I am very proud to be a Richmond resident. I was born and raised here, and it is where I consider "home". In my personal and professional world, I have never shied away from telling people that I am from Richmond. Sadly, people’s reactions are usually of surprise and/or pity mainly because of all the bad press the city gets; due to its high crime rate and more recently due to its unique political environment.
I have always emphasized my Richmond upbringing because as a fairly successful environment engineer I can help chip away against the negative perception people have about Richmond. I often get asked if I was raised in the wealthier parts of Richmond and/or if I attended private school in the area. I say no to all of the above, and that I am a product of the Iron Triangle and the West Contra Costa Unified School District. Growing up in probably some of the worst times in Richmond (80s and 90s) as a Latino kid in a working class home, the odds were definitely not in my favor. I managed to graduate from a top engineering department (Go Bears!) and work in solid companies throughout my career. I worked very hard to make it all happen; however I wish that more of my peers had the same opportunities.
Richmond would be a very different city if more of its residents were college educated and working in technical fields. The lack of economic opportunities is the root cause of the city's crime issues. We need to keep pushing our city leadership to continue creating more opportunities for our residents otherwise nothing will change. We need to create sufficient numbers of well paying jobs for our city’s youth so that they have the means to live comfortably.
Hopefully, over time, the necessary economic opportunities will be created, but there are several small things that each of us can do today to help steer our city youth away from a life in the streets. Below are just a few examples.
- Mentor: There are tons of youth programs in the city in need of exemplary role models for local youth. Examples include Richmond PAL and the RYSE Center, as well as church youth groups. Instead of sitting around watching television or surfing the web, spend a day helping a youngster do their homework or review their college applications. Even the parents of local youth need mentoring because in many cases they are not familiar with what it takes to make it in college. When I was in high school, due to my parents’ limited English skills, I had to rely on family and high school counselors to navigate through the college application process. If it were not for them, I probably would not have figured out how to fill out all of the necessary forms or how to pay for college.
- Donate: Not everyone has tons of disposable income, but pool $50 with 10 friends and that immediately becomes $500 for a needy Richmond student. That can easily be used to buy much needed college books, a plane ride to go to college, or decent clothing for an interview. When I was in college, several $500 scholarships helped me pay for rent and pay for my expensive chemistry books. They allowed me to stay focused on school and kept from doing something stupid in order to pay for school. We should not withhold donations because we are afraid the money is going to be misused.
- Speak up: If you are aware of someone in need, take a few minutes to put them in contact with a program that will help keep them on track. A lot of our residents lack the self-confidence to seek help or have no idea that there are tons of programs out there to help them. I personally had strict parents that keep me on track, but most of my peers had no one watching over them. Imagine trying to raise yourself in the streets in Richmond. Too many of our youth are doing just that.
As long as we continue to fail our youth, the news headlines will be about the most recent crime incident in Richmond. Lets all do something to change this.
Oscar is a resident of the Iron Triangle that currently works as an environmental engineer at Chevron. He enjoys spending his free time with family, in the outdoors, participating in Richmond Rotary events, or volunteering at local youth oriented programs.
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