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Black History Month

Reserve a seat for Richmond Library’s tribute to the city’s sports leaders

on February 22, 2023

In honor of Black History Month, Richmond Public Library will hold a free event on Thursday, honoring the city’s early Black recreation and sports leaders. 

The program, called “Straight Outta Richmond,” will acknowledge Charlie Reid, Eural McKelvy, and C.A. Robertson who organized sports activities that led to a competitive but healthy environment, fostered collaboration, and created a pathway for some Richmond kids to play professional sports. Reid and McKelvy are deceased, but Robertson is expected to attend. 

“This program speaks to the intersection of politics, funding and services for Black citizens that were initially relegated to live in the unincorporated North Richmond community,” said Angela Cox, Teen & Young Adult Services librarian, who co-produced the event.

The opportunities children would find while growing up in Richmond started with people like Reid. As director of Richmond’s Shields Park (now Shields-Reid Park), Reid was responsible for creating recreation and sports activities in North Richmond, beginning in 1947, providing opportunities for young athletes from all around the city. 

McKelvy was a disciple of Reid and played with the Harlem Globetrotters in the 1960s. He then returned to Richmond to carry the torch of his mentor and became a youth sports leader and community advocate for three decades. 

Robertson was a former Richmond police officer who started Richmond’s Police Athletic League (now Police Activities League), in 1982, providing a safe and nurturing environment for kids to compete in citywide sports and other activities. 

The program will also pay tribute to Nat Bates, for 56 years of service as a mayor, city council member, and supporter of the city’s recreation programs. Bates also was a talented athlete, playing professional baseball in Canada in the 1950s, which led to his induction in the Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame

Black History Month
Charlie Reid (left) and Nat Bates at the opening ceremony of the Shields-Reid Community Center (Courtesy of the Richmond Public Library)

Another highlight will be a video tribute by co-producer Doug Harris to the 1975 Harry Ells High School track team, with Tiny Davis, Dedy Cooper and Ed Miller. Their Kennedy High School rival Spider Gaines joined the tribute. 

That was the only team from Richmond to win the California State Track Meet. The rivalry between sprinters Cooper and Gaines is considered one of the best in the history of Bay Area high school track and field, the library notes. 

Harris, a former Richmond recreation program coordinator, also will pay video tribute to world class sprinter Charonda Williams, who broke records at Arizona State University and finished fourth in the 200-meter dash at the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in 2009. 

Harris made the tribute films that will be shown Thursday evening and also produced a minute-long highlight video that showcases Richmond’s contribution to sports. That snapshot includes nearly two dozen athletes with Richmond ties, including the Green brothers — Pumpsie, who was among the players to integrate baseball in the 1950s, and Cornell, a Pro Bowl player who won a Super Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys in the 1960s;  football stars Bennie Barnes, who won a Super Bowl with the Cowboys in the 1970s, and D’Marco Farr, who won one with the Rams in the 1990s; basketball stars Drew Gooden, who played in the NBA for 14 seasons, and Brian Shaw, who has been involved with the NBA as a player or coach since the late 1980s; baseball stars Willie McGee, who spent two decades in the Major League, and Ed Miller, who played with various MLB teams; as well as track stars Charonda Williams, who represented the U.S. in the World Championships in 2009, and Dedy Cooper, who made the U.S. team for the boycotted 1980 Summer  Olympics.

The event will reunite current and former players who took advantage of the city’s sports and recreation offerings and give them an opportunity to recognize the contributions of those who made the programs possible. 

Miller, 65, said he is grateful to come out of Richmond’s sports tradition.  

“I was inspired by lots of my heroes in the Richmond community,” he said in an interview. 

‘An incredible accomplishment’

Miller played football, basketball and baseball, and later coached Richmond kids. But he said his sports life began with running around the streets and playgrounds in his Richmond neighborhood. Miller credited his coaches, especially at Harry Ellis High School, with instilling pride and “a never-give-up attitude” in him and his teammates. 

“That’s what propelled us to be as good as we were,”  he said.

At Harry Ells, Miller was known for his baseball and football talent.

“I was really fast and ran a lot of touchdowns,” he said. 

Cooper and Davis talked him into joining the track team. But Harry Ells did not have a track, Miller recalled, only a long, dirt straightaway. So they held practices at Contra Costa College. The 1975 state championship in San Diego would be a seminal moment in Miller’s life and that of his four teammates.

“For me, that was an incredible accomplishment,” he said. 

Decades later, Charonda Williams would become part of that rich tradition when she started running with the Richmond Half Steppers during her high school summers. Williams said she had a rough childhood and was raised by her grandmother. Running opened doors for her, including a college education. 

After winning state titles at Laney College in Oakland, she went to Arizona State University on a full scholarship, breaking four school records and earning a spot on the 2009 U.S. World team. That year, Williams signed a contract with Adidas that lasted until 2018, when she was pregnant with her first child. Now she is focusing on her family. 

“My interest in track enabled me to expand my horizons using my talent,” Williams said. 

She is grateful for the support she received from her coaches in Richmond and in college and from the neighbors who helped her believe she could achieve her dreams. 

Williams nurtures that spirit in the next generation, through her volunteer work with Athletes for Hope, a national nonprofit that breaks down barriers for aspiring athletes.

Williams will deliver the keynote address at the event, which is at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Richmond City Council Chambers, 440 Civic Center Plaza. 

Registering for tickets is encouraged, as seating is limited. Free tickets can be reserved through Eventbrite.

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