By Paula White
This article focuses on a few special people who live in the Wildcat Creek watershed, which drains North Richmond. For over a year, eight people have served as Block Ambassadors for their community as part of The Watershed Project’s program in North Richmond. The North Richmond Community-Based Cleanup and Outreach Program‘s mission is to keep the streets clean and safe for the children who walk from Verde Elementary School to the Shields-Reid Center’s after school program.
We talked with a few of the Block Ambassadors about their work. Todd Lemonte Warner Sr. has lived in North Richmond for 25 years. In that time there has been a lot of change. After a peak in the 90’s, the crime rate has dropped tremendously. Todd says he likes being a Block Ambassador because “I get a lot of respect. I feel comfortable in my job.” When asked about what he wants to see in the community, he said “Every race to unify, learn how to communicate with one another…learn each other’s’ language.”
A historically black community, North Richmond is now home to many different cultures. Jerome Morris has lived in North Richmond for 9 years and thinks there are more opportunities now, and less violence. He says, “People feel more comfortable walking to their cars, watching their kids play in the front yard.” He likes striking up conversations with people, and hearing their insights. Once a neighbor told him that he wants his yard to look nice and when trash blows in he picks it up. Jerome is hopeful about the future of North Richmond, noting that there are a lot of good people in the community. Of course there is still work to be done. Jerome is concerned about traffic and feels there should be a stronger police presence during high traffic times to ensure the safety of children.
Regina Cuevas echoes Jerome’s concerns about traffic. An 11 year resident of North Richmond, Regina takes care of the block that ends at Verde Elementary School. Regina likes living in North Richmond, and doesn’t want other people to associate it with violence, saying, “Quiere que la gente no tenga la perspectiva que North Richmond es una comunidad violenta.” Since she began working as a block ambassador, she has outreached to vendors who sell snacks to kids after school asking them to make sure to pick up littered wrappers. There is no longer a trash problem on her block, but she worries about traffic and increased housing costs. She wants to stay here, but like the rest of the Bay Area, there is a shortage of affordable housing.
This is a watershed moment for North Richmond and the entire Bay Area as communities grapple with rising rents, rising tides, and rising tensions among different groups. The Block Ambassadors are leading the way in bringing the community together to face these challenges, overcoming cultural and language barriers and making North Richmond stronger by working together on a common goal—a beautiful, safe, and healthy community.
Thank you to Contra Costa County for funding and supporting this program!