In this period of Advent, as we read scriptures from about rough places being made smooth and a light in shining in the darkness, I cannot help but think of North Richmond. North Richmond is known for its crime, poverty, and its separation from all that surrounds it. It is a rough place. It also has one of the highest concentrations of undocumented workers in the region, and because it is unincorporated Contra Costa County, they are prone to deportation initiated by the Sheriff.
On Thurs Dec 7, six of us from ACC toured North Richmond. We started at the Neighborhood House (now called the North Richmond Multicultural Senior Center) by giving gift cards to Ms. Corrine Sain, and then went on a self-guided tour of the North Richmond Farm that is run by Urban Tilth, and ended with a tour of the Shields-Reid Rec Center and a conversation with the director, Troy Porter, and County Supervisor Gioia’s assistant, Robert Rogers. These places are definitely lights shining through the crime, poverty, separation. Shields-Reid has after school programs for more than 70 kids; most receive free lunches at school, about half are African-American and half are Latino, and many do not speak English or have English as their second language. The Multicultural Senior Center offers a comfortable place for people to gather, play bingo, eat some lunch. The Farm is beginning to plant natives, vegetables, and it is working toward an orchard, a farm stand, and model kitchen as it becomes not only a garden but a center for education. In the rough places, these agencies make the living smoother, better, more beautiful.
As a pastor of a justice-seeking church, I am interested in making sure people of all ages, races, and economic positions have access to the basics: food, water, housing, education, health care and family. I would add in access to beauty and a clean environment. In North Richmond, many of those are difficult to find. Part of what makes North Richmond isolated is the industry surrounding it, which contributes to air pollution, and the waste management facility on the Bay, which encourages illegal dumping along the roads leading to the dump. Most kids in the schools are reading 2 years behind their grade level and they lose approximately 6 months each summer. Gardens are rare, and often kept behind high wrought iron fencing. That is why I am grateful for the places we toured on Thursday, and for the people who are dedicated to changing North Richmond for the better.
I hope to arrange more tours in order for us to touch the problems, to see the waste, and to also hear the hopes and dreams of a place long separated from the advancements of the surrounding region. In this time of Advent, as we restoration of our hearts, I also pray for restoration of places like North Richmond. May the rough places be made plane.
May God restore your hearts this Advent, so that you may receive the Christ-light in a newly renovated place of welcome. Peace, Pastor Tony