There was no shortage of inspiration at Friday’s career day at Nystrom Magnet Elementary School. The event was organized in partnership with Contra Costa Family Service Center, a county agency that serves families in Richmond. Almost a dozen panelists from across the Bay Area gathered to motivate students in forth to sixth grade about future careers. Many of the students in attendance were members of the Little Gents and Girls Club, a year-round after school program for minority students from elementary schools across Richmond.
Reginald Richardson, principal of Nystrom Magnet Elementary School, said the event was organized so that students would have the opportunity to see what is possible in their own lives. “I think the students need to be exposed to people who look like them, who can encourage them and create some kind of mentorship with them,” he said.
Richardson said his hope for the event is that it can “spark something” in his students and help them believe in their own ability to achieve great things.
Among the panelists was Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles, who advised the young students to treat people with respect by remembering to say “please” and “thank you.”
Beckles told the group it was “ok” not do know exactly what they want to become, but advised them that it is good to think about it and to start making choices based on things they enjoy.
As a child, Beckles said she had lots of energy and was active in sports, but also wanted to make sure things at school were fair. “When I was your age, what was important to me was fairness. When I saw someone picking on someone, I thought, ‘Hey, that’s not cool,’” she said.
“Now I get to create things to help make everybody’s life better and I try to make life fair for everybody,” she said of her responsibilities as a councilwoman.
Beckles shared the spotlight with a 911 dispatcher, a pilot, a graphic designer, a firefighter, a statistician, a psychologist, a chief financial officer and a civil rights professor.
Charles Fowlkes, Chief Financial Officer for Community Housing Development Corporation of North Richmond (CHDC), took the stage to describe his job to the group. Like the other panelists in the room, Folks tried to shy away from big words and explained his work in a simple way. “Just imagine your mom gave you $1 and asked you to explain what you did with it,” he said. “Well, I have millions of dollars and I have to give an account for those.”
Fowlkes also gave advice along the same lines as the other professionals: Listen to your parents, respect your teachers and study hard. Most importantly, he said, it’s ok to change your mind, because grown-ups change their minds also.
Attorney George Holland reminded the students it is not all about money. “I know when I say I’m a lawyer many of you are going to think I’m rich,” he said. “But what’s important is that you have to do something you like.”
Revving the weary kids up was Carlos Munoz, a civil rights professor in the Ethnic Studies Department at UC Berkeley. He reminded the students that education and self worth are valuable tools. Munoz told the kids that he was poor growing up and that both of his parents barely made it to a fourth grade education, the age of many of the kids attending the event are now. But anything possible, he said, adding that education and perseverance are the keys to success.
“If you want to be a teacher, like your wonderful teachers here, go for that dream, whatever you want, go for that dream,” he said. Edging the mic closer to his mouth, he added with enthusiasm. “Repeat after me: Si se puede, yes you can!”
In unison, the kids yell back “Si se puede, yes you can!”