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City celebrates 61st anniversary of United Nations Declaration

on December 16, 2009

It was a small event with modest aims: A handful of officials from a budget-less city commission gathered just off the curb near a Home Depot store.

They were thickly bundled on this cold Thursday morning. Icy winds wrought havoc on their little canopy and the pastries and coffee they’d lay on a foldout table.

But the members of the city’s Human Relations Commission were undeterred. Richmond is one of only three cities in the nation to do what the commissioners helped accomplish last month: A resolution adopting the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights as the city’s guiding principles.

Day laborers congregate on the sidewalk near the Home Depot on San Pablo Blvd.

Day laborers congregate on the sidewalk near the Home Depot on San Pablo Blvd.

On Thursday Richmond observed the anniversary of the declaration’s adoption by gathering near a hub for day laborers, with coffee, pastries and educational literature for about 50 men who hang around looking for work.

Catahoula Coffee, a local business, donated the coffee. The rest of the morning goodies were paid for by the commissioners themselves.

“We’re here to support people who are trying to find meaningful work,” said Marilyn Langlois, a representative from the office of Mayor Gayle McLaughlin. “And cheer them up on this cold morning with a little bit of warm beverage and something to eat.”

Langlois joined the group of volunteers, which included six of the seven members of the Human Relations Commission, for two hours beginning at 8 a.m.

In early November, the City Council unanimously agreed to declare Richmond a “Human Rights City,” following months of planning and discussion within the commission. Three weeks later, on Nov. 23, the morning event was planned. It is the first street-level action in support of the city’s new designation. The gathering commemorated the 61st anniversary of the United Nation’s adoption of a declaration of human rights.

“It’s been a wonderful opportunity to come out in the community and really learn what’s going on here,” said Commissioner Vivien Feyer. “Some of the guys out here will stand out here every day for a month and have been unable to get any work at all. “

Day laborers were given coffee and pastries.

Day laborers were given coffee and pastries.

Feyer said many of the laborers told her they were former construction workers, but had lost their jobs when the housing market collapsed.

Now they scrounge for work of a very different sort, she said.

“A lot of their jobs are moving, helping people move out of their homes,” Feyer said. The contrast of going from employment as homebuilders to sporadic jobs helping people move away is “very poignant,” Feyer added.

More was available to the laborers than just friendly conversation, coffee and pastries. Commission members stressed that they hoped the bilingual educational literature would help some of the laborers.

“We’re just out here to do some good, to help people,” said Kathleen Sullivan, chair of the Human Relations Commission. Sullivan said that the commission members brought bilingual literature on the legal rights people have during immigration raids, parenting education, other legal resources, AIDS education and free condoms.

Commissioner Wendy Gonzalez paced up and down the sidewalks to reach out to the laborers either too timid or too disinterested to come to the coffee stand.

“They say right now it’s really slow.” Gonzalez said. “There’s not enough work for them right now, and they’re out here freezing.”

The laborers seemed to enjoy the unexpected munificence.

“Were feeling good because it’s coffee and donuts in the morning,” said a day laborer, a hood drawn over a knit cap and tan jacket over a sweatshirt. He said he didn’t want to give his name because of his immigration status.

By 10 a.m., the event was nearing its end. The commissioners said they were happy with their start, and took pride in observing the signing of a document that contains some of mankind’s most noble aspirations.

“I have total respect for all the people out here,” Gonzalez said. “This is the least we can do.”

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