.

Lucinda and her brother LeRoy traveled from the south after their parents died. Their story and the storylines of other characters highlight how difficult it was for people of color to own businesses and make a living.

The play references historical events such as the Black Wallstreet in Oklahoma, the Great Depression and the Ku Klux Klan.

While the play is journey into the past, Evans says the gentrification happening now in Richmond and the Bay Area was on his mind as he wrote the play.

“The theme is community and ownership,” Evans said. “How we need to come together and love one another. We need to control ourselves and have control of the property. The reason we are moving out of Richmond is because we don’t own where we at.”

Claudia Jimenez, a community organizer in Richmond who was in the audience, said her favorite part of the play was the passion of the main character Annabelle, a woman of color surrounded by women.

“It was beautiful to see the Richmond community gather together for this kind of event,” said Jimenez. “I saw many people that I work with, my neighbors… It was really valuable to get people to gather around art and celebrating Richmond’s history.”

“People still say, ‘You don’t want to go to Richmond,’” said Richmond City Council Member Melvin Willis, who was also in the audience. “Richmond is continuing to make history by the ban of DeVos, increasing the minimum wage, or writing to Congress to impeach Trump. That’s the type of story that doesn’t get told,” he said. “Plays like this highlight the rich history and culture.”

Evans says he will continue to write screenplays for RYSE Center and his companions will continue to support him along the way.

“I needed to tell a story about our history and start with the city I was raised in,” said Evans, “and then we can take it somewhere.”

DVD’s of the play will be available for sale soon. Check RYSE’s website at http://rysecenter.org.

How the Teacher Shortage Affects Richmond Students

I remember going to school in Richmond as a kid, only to find too often that there was no teacher for us. One of my most memorable instructors in middle school at Lovonya DeJean was actually a long-term substitute. There was a teacher vacancy in my science class for an entire school year.

These vacancies made me feel like the district didn’t care about me or my peers. It recently made the students at Richmond High feel the same way. They came to the first school board meetings in January to testify about their experience. As students, we were insulted that we had been robbed of our learning time.

Seventy-five percent of California’s schools are facing a teacher shortage, according to Desiree Carver-Thomas, research and policy associate at Learning Policy Institute, a non-profit research organization based in Palo Alto. This is due to a “leaky bucket,” she said, in which there are more teachers leaving the profession than there are coming in.

And communities like Richmond are among the hardest hit.

“Teacher shortages disproportionately impact disadvantaged students,” Carver-Thomas said. “They have the greatest impact on low-income students, minority students, and English Language Learners.”

Carver-Thomas spoke on a panel on May 2, organized by my fellow Students for Education (SFER) members. More than 60 teachers, parents, district leaders, and community members joined us to discuss how to address the problem of teacher shortages in Richmond.

The panel was moderated by Superintendent Matt Duffy, along with SFER alumna and program coordinator Raquel Antolin.

The event was part of a Teach Richmond campaign we launched earlier this year to raise awareness in the community about the urgency of this issue, and to do our part to work with the district and other community partners to brainstorm solutions.

We launched the campaign after attending a school board meeting last December, when students from Richmond High gave heartfelt testimonies about teacher vacancies in their classrooms. Their stories hit close to home for many of us SFER members, including myself. Even though we are in college now, we remembered what it was like to go to a school that doesn’t have enough teachers, and wanted to do something to spark action on this critical issue.

For us, the panel was a chance to bring this conversation to the community and to acknowledge the crucial role that teachers play in our lives.

“Our teachers are our direct line to students. We have to invest in them,” said Katherine Acosta-Verprauskus, principal of Montalvin Manor Elementary School in San Pablo.

Elora Henderson, a special education and intervention teacher at Lincoln Elementary School in Richmond, added, “As a SPED teacher, I have not met a single [special education] teacher who doesn’t want to support kids. A lot comes from funding, budget, etc. I encourage all parents to get involved with the budget committee.”

Farihah Hossain, a former teacher at Dover Elementary in Richmond and current teacher at KIPP Bridge Academy, commented that while she loved the teachers at her school in Richmond and that they were all wonderful, she did not feel like she was realizing a vision for students. She said she often felt that her work was on “an island.”

Panelists and community members voiced the importance of investing in creating positive change to improve teacher retention.

“This event is one step on the mission to solving the teacher shortage problem,” explained SFER member Anthony Caro. “There are many ways to get involved– going to community events such as this, planning community events, going to school board meetings, talking to our school board members, talking to our teachers, and talking to our principals. We can’t do anything without discussion, and that’s what tonight was about.”

We encourage the community to join the conversation and help us in the fight for educational justice by following us on social media FacebookTwitter, and Instagram and post using the hashtag #TeachRichmond.

Together, we can shine a spotlight on the infinite impact that quality teachers make on all of our lives. 

Dogs and Their Owners Love Point Isabel Dog Park

If you have yet to visit Point Isabel Regional Shoreline in Richmond, it is a sight to see. Point Isabel, a 23-acre dog park with an additional 20 acres right alongside a stunning view of the San Francisco Bay Area, is the one of the largest off-leash dog parks in the United States.

The park is a local favorite for visitors of the East Bay because it allows dogs of all sizes to run around off the leash and enjoy the large grassy areas. Many dogs can also enjoy a refreshing bath on the shore right off the bay.

Some visitors are locals. Others drive a fair distance to have their pooches enjoy the large park.

“It’s beautiful. You get great bay views,” said Vic from Oakland, who came to the park with his dog Rose. “On hot days, it’s cooler here. The people are generally pretty good. I go to places like Redwood Regional Park and Albany Bowl but I prefer this place. I also get to hang out with my friends and Rose gets to hang out with her friends,” he said.

The park has features that are standard for most dog parks. It is equipped with water fountains, doggie bag stations, and a few communal toys. But it also has additional features such as the Mudpuppy’s Tub and Scrub, a dog-bathing and grooming center, and the Sit and Stay Café which offers snacks for humans and canines alike.

“I am a dog walker and my dogs love it,” says Delane from Oakland. “It’s refreshing, it’s sunny, not too hot. There is a slight breeze.”

One of the reasons she likes Point Isabel so much is because it’s a safe place. “I go to other trails where there are deer, coyotes, rattlesnakes, dead animal carcasses, stinging nettles, joggers every once in a while,” she said.

“When dogs see people infrequently they get pretty protective. If there are lots of people walking, like here, they have a different mindset, they don’t get all protective. They don’t chase after people or scare people. It’s dog friendly.”

Visitors to the park are friendly and it’s a great place to start a conversation and meet new people.

Dog owners also engage in park activities such as organized bonding and meet-up times. “The last Saturday of every month, labradoodles [a cross between a Labrador retriever and a poodle] and their owners visit the park for cupcakes and doggy treats. There is also a Great Dane day the first Saturday of every month,” says Anthony Caro from Berkeley.

“I like how open it is, there are no borders or fences. The view is amazing. These dogs get a better view than me from my apartment. This is a must-stop for anyone traveling with their dog.”

Whether you are a dog walker, an owner or a dog enthusiast, visitors highly recommend taking a walk at Point Isabel Dog Park.

Beauty Stylist Remembers the Day ‘Everything Changed’ in Vietnam

Fifty years after the Vietnam War, Cathy Lê remembers the day the U.S. Army came to her country and “everything changed.”

Lê, who now lives in Oakland, is a stylist at Linda’s Nails, a small beauty shop on the corner of El Portal and Church in San Pablo. She has worked there for 18 years, chatting with customers as a beauty and eyebrow stylist.

But it was back in Huê, Vietnam, where Lê first learned how to speak and write English in the sixth grade.

“I was born and raised in the country. It was a very simple life,” said Lê.

“When the U.S. Army came, everything changed. My father’s income was not sufficient to support my family. I saw the struggle between my parents and that is when I decided to drop out of high school to go work. My father started to cry. It wasn’t until later that I understood that he wanted to protect me.”

At 16, Lê decided to drop out of school to work for the U.S. Army as a secretary. In April 1967, Lê went to work for the Green Berets in the Headquarters of the Special Force Group 5. She worked for six years under various officers.

At the age of 24, Lê got married. Many of the soldiers and commanding officers attended her wedding. She and her family grew very fond of the American army.

“When we worked with them, they treated us so nice,” said Lê. “Many of the officers were from West Point. Many of the soldiers I worked with were straight out of college. We communicated during our break. At the time, I could only write and read in English. When they were speaking I didn’t understand, but I discovered that we both knew how to read. I brought a book over and we started a strong conversation.”

In 1973, the Communists made their way to South Vietnam. Lê and her family were relocated from the city to the village of Nhaīrang. She was forced to live there for 15 years, which she calls a dark period in her life.

Lê’s husband was imprisoned for aiding U.S. forces and having what they called “a changed mentality.” Lê started to work for a global non-profit, Mennonite Central Committee. With two growing boys and a lifestyle not very familiar to her, the rural life was something she had to get used to.

“We had to work really hard, like farmers, to survive,” she said.

Then one day, she heard the news.

“After 15 years of living in the countryside, I was listening to the radio and they said, ‘Prisoners are now free and allowed to go to America,’” Lê recalled.

“In the morning, I would listen to the radio because after so many years, I hadn’t practiced my English,” she recalled. “I would listen and write down what was said. They restricted us from listening to the Voice of America or BBC because it was a window to the world.”

It was not until the fall of 1994 that Lê and her family were granted the chance to move to America.

For Lê, the move was not as big of a culture shock as she anticipated. Lê’s best friend had already moved to the United States.

“After 15 years in the dark,” she explained, “the only thing that kept me living was that my best friend was in America.”

Lê knew that she wanted a new life and really liked the Bay Area. When she and her family finally arrived here, she knew she had made it.

New Developments Coming to Richmond

Driving around Richmond, you might have noticed some new additions to the city: newly paved roads, bike lanes and sidewalks, as well as construction projects.

“We finished our last paving project last year on Barrett Ave. from 18th to 23rd St.,” said Patrick Phelan, infrastructure administrator with the City of Richmond. “That was a section of the road that was really, really terrible,” he said.

Now, parts of Barrett Ave., Macdonald Ave. and Harbor Way can accommodate bicyclists and have sidewalks that allow better access for pedestrians and people with disabilities.

Phelan said the work on Barrett Ave. was done with a type of asphalt that used recycled rubber that should make the road durable. “It’s something we’re trying to do on the major streets,” he said.

Other road improvement projects include parts of Macdonald Ave. and Ohio Ave. from 1st to 23rd, where new bike lanes are marked with signage.

Currently in progress is a multi-million dollar effort to make Nevin Ave. from 19th to 27th more pedestrian and bike friendly, from BART to City Hall.

But it isn’t just roads that are being redone. Richmond residents have also seen a lot of construction going on.

In Point Richmond, there is a new 27-unit apartment complex under construction. The complex is located next to the Mechanics Bank, across from the Up and Under Pub and Grill. The train runs right behind this area.

With a growing population in Richmond, there has been an increase in developments in the downtown area as well. According to Janet Johnson, economic development administrator for the City Manager’s Office, close to 1,000 units of housing are expected to be built downtown over the next two years.

Approved projects include the development of the 60,000-square-foot lot at 12th and Macdonald Ave., across from Foods Co., that will feature 256 units of housing with ground-floor retail space.

Another development at 22nd at Nevin Ave., the site old Employment Development Department building which was demolished last year, will feature 289 new housing units.

“It’s a good time,” said Johnson, “because there is a housing shortage and just a boom in Richmond right now.”

Johnson anticipates a new and vibrant downtown area on the horizon.

“I just see a place that we can all be really proud of,” she said. “More stores, restaurants and shops, walkable to BART, something we have envisioned for a long time. More events and more opportunities for people to stay in their city.”

Richmond Students Play Role of Lawyers in Mock Trial

Over 80 West Contra Costa High School students recently got the chance to conduct mock trials at the Superior Courthouse in Martinez as they participated in the annual countywide mock trial competition.

Teams from five local high schools competed against teams throughout Contra Costa County, during four nights of presenting arguments.

Wanda Gonzalez, a junior at Kennedy High School, played the role of a prosecution attorney for the case.

“We are the first school in Richmond in a while to have a chance at winning the preliminary rounds,” said Gonzalez, who said she hopes to one day be a lawyer.

The program supporting these five West County teams is sponsored by the Center for Youth Development through Law (CYDL), a nonprofit organization that encourages students to learn about law beyond the classroom.

The students presented arguments in front of real judges and attorneys who scored the students on their defense and prosecution cases. Students acted out different roles, from bailiffs to witnesses and attorneys for prosecution and defense.

This season, students prepared a case for and against a fictional character on trial for human trafficking and false imprisonment.

After the first round of the mock trial, eight of the 16 teams advance to the quarter-finals. After that, the teams are reduced to four and then two proceed to the final round.

Last year, Miramonte High School was the winning team in the county competition.

CYDL’s mock trial program started about five years ago to help students from Richmond High, Kennedy High, DeAnza High, El Cerrito High and Pinole Valley High Schools learn about law practice and develop critical skills such as public speaking and teamwork. Coaches prepare students for five months, twice a week, competing against 11 other high schools in the county area.

Other schools “had good coaches already. Most students in CYDL teams don’t have attorneys as parents or family friends,” explained Nancy Schiff, executive director of CYDL.

Students in the program are coached by current and former attorneys with criminal law experience.

The students are well versed in how to make objections, something that both students and scorers agreed is the hardest part in winning cases.

“CYDL is meant to build life skills,” said Amy Resner, associate director of CYDL.  Some of the students in the program plan to pursue law and alumni are able to receive assistance on their journey to college and law school.

But even those who don’t become attorneys learn about the law in ways that will help them throughout their lives.

“The students know their rights,” said Resner.

My First Trip to Europe

Growing up in Richmond and realizing that it was a pretty small city, I always dreamed of stepping outside of the boundaries of my hometown. Most of the opportunities I had to travel were through school programs and scholarships. Now that I am a college graduate, I decided to fulfill my childhood dream of seeing another side of the world.

Last month I had the privilege of visiting London and Paris. The trip was completely spontaneous. My friend notified me of cheap flights before Thanksgiving. We decided we should go. Initially I was really nervous because it would be a completely new experience for me. I have been as far as Mexico but Europe was a whole new playing field.

When we arrived at Heathrow, I felt like I was in a completely new world. I remember stepping outside everyday and couldn’t believe I was actually there. The sky was a clear, piercing blue and looked unreal. The rustic architecture in places like Piccadilly Circus made it look like there was a dome over the buildings covering the sky. But there was no denying we were outside; on a “warm” day it was about 2ºC, which is the equivalent of about 36ºF.

There are definitely locations that I recommend for first timers. On our third day in London I bought tickets for the critically acclaimed play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The characters were brilliantly performed, the special effects were brought to life in amazing ways, and I was on the edge of my seat the entire time.

Throughout our time in London, we visited Elizabeth’s Tower, Tower Bridge and London Eye. It was nice to see these landmarks that I have read about. When you think about the history and the changes they have undergone since the time of their creation, you can’t help but feel fortunate to experience them yourself.

On our fourth day abroad we took the Eurostar train to Paris. Once in France, it felt oddly familiar and strange at the same time. Cars were driving on the same side of the road again but everything was in a distinct language. Being Mexican American had its advantages because I was able to understand most things, considering we share a language root, Latin.

In Paris we visited the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Versaille and Notre Dame. These places were everything I imagined them to be, and they brought back a lot of history class lessons.

We even got to attend a soccer match in the city. This made us feel like locals as we started to chant to the different plays. On our last day in Paris, we visited Parc Disneyland. Yes, Disneyland is in France. To be completely honest, I wasn’t too excited to go because I wanted to see more of the city but I am so glad that my friends convinced me. Most of the rides were more thrilling than our own Southern California park.

My travels in Europe were a great experience. I am so happy I got to step outside of my comfort zone. Being in a foreign land and exposed to a different culture pushed me to see the world in a different way. I came to value the distinct mannerisms of people, but I also realized they aren’t that different from us. I plan to go back and now that I’m versed in travelling, it will be nice to show my family around.

Finding Mindfulness Inside the Ring

“I feel I was put on this planet to fight,” says Jonathan Perez, 23, a boxing coach at Omni Movement in Richmond.

Perez, who is better known as Jonny, also works with the Mindful Life Project, where he helps teach the concept of mindfulness to elementary school students in Richmond. But his life did not always look as promising as it does now.

A Richmond native, Perez grew up in a poor household. His father used drugs and left the family when Perez was still young. He remembers school feeling like prison. “I got made fun of because of my shoes,” he says. “I felt like I had to become hard … I felt like I always had to put up this front so no one knew what was going on with me.”

“I was getting kicked out of class a lot. Then it just started to be a pattern and a normal thing,” he says.

He got into his first fistfight in sixth grade. Not long after that, he started “partying,” he says.

After that he graduated to criminal activity, such as stealing cars, telling himself that he didn’t have a problem.

Then one day he watched his older brother get arrested for attempted murder. His younger brother had also been arrested and sent to Byron Boys Ranch. “Both of my brothers were gone and it all hit me, ” he said.

Perez realized that he was hurting his family by remaining on the run. He wanted to return to be with his family as soon as possible. So he decided to turn himself in for grand theft auto when he was 18 years old. He was released about a month later and did another month on house arrest with the condition he get a job or go to school. He decided to do both.

In detention, he says, he didn’t get much help. He says that kids’ mental health needs were mostly treated with prescription medication like Adderall, which is used to manage attention deficit disorder. As for the adults in charge, he says, “You could tell that some cared and others did not.”

When he was locked up and going to a court school, he says, “It felt like a daycare. I was receiving first and second grade level assignments at the age of 16.” 

When he was released, he came back to Richmond and started a new chapter in his life. Through youth mentor Richard Boyd, he got involved with the community garden program Urban Tilth and the Safe Return Project, which helps formerly incarcerated people adjust to life after prison.

With the help of the local LEAP Center in Richmond, Perez was able to get his GED and study at Contra Costa College.

He started reading about the concept of mind, body and soul – and also giving back. He credits this with improving his self-confidence.

“It also helped me get the confidence to take boxing more seriously,” says Perez.

He had discovered his passion for boxing through an afterschool program at Richmond High years before. He says boxing helped distract him from things he was stressed about.

“You have to have discipline as a boxer,” he explains. “The discipline of boxing has made me a better person.”

Then he began working with Mindful Life and started meditating every day, combining his athletic ability with his newfound mental and spiritual strength.

“I always train and when I meditate, I train a part of me that you can’t really see. It helps me control my actions and do the right thing over the wrong thing,” Perez says.

He credits meditating with being able to mentally slow things down in the ring.

“With mindfulness, I’m able to control myself more. Now, before I react I think.”

He is also able to focus on his breath, something he says can help him win a fight.

“In boxing, it’s easy to let your emotions get the best of you. You’ll forget about your breath and you can get knocked out,” he says. “If you can win the battle of breath and take the other fighter’s breath and energy, you can win the fight. Your breath is everything.”

Perez is a local boxing hero himself, winning two championship belts – 2014 Ringside Champion and 2015 Oxnard PAL Champion.

He sees his work with Mindful Life as related, bringing together his love for boxing, kids and community.

“I get to influence and inspire them,” he says, “teaching how mindfulness — being in the present and in the moment without judgment — can affect their lives.”

He hopes to go professional as a boxer in 2018, and also wants to open his own gym in Richmond for young people to learn boxing as a way of bringing discipline into their lives.

Richmond Arts Therapist, Former Kindergarten Teacher Victims of Ghost Ship Fire

Thirty-six people died in the Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland on December 5. Two members of the West Contra Costa Unified School District family, Sara Hoda and Travis Hough, were among those lost.

Hough, 35, worked as an arts therapist at Montalvin Elementary School in Richmond through a partnership with the social services organization Bay Area Community Resources. After starting as an intern at Helms Middle School in 2014, he worked at King Elementary during the 2015-16 school year, before coming to Montalvin.

Hough provided services to students at Montalvin with a variety of needs, including emotional support to those experiencing grief or who were victims of bullying.

“He genuinely loved kids and loved being around them,” said Katherine Acosta-Verprauskus, principal at Montalvin Elementary. “Although he didn’t provide therapy to every single one of our students, every single one of our students knew him, they knew him really well.”

Acosta-Verprauskus said that it was a very hard week for the staff and the students of Montalvin.

Sara Hoda, 30, was a kindergarten teacher at Coronado Elementary in Richmond from 2014 to 2016 before moving on to teach in Oakland.

“Sara was a beautiful person and angelic. Just an awesome teacher,” said Tisa Smith who worked as a play works coach at Coronado alongside Hoda.

“It takes a lot of patience to deal with five year olds, especially some that didn’t go to preschool and it’s their fist time in a school setting where they have to follow direction,” said Smith.

“Her class was calm. The calming spirit that she had transferred to her class and it transferred to us.”

Linda Cohen, retired principal at Coronado, hired Hoda to her first full-time teaching job at the school. “She was calm, sweet, very dedicated and committed,” said Cohen. “She was very inspiring and extremely nurturing.

“She was just unique,” said Cohen, “very creative and wise beyond her years.”

Cohen said Hoda brought a special blend of being strict, organized and prepared along with kindness and a commitment to her job.

“Whatever the ‘it’ of a fabulous teacher is, she had it. She embodied total respect but also confidence and that’s something that all new teachers don’t always have.”

Bay Area Community Resources, along with West Contra Costa Unified School District, provided a crisis team of counselors and other support staff to both Montalvin and Coronado schools in the aftermath of the tragedy. The joint agencies provided two to three therapists a day this past week to help the community process the tragedy.

“Students wrote letters and made cards saying goodbye to Mr. Travis,” Acosta-Verprauskus said. “Some wrote down memories that they shared with him and we taped them all up by his door. We decorated his door and we created that as a space for kids to have somewhere to go to.”

Montalvin held a vigil for Hough on December 9. Students, families, staff and friends attended to share their memories and to pay their respects. “It was a real celebration of how hard he worked for the community and for the kids and how much we all loved him. It’s been hard but we’ve really just been leaning on each other as a community to get through it together,” Acosta-Verprauskus said.

Coronado held an event in celebration of Hoda’s life in the school’s multi-purpose room on December 13. With members of Hoda’s family in attendance, students gathered outside, some in tears, to watch the family and school officials release white doves in her honor.

“Our thoughts and condolences are with Mr. Hough and Ms. Hoda’s families and all those affected by the loss,” said Superintendent Matthew Duffy, in a statement. “Mr. Hough and Ms. Hoda were vibrant members of our community and touched so many lives. The loss is heartbreaking and Mr. Hough and Ms. Hoda will be deeply missed.”

California Voters Could Reverse Ban on Bilingual Education

Nearly 20 years after California voters banned bilingual education, the issue is back on the ballot. And this time, voters could reverse the ban.

The reason? California is not the same state it used to be.

It was 1998 when voters passed Proposition 227. Under the law, English Language Learners were moved from special ELL classes to regular classes once they had gained a grasp of the English language. Under the law, the special classes could not last more than a year.

This year, bilingual education is back on the ballot.

Proposition 58 would allow a wider set of learning opportunities for English learners, essentially reversing the ban on bilingual education programs.

This proposition would allow parents to decide what kind of language program best suits their child. This is expected to impact not only English learners, but also all other students, since families would have more options to enroll their children in alternative language settings, like dual-language immersion and bi-literacy programs.

“There has been a rebalance in the system of education,” said Dr. Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles.

“1998 was a battle over identity,” he says. “But in the 2000s, Democrats win by a two-thirds majority in regard to liberal policies, such as climate change and Obamacare. Latino voters and young voters have shifted the landscape.”

There also has been a strong shift in the way that educators, parents, and politicians have addressed the needs of bilingual students since 1998. California overall has become more open-minded about multilingualism in the classroom, and there’s also been a demographic shift that has brought with it changes in attitudes about immigrants.

That’s not true of everywhere else in the country, where concerns about immigration loom large.

“The United States today is like California in the 1990s,” says Sonenshein, referring to anti-immigrant attitudes. “[But] in California, there is recognition that the debate is over. California is now a different state than it used to be.”

Jesus Galindo is a third grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary in Richmond, which has an English Language Development program for the more than 60 percent of the school’s students who are English learners. Galindo, a UC Berkeley graduate originally from Los Banos, agrees with Sonenshein – with some caveats. “More people are becoming open-minded, but I think we need to reflect on what happened in 1998, with the passing of Prop. 227. That mentality and mindset are still present [in other ways].”

Galindo thinks that the anti-immigrant sentiments of the ‘90s have caused lasting damage. “When you spew language of that nature, it’s oppressive and it rubs off on the kids, and they start to deny their cultural inheritance.”

“I refer to my kids as the children of the storm,” he says. “In the environment in which they live, play and go to school, there is a lot of adversity. [But] not only do they have a tremendous amount of consciousness, but also tenacity and perseverance to constantly survive and thrive.”

Currently, Washington Elementary is the only school in West Contra Costa with a dual immersion program, which allows students to learn through their native language alongside their target language.

If Prop. 58 passes, it could mean more programs like this one.

Going to Class Behind Bars – Youth Speak Out About Court Schools

SAN FRANCISCO – Eddie Chavez, 20, who used to be incarcerated in Fresno’s juvenile hall, never had much support in school. Back and forth between the United States and Mexico, he missed several years of his education and ended up being placed in 10th grade without ever finishing 8th grade.

But after being arrested for grand theft auto and ending up in juvenile hall, things started to change when he found himself in a “court school” in detention.

It wasn’t that the school was perfect. Some teachers would just turn on a movie and give the students chips to snack on, he says. But there was one substitute teacher, “a very good man,” he says, who seemed to care deeply about the kids, and the school offered a controlled environment where Chavez could get his work done. He earned 15 credits, he says, the most credits he’d ever gotten.

But he still doesn’t have a high school diploma, and as an adult he has trouble finding employment.

Chavez spoke about his journey at a recent forum, “Young People in California’s Court Schools,” hosted by New America Media at the World Affairs Council in San Francisco.

A recent report by Youth Law Center in San Francisco found that California’s court schools are not serving their students well.

“[The court schools] are not equipping them to be in a situation where they can exit and be successful. Only half of young people that exit detention re-enroll in school in 90 days,” said Jennifer Rodriguez, executive director of Youth Law Center.

Rodriguez said that court schools need to get kids on the path to college and future employment – something that she said is not happening right now.

“If we were to pinpoint the source of this problem, it rests in many places,” she says. “There is not adequate transition planning as young people are exiting. There is a resistance from local schools to enroll young people. Oftentimes families lack the information about what their rights are. Young people are not necessarily eager to jump out of being locked up and go back to school where there is this stigma or the same crowd that they came from before.”

Another formerly detained young person on the panel, 22-year-old Ayanna Rasheed, is on the path to success now, but it’s in spite of her time in court school, not because of it. She thinks her time in detention in San Joaquin County set her education back.

Students were just given worksheets, she said, adding that it was like “giving a child a coloring book and saying ‘Here, do this.’”

“In juvenile hall, education is not really what they’re focused on,” she said. “The classes were very basic, math and social studies. Every six weeks we would rotate the same worksheets. It wasn’t beneficial at all.”

Rasheed is about to start working as a foster youth advocate at the West Coast Children’s Clinic and is continuing her schooling. But it’s been an uphill battle: She said she wasn’t even able to get her records from the court school after she was released, so she ended up losing whatever credits she’d earned.

State Senator Loni Hancock (D-Oakland), a longtime advocate for change in the education system, said she hopes there can be pilot projects based on Youth Law Center’s recommendations in order to better serve court school students.

For example, Hancock pointed to the successes of project-based learning and “developing curriculum in modules that recognize the short time periods” that students spend there – one of the biggest challenges of teaching students in juvenile halls.

Richmond Adult Literacy Program Opens Doors

Richmond resident Susana Cortez is about to get her high school equivalency credential, thanks to the help of a local program.

Cortez recently joined the Richmond Public Library’s Literacy for Every Adult Program (LEAP) to get help preparing for the General Educational Development (GED) test.

The test measures proficiency in various subjects including science, math, social studies, reading, and writing. Passing the test gives those who don’t have a high school diploma the opportunity to earn their high school equivalency credential.

“The classes [at LEAP] are very interesting and I am learning a lot,” Cortez said in Spanish. “There is a connection with the instructors. I get lots of help, support, and tutoring.”

Now in its 32nd year, the LEAP program was established as a literacy learning program center in Richmond. LEAP offers several free courses to tackle different portions of the test.

But the program also offers a spirit of learning and self-discovery, said Abigail Sims-Evelyn, learning center manager at LEAP.

“One of the things that people who come really need to embrace here is that they are the change that they are looking for,” said Sims-Evelyn, paraphrasing the famous quote from Mahatma Ghandi.

For those who have gone through school without getting the help they needed, it can be hard to connect with this mindset, she said, especially if they are at low point in their life or are questioning their own abilities.

“We are certainly aware of the type of instruction that must take place for people to get their GED or high school diploma,” said Sims-Eveyln. “But what we do well here is to be willing and able to consider different strategies for learning. We listen.”

The program monitors students’ progress each step of the way, said LEAP program coordinator John Adams. “Every time they complete a certain number of hours, we give them an assessment test to essentially figure out where they are,” he said. “Once we feel they are close enough to take the GED, we do intense GED training. Once they get a high enough score on the practice test, we send them to [take] the GED.”

Instructor Ellen Pechmen, who teaches a strategies class, says her biggest job is instilling the confidence in her students that they need to succeed.

In a recent class before California’s primary election, Pechman asked her students to look up different definitions of the word “civics.”

According to Pechman, over 40 percent of the questions on the social studies portion of the GED are related to civics in some way.

“I wanted to get them to see that when you see a word or an idea like ‘civics,’ the devil is in the details,” she said. “How do you figure out what the word means in that context?”

“I’m trying to heighten their awareness and problem-solving ability,” she said.

Students say the center provides them with a sense of community and a safe place where instructors serve as mentors.

“The teachers here seem to love the students,” said Maya Perkins, a student who fell short of some high school credits.

Another student, Mary Castle, agreed. “Sometimes when I feel tired and want to quit, they talk to me and convince me not to,” said Castle, who says she did not receive the same kind of support in high school.

For Manny Hermosillo, LEAP has taught him not to let life’s circumstances control his performance. “You have a job to do; just do it,” said Hermosillo. “If things change, you just rearrange it.”

Sims-Evelyn hopes that all LEAP students walk away with more than just their GED. She said the goal is to help them make a personal connection with the power that comes with reading and writing.

“Reading and writing gives you the opportunity for you to think,” she said. “And thinking opens doors.”

Thousands of Books Donated to Richmond Kindergarten Students

The sixth annual Richmond Book Giveaway helped distribute thousands of books to underserved kids in Richmond.

In total, there were 4,000 books distributed to 1,400 kindergarten students.

Community members came together last month to create goodie bags full of books that provided information and reading tips, booklets of summer events, and coloring books to keep kids busy throughout the summer.

One of the main goals of the book drive was to activate parents to become an essential part of their kids’ early learning experience.

“These resources and parent engagement are the first step,” said Laura Reed, program director of Literacy Labs, which organized the event at the Richmond Community Foundation.

Reed explained that the book giveaway started with an affiliate program called Bring Me a Book six years ago. This year, Literacy Labs decided to take on the challenge to encourage parents in the community to read to their children and get them to ask questions.

Literacy Lab’s goal was to create a space where all members of the community could contribute to the first steps a child takes in their learning experience. Because Richmond is one of the most underserved communities in the West Contra Costa School District, they wanted to start by providing children materials that could help them thrive.

The giveaway was sponsored by Kaiser Permanente, the Richmond Community Foundation and the West Contra Costa United School District.

About 20 people took part in the packaging process. Volunteers included representatives of the offices of Assemblymember Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond), Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), the Richmond Community Foundation and the TJ Long Foundation, along with parents and community members.

As one of the few parent volunteers, Paola Castrejon was excited to be involved in the process of guiding her children on the right path. She has two girls in Washington and Lake Elementary Schools and brought her youngest with her to the giveaway.

As Castrejon helped put together the goodie bags, her daughter kept herself entertained at a kids’ station that included coloring books and kids’ activities.

“I want the very best for my girls,” Castrejon said.

The goodie bags were dispersed by local firefighters May 25. The books will be handed out to students in the 19 elementary schools in Richmond.

Bill Clinton Becomes First U.S. President to Visit Richmond

Former President Bill Clinton visited Richmond the day before the primary election to campaign in support of his wife and possible Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Hundreds of people gathered at the Richmond Art Center on a sunny Monday afternoon to hear the 42ndpresident give his pitch to residents on why Hillary should be the Democratic nominee.

The excited crowd gave Clinton a warm reception as he spoke for close to 40 minutes.

As he began his remarks Clinton told the story of how Richmond Mayor Tom Butt’s father assisted Hillary long ago in their shared home state of Arkansas.

“She wanted to start a legal aid program for all the hillbillies working who never had any access to the civil justice system, a lot of working poor people.

“She had to get Mayor Butt’s father to approve the program. So he was responsible for giving her a chance to do it. And I really appreciate that,” Clinton said to applause.

Clinton said Donald Trump’s rhetoric was just a more crass version of a debate going on all over the world.

“All over the world, people are having the debate about how we’re going to relate to each other going forward. There’s an enormous amount of anger and rage and feeling that governments don’t work for people anymore,” he said.

He championed Hillary as the candidate that could get the best results.

“The only thing that will work is shared prosperity,” he said. “You can’t leave people behind.”

Clinton went on to mention issues like equal pay, paid leave and affordable childcare, immigration reform and “closing the gap between unemployment for veterans and for the rest of us.”

Throughout his speech, Clinton repeatedly spoke of building bridges instead of walls, referencing Trump’s plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Should the bridges have security checks when we’re worried about security? Of course they should. But they should still be bridges, ” he said.

Clinton also praised California as a model for the world.

“What made California is what the world needs in the 21st century. It needs to be a place of constant becoming. A place where you’re making future greatness every day,” he said.

Clinton spoke about letting young people out of prison who, in his words, “have gotten sentences that were too long for crimes that aren’t serious. We should give them a chance to begin again.”

A member of the audience interrupted Clinton, calling him out for a piece of legislation he signed during his presidency. In 1994, Clinton signed into law a crime bill that included a “three-strikes” provision. It mandated life sentences for anyone convicted of a violent felony after two or more prior convictions, including drug crimes.

“How about the crime bill? How about all the money you imported to mass incarceration? Do you regret that? What about your role?” the audience member yelled.

Clinton responded, “The crime bill in 1994 came over from the House. It had stronger incarceration procedures than I originally asked for. They cover about 8 percent of total people in prison, over 90 percent are in state and local prison. Hillary’s opponent in the primary voted for that bill. When we got to the Senate, the Senate included an assault weapons ban with an ammunition clip limit which has never before been included in the law.”

It was just one of the three questions directed toward Clinton by audience members throughout the duration of his speech.

Several Hillary supporters were displeased with the questions directed to Clinton and made that very clear to the people asking the questions.

Clinton was able to limit the questions by requesting that the public respectfully let him finish.

The audience responded accordingly.

Meanwhile, several Bernie Sanders supporters outside the Art Center could be heard chanting “Bernie” throughout Clinton’s speech.