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First Friday at RYSE Center

on March 7, 2012

It was a Friday night in Richmond, and more than 50 teenagers from Kennedy High School and Richmond High School got ready to square off against each other. But instead of fighting, students from their respective schools put their dance moves to the test at the RYSE Center’s launch of their “First Friday” event series.

“Who’s ready to party tonight?” yelled host Gemikia Henderson into the microphone to applause by the screaming crowd and the sound of record scratching by DJ Black Mark.

RYSE, a youth center that offers programs and support services to young people in Richmond, is intent on promoting a positive environment for youth in a city that has a reputation for gun violence. The event ran from 6pm – 9pm and the theme was “Drop the Drama & Pick Up Your Swagg!” which included a Swagg Contest where the audience voted on who was the best dressed.

‘Swagg’, short for swagger, is slang used to describe one’s style or presence. On Friday, there was plenty of ‘swagg’ to go around with contestants sporting everything from baseball fitted caps and jeans with Air Jordan sneakers to the more classy attire of designer high heel shoes, hand-made jewelry and sports blazers. The audience chose three contestants and each gave a short speech to explain their unique brand of ‘swagg’.

“Everyone is pretty excited to launch our First Friday event series,” said Dan Reilly, RYSE Media Coordinator. “This is the just the first of many First Friday events to provide youth with a safe space to hang out in Richmond.”

Hosts Henderson and Anaya Primes kept the crowd hyped and informed about the night’s schedule. “We’re so tired of there being nothing to do in Richmond for our age group,” said Primes. “Everyone pitched in to put this party together. If we didn’t do this, people would either be at home or doing something stupid in the streets.”

Staff members worked as security at the door; anyone who entered had to have a party wristband. Mardi Gras beads, snacks, and free t-shirts from the hip-hop station 106.1 FM KMEL were passed out to the partygoers. The movie “All About the Benjamins” played in the media room, and partygoers wanting to have their picture taken by RYSE’s multimedia team were lined up down the hallway.

“This party is about creating a safe space for youth to party,” said Emily Moldenhauer, a staff member and Media, Arts, & Culture project manager at RYSE. “People came because it’s exciting to be invited to a party with a live DJ with their friends.”

The night’s festivities also included a lively performance from local rappers Dvondre “Pooka” Woodards and “Chrissy Chris” Hall who debuted their songs “Voicemail,” “Gettin Paper,” and “How You Feel.” Singers Rolanda “Roe” Bell and Talya “Tie” Patrick performed two songs a capella. Both Tie and Roe are Oakland natives and attend Laney College as theater majors.

The RYSE center opened in 2008 through the campaigning of the community based leadership and educational organization Youth Together after the tragic killing of four high school students in December 2000. This prompted a public outcry and a desire among community leaders to create a safe space for young people to hang out and participate in programs and services.

The students put the word out about the party through the social networking sites Facebook and Twitter, as well as by texting their friends. By the time the clock struck 6, scores of teenagers filled the performance area and lounge.

“Originally, we were supposed to have started the First Friday series in February, but there was some miscommunication and it didn’t end up happening,” said Henderson. “Everyone was disappointed so we decided that we would make sure this party got under way.”



  1. Richmond Pulse on March 8, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    Great Job Spencer

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