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North Richmond party a hit, especially with kids

on August 6, 2011

Pastor Dana Keith Mitchell promised a good party, and with the help of dozens of volunteers and sponsors, he didn’t disappoint.

The First Annual North Richmond Community Block Party drew more than 200 residents to Mitchell’s North Richmond Missionary Baptist Church Saturday.

Those who turned out were treated to free barbecue, a procession of musical performances, games, dancing and bingo.

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Officer Anthony Diaz lets a local child play with his car's radio sound equipment (photo by Robert Rogers)

For the kids, pony rides in the middle of Filbert Street were a big draw, as were a half-dozen city police officers who let kids sit on their motorcycles and play with the range of gadgets in their police cars.

“It’s like the most fun I had in a long time,” said Emil Williams, 11, sweat beading on his forehead from playing 3-on-3 basketball, another feature of Saturday’s block party.

Organizers, led by Mitchell and pastors at several other local churches, billed the block party as a safe and positive event, as well as an opportunity to build relationships among residents and institutions in a community that has historically been fractured by violence and poverty.

kid playing basketball in north richmond

Youths enjoyed basketball during the event (photo by Robert Rogers)

Chevron Corp., which operates the West Coast’s largest oil refinery less than a mile away, was the event’s biggest financial supporter.

“We’ve had a really warm reception here,” said Heather Kulp, a Chevron Corp. manager who sat at a company booth and chatted up residents and passed out literature Saturday. “I think that for the most part people recognize us as a good neighbor.”

Kulp said she fielded inquiries throughout the day about job application materials.

The party was a bright spot in a community that has not been unscathed by the recent spike in violence in Richmond. Three people have been killed in North Richmond this year, and several more wounded.

On July 23, North Richmond resident Alejandro Cardenas, 19, was shot and killed while in another part of the city.

North Richmond is a community in many ways distinct from the rest of the city, with a boundary line between Richmond and unincorporated county territory dividing it.

Mitchell’s church is just a block south of the border, in city territory.

Pastor Joan Thompson of North Richmond Missionary Baptist Church said the neighborhood has improved in the 17 years she has been here, but more must be done.

“Today’s event is really important because we as a church, all churches here, have to have to get out from behind our walls and engage with the people,” Thompson said. “What is our purpose if not to meet the needs of our community?”

In the middle of Filbert Street, which was roped off for the party, kids bounded in and out of a Richmond police cruiser like it was a jungle gym. They flipped the sirens, twisted the spotlights and giggled into the megaphone.

“This is the most people I have seen out in North Richmond since I’ve been working here,” said Officer Anthony Diaz, talking over the cacophony of youthful voices chirping into his car’s megaphone. “But this is good. It’s real good to get this kind of positive interaction between police and kids at this young age, to show them that we’re nice and we’re here to help.”

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