For the teens and young adults who gathered on a rainy day
last week in North Richmond, life has been a succession of
struggles and temptations.
Jobs are nearly nonexistent in this forgotten neighborhood,
which straddles city and county dividing lines. But violence
and crime are omnipresent. Shootings occur almost daily.
A local market’s wall serves as a makeshift memorial to those
who have been felled by local violence.
But on this day, the future seemed a little brighter.
“One decision can be the wrong decision anytime in life
out here, and that’s it,” said Darvone Crenshaw, who has
lived all of his twenty years in North Richmond. “But right
now I am feeling like I can get through the obstacles in
Crenshaw was one of about 15 local students honored May
17 for completing a three-month life skills course taught
by instructors from Project IMPACT, an empowerment group
was launched by ex-inmates of California penitentiaries in
the late 1990s. The program is funded by the Operation of
Neighborhood Safety, a city agency established in 2007. Its
curriculum ranges from human nature and ethics to violence
prevention, addiction and healthy relationships, said Project
IMPACT staff member Leonard Neal.
Inside a small community center in the 1600 block of N.
Jade Street, youths sat around tables adorned with paper
hats and decorations congratulating grads.
Several of the instructors for Project IMPACT, which stands
for “Incarcerated Men Putting Away Childish Things,” addressed
the graduates. “We are here to give back, and the first place
you go to give back is in your home community,” Neal told
the graduates. “This is where we can make a difference.”
Mayor Gayle McLaughlin was also on hand, and addressed the
program graduates before certificates were handed out. McLaughlin
talked about when she lived in Chicago and Jesse Jackson’s
Operation PUSH, a social justice and jobs program, rose to
national prominence in the 1970s and 1980s.
“I remember when Rev. Jesse Jackson said to the crowd ‘I
am somebody! We are somebody!’” McLaughlin said. “And that’s
what we in Richmond have to remember. We are somebody … we
together are somebody, and we’re somebody special.”
North Richmond is one of the most depressed and crime-plagued
sections of the Richmond, which in 2009 FBI records revealed
was the nation’s second-most dangerous city. On the day of
the graduation, a curbside memorial for 23-year-old Sharanda
Thomas, a pregnant mother of two who was shot and killed
in February, still stood on Seventh Streets, a few blocks
south of the ceremony.
But at the event, Gary Griffin, 21, was as happy as he could
remember, he said. A high school dropout and father of an
infant daughter, Griffin said the program had given him new
optimism. He has lived in North Richmond all his life.
“This program has helped my confidence,” Griffin said. “It’s
made me want to do something more than what I have been doing,
and that’s a big change for me.”