Tag Archives: Richmond High

Entering the path of do-goodery

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All kinds of changes are afoot here at Chez LazyBuddhist. In addition to becoming a half-time college student, I’ve started down the path of do-goodery.  In my mind, I always thought of myself as a do-gooder, but it was all intent and not much action.

Living in Richmond, California, I can see around me a lot of need.  Less than a mile away from my cozy enclave of Point Richmond is the neighborhood of the Iron Triangle and the community of North Richmond.  Richmond’s reputation as being a dangerous place to lives mostly comes from the crime, gangs, poverty, addiction and hopelessness in these two areas. In addition, both are directly downstream from the Chevron Refinery, so the health of the neighborhood is not good – the pediatric asthma rate in those neighborhoods are so high, hospitals may as well hand out an asthma inhaler with every new birth.

Three years ago there was a crime committed that got nationwide attention: the gang rape of a 15-year old girl at a school dance at Richmond High. Even now as I write this, my heart hurts for the girl, for our youth, and also for the community. At the time, I wanted to find some way to help to stop the cycle senseless violence that so many young people in our city seemed to be involved in. But, nothing presented itself in a way that made sense for me.

Fast forward three years later. This week I started volunteering at Richmond High as a writing coach through an amazing program called WriterCoach Connection. (Go ahead, click the link and go read about them, especially those of you in the Bay Area who are looking for a well-organized, worthy group to volunteer with. I’ll be here when you’re done.)  I had learned about the organization from a couple of writer friends of mine who had volunteered with them in the Oakland schools.  They both seemed to really enjoy it. So, when I learned they were expanding their program to Richmond, that’s when I knew I found my foothold into community do-goodery.

Most of the volunteers I trained with were Richmond residents – parents, grandparents, retired educators, writers – who, like me, wanted to find some way to help their community.  Even after six-to-eight hours of training we were still nervous about our initial encounters with the kids. Would they like us? Would they see we had no idea what we were doing? Would they even be willing to accept our help? How am I supposed to help a kid compose a thesis statement when I barely remember what one is myself? Oh sweet Buddha, what in the hell have I gotten myself into?

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What to do about Richmond?

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I live in Richmond, California. Yes, that Richmond. The Richmond that often finds itself in the news as a gang-infested hell-hole. It’s not all that unusual to read about a spate of four or five shootings over the course of a night or two. Hell, a couple of years ago it got so bad that there was talk of bringing in the National Guard as a back-up.  When many people think of Richmond the words that may spring to mind are “violence”, “poverty”, “gangs”,  and, my favorite, “the armpit of the Bay Area.”   And now, you can add to that list “gang rape.”

That’s not the Richmond I live in.  Like many of us who live in nice neighborhoods in sketchy cities, we identify ourselves by our neighborhood.  So, when people ask where I live, I don’t say Richmond, I say Point Richmond just as others may say they live in The Marina, or the Richmond Hills.  When I say Point Richmond, the words that spring to mind are “quaint”, “historical”,  or “nice”.  Yet, here in quaint, historical, nice, Point Richmond, we are less than a mile away from the Iron Triangle and North Richmond, the poorest and most violent neighborhoods around.  And Richmond High, the sight of that horrendous gang rape is only three miles away.

My first reaction to the news of that gang rape was incredible sadness.  Sad for the victim of such depraved, animalistic violence, and sad for my city that will once again be dragged through mud as a place that breeds young men with no sense of right and wrong, no remorse, and whose basest instincts are given free reign.  And yet I also feel sad for those young men who perpetrated this crime. No one wants to grow up to be a monster. No young child says “when I grow up I want to spend most of my life in and out of prison.” Yet, this is the life they, their parents, their community, and their culture have created for them.  Of course, they deserved to be punished severely. But, how will that change things?  Yes, the community will be safe, for a while, from this particular group of young men.  And yes, patrols will probably be increased in that area and new lighting installed. All of that is good and long needed.

But, what about the deeper issues?  Is there a whole generation of young men in our midst who have no capacity for empathy or compassion?  How do we keep our girls safe, self-assured and strong in a culture where that simply isn’t a priority?   How do you instill a respect for living beings and life itself, when clearly, too many see life as cheap, for others and for themselves?

I want to help, yet I am at a loss as how I can.  I am not a parent, a social worker, a community activist, or a civic leader.  I am simply a citizen of Richmond, California, saddened and horrified at an unspeakably inhumane crime, and what it says about our young men , our city, and the culture that has created them.