Softball seems to have become a new form of community therapy in Richmond.
On eight consecutive Sundays during the past summer, hundreds of Richmond residents gathered at Nichol Park to play games that were often more about overcoming community ills than scoring runs.
The Richmond City Council on Tuesday night officially recognized Soulful Softball Sundays, a community-run summer recreation program, as a success that has helped build community and provide a safe space for adults and children alike.
“My grandson is fifth-generation Richmond. I want my grandson to grow up and be safe and have a safe place to play at the park,” DeeWanda Joseph, a regular softball player, told councilmembers.
Soulful Softball organizers and players crowded City Hall meeting chambers Tuesday night to offer passionate support for the program. Many there described the Sunday series as a catalyst for change. Longtime Richmond residents spoke about taking back community spaces for the children and youngsters.
“We buy our kids bicycles for Christmas and they can’t even ride bicycles up and down the street,” said Joseph. “We want our children to be able to go outside and enjoy Richmond like we did growing up.”
The softball games were organized and presented by community groups Sons of Issachar and Men and Women of Purpose. Organizers Antwon Cloird and Rodney Alamo Brown said all the fun has a serious purpose.
“It’s got to be a coalition, not a competition,” Cloird said at the council meeting. “Only Richmond can heal Richmond.”
In a post on the event’s Facebook page, organizers have described these Sundays as “the kind of gathering desperately needed to help stem the tide of rising crime this year that has taken the lives of young people.”
The events have drawn upwards of 100 people every weekend and garnered the support of local residents, donors and politicians. Mayor Tom Butt, Vice Mayor Jael Myrick and Contra Costa County Supervisor John Goia all showed their support by being present and hitting a few balls around.
The summer has not only been about amateur softball, however. Gatherings were also meant to help residents learn about health, education and wellness. In a city where people worry about crime rates and gun violence, softball has become a new way for people to help build community.
Soulful Softball Sundays was started in response to the number of homicides this year in the city – 13 homicides so far in 2015, two more than in all of last year. Yet, as stated in the Facebook page, the events are “proving to promote unity in Richmond, where long-running neighborhood feuds have for years fueled tensions and violence.”
In light of the success of this program, many are now advocating for a similar program under the name Midnight Basketball starting in October. An organized bowling night is already underway.
“I don’t want to go back to the old Richmond,” Joseph said in an interview. “We are creating a new Richmond. We are the change, and we are bringing the young people with us.”