Easter Hill United Methodist Church in Richmond

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The sidewalk in front of Easter Hill United Methodist Church in Richmond was all but empty on Monday at 11 am. A cyclist slowly meandered by on Cutting Boulevard, the clinking of his bike chain breaking up the white noise created by a constant stream of passing cars. The doors of the church were locked, the interior dimly lit by sunlight sneaking through the high windows in the nave.   

In a few hours, Easter Hill would come to life for its weekly line dancing class. But, at that moment, the church was an afterthought for the few people milling around. Just yards away, John F. Kennedy Park was the current gathering point for those who found themselves with nothing to do on a Monday at lunch time. Two women worked out on public exercise equipment in the center of the park, hopping from machine to machine as Arabic pop music blared from a speaker perched on a table.

As the clock ticked closer to noon, a distant chatter started to float over from the blacktop of Kennedy High School, which sits across the street. Like clockwork, as the classes before the lunch period ended, two students came walking up the sidewalk between Easter Hill and the park, chatting quietly before ducking behind a portable restroom. They popped back into sight just as one of them finished rolling a joint, and slipped into the restroom to spend the waning minutes of their free time there. After a few quiet minutes, the two students slowly walked back to class and, for a moment, the park was completely empty.

Then, Larnel Wolfe, an organizer for Newlife Movement, appeared on the other side of the park and started heading across the grass. Wolfe, who is formerly incarcerated, was looking for students who were spending their school hours in the park—students like the two he just missed. He said that Newlife Movement is an outreach program focused on keeping kids in school and out of trouble. Wolfe chatted about the history of Easter Hill—it was one of the places Martin Luther King Jr. stopped by on his first visit to California—and the growing pains of his program. Before long, Wolfe spotted two students by the road, and hurried over to check on them.

After this brief flurry of action, a bell rang, beckoning students back to class. Wolfe was the last person in the park as the clock hit noon.

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