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Richmond: Adult literacy program celebrating 30 years on Sept. 21

LEAP, the Literacy For Every Adult Program in Richmond, has been serving the community for 30 years and will celebrate its successes at an anniversary event from 12:30 to 4 p.m. Sept. 21 at its offices at 440 Civic Center Plaza, Suite 150 in Richmond.
The celebration will be an open house with “entertainment, raffle prizes, informational workshops and networking opportunities for all.” The community can meet LEAP volunteer tutors past and present, and learn about the success stories of those served by the free program, which is sponsored by the Richmond Public Library.

Below, courtesy of LEAP volunteer Paul Ehara, are examples of lives changed by the program:

If it hadn’t been for that moment 28 years ago when she snapped at her seven-year-old son for asking how to spell a word she didn’t know, maybe Mary Johnson wouldn’t be sitting now in her office at Contra Costa Community College as coordinator of its Cooperative Education program.

Mary vividly remembers that moment and her son Rodney’s reaction to her frustration. “The look in his eyes… he was confused, surprised more than scared. I’ll never forget it,” she said. At the time she was a single mother living in Richmond, California. “My son at age seven was reading and spelling better than I was,” she said. “I felt so badly that I couldn’t help him.”

Most of the adults in Mary’s early life didn’t anchor her childhood and could not always be counted on. And so she had vowed to be a permanent resource for Rodney. “Not being able to help him, it’s when I realized I needed to do something, if only so that he could have a better life,” Mary noted. Compelled by the desire to help her son, Mary set out to become a better reader. Only later would she come to understand that learning how to read and write proficiently would also be a gift to herself.

Shortly after the incident Mary watched a television public service announcement from the local library offering help with reading and writing skills. So she called the Richmond Public Library and the staff there referred her to the Literacy for Every Adult Program, or LEAP, where she received a skills assessment. Mary learned that her overall academic prowess was at a fifth/sixth grade level, and she had the reading and writing skills of a second grader.

How could this be? While Mary had in fact graduated from high school, she had known for years that she possessed beginning literacy skills. Years of moving and changing house-holds between Trenton, New Jersey, Jacksonville, Florida and California had exacted their toll. “I kept quiet in school and was obedient,” she recalled. “I picked up enough survival skills to get to the next grade level.” Mary memorized hundreds of words by sight and thus could read to herself, but she didn’t like reading aloud in front of others; she did so slowly and haltingly. It was an embarrassing and humiliating experience.

At LEAP Mary found help. She experienced the “Aha” moment that she wasn’t alone. “We were all low-level readers,” Mary recalled. “We were all scared, not wanting anybody to know we were there.

“LEAP was like a safe haven, so we could be ourselves and not be embarrassed or ashamed. We could let people know where we were at, and learn. We could support each other, and seeing others in the same situation took away the fear.” The stigma, if not removed, had been softened.

Enter Doris Lopez. A Richmond resident like Mary, living not far from the LEAP office, Doris had recently become a volunteer and had been assigned by LEAP staff to be Mary’s tutor. “This was the best match ever made,” said Mary. “Without Doris I wouldn’t be where I am now.” LEAP had just received a donation of two Apple computers, and the learning materials were being converted from printed materials to software. “But the main resource was the tutors,” said Mary. With help from Doris, Mary worked to improve her reading and writing skills.

“Mary was my first student at LEAP,” recalled Doris. She had just started volunteering, and she remembers noticing Mary’s penchant for African American history and culture. So one day she cut out an article in the Smithsonian magazine about the acclaimed painter Jacob Lawrence and brought it in for the two of them to read together. “Doris would bring in materials she knew I’d be interested in,” recalled Mary. “An article or something to read about Jacob Lawrence, or Othello, anything that tied back to African American or African history. I’d want to read it.” Then there was the time Mary wanted to throw a Kwanzaa celebration, and the two of them worked on the invitations together. Call it a practical writing exercise.

Doris said many times Mary would bring Rodney to the tutoring sessions because she had no other childcare option. For his part, Rodney remembered how many times—for months on end—that Doris would go out of her way to pick them up at their home and drive them to the Richmond Public Library where the tutoring sessions took place. “Eight or nine times out of ten, I’d be in the Children’s Library while my mom worked,” Rodney recalled. Here he spent the time reading books. “That’s where I learned to love books, to love reading,” he said. And if it got late and the library closed, he’d head over to the LEAP office and play learning games on one of the computers. After the tutoring session was over, Doris would then drive them back home.

Soon Doris and Rodney Ferguson, LEAP’s Learning Center evening manager at the time, both encouraged Mary to think about attending the local community college. With some trepidation, Mary would enroll at Contra Costa College and go on to earn her degree. The road was not without its washboard moments. During this time Doris continued to tutor Mary; every now and then Mary would call her, asking if they could get together so she could get some help with a paper she was working on. Thirty years later, they still keep in touch. “It’s been a great friendship,” said Doris. “I’ve been very impressed with her,” she added. “I always thought Mary was an intelligent person. To navigate in a world and not being able to read, you had to be very intelligent.”

Rodney looks back on his mother’s struggles with grace. If Mary’s beginning literacy skills prevented her from helping her son the way she wanted to, she did the next best thing. “I learned how to become self-reliant,” Rodney said, “because she taught me how to look stuff up on my own.”

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§ After earning her associate degree at Contra Costa Community College, Mary Johnson went on to receive her B.A. in psychology at California State University, Hayward. In 1996, two months after graduating, she was hired by LEAP Director Isabel Emerson to be one of the organization’s Learner Coordinators, recruiting students and tutors until 2003. Mary would later earned her graduate degree in marriage and family counseling. She is currently the Cooperative Education Coordinator and an instructor at Contra Costa College, and also serves clients through her private practice.

§ Doris Lopez lives in Richmond and is a volunteer for Richmond Trees (www.richmondtrees.org), founded in 2011. To date Richmond Trees volunteers have planted over 300 trees throughout the city’s neighborhoods.

§ Rodney Wilson (Mary’s son), 35, is the father of a daughter and son who will turn seven and six, respectively, this month. He’s currently majoring in American Studies at UC Berkeley with a concentration in Race and Education. Rodney is applying to Ph.D. programs in sociology and plans to begin earning his doctorate degree in the fall of 2015.

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FEMA issues update, advice following Napa earthquake

The Federal Emergency Management Agency issued the following release this afternoon:

FEMA Urges Caution Following California Earthquake

WASHINGTON – The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), through its Regional Office in Oakland, California, is monitoring the situation following the U.S. Geological Survey report of a 6.0 magnitude earthquake that occurred this morning six miles south southwest of Napa, California. FEMA remains in close coordination with California officials, and its Regional Watch Center is at an enhanced watch to provide additional reporting and monitoring of the situation, including impacts of any additional aftershocks.

FEMA deployed liaison officers to the state emergency operations center in California and to the California coastal region emergency operations center to help coordinate any requests for federal assistance. FEMA also deployed a National Incident Management Assistance Team (IMAT West) to California to support response activities and ensure there are no unmet needs.

“I urge residents and visitors to follow the direction of state, tribal and local officials,” FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said. “Aftershocks can be strong enough to cause additional damage to weakened structures and can occur in the first hours, days, weeks or even months after the quake.”

When disasters occur, the first responders are local emergency and public works personnel, volunteers, humanitarian organizations and numerous private interest groups who provide emergency assistance required to protect the public’s health and safety and to meet immediate human needs.

Safety and Preparedness Tips

Expect aftershocks. These secondary shockwaves are usually less violent than the main quake but can be strong enough to do additional damage to weakened structures and can occur in the first hours, days, weeks or even months after the quake.
During an earthquake, drop, cover and hold on. Minimize movements to a few steps to a nearby safe place. If indoors, stay there until the shaking has stopped and exiting is safe.
If it is safe to do so, check on neighbors who may require assistance.
Use the telephone only for emergency calls. Cellular and land line phone systems may not be functioning properly. The use of text messages to contact family is the best option, when it is available.
Check for gas leaks. If you know how to turn the gas off, do so and report the leak to your local fire department and gas company.

More safety tips can be found at www.ready.gov/earthquakes.

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Richmond shipyards take over Tilden Regional Park on Labor Day in 1942

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Berkeley Daily Gazette warns of upcoming “invasion” of Tilden Regional Park by shipyard workers.

It would have been easy for officials of the World War II Kaiser shipyards in Richmond to take a pass on observing Labor Day in 1942. The massive operation was already operating around the clock producing cargo ships for the war effort and the deadlines that had to be met couldn’t stop to give the tens thousands of employees a day off.
But Kaiser did find a way to honor labor while continuing production on Sept. 7, 1942, and like everything else about the shipyards, it was immense in scale, possibly the largest company picnic ever held in the Bay Area. Confined by travel and gasoline restrictions in choosing a location for the celebration, shipyard officials rented the largest nearby public area available — Tilden Regional Park in the Berkeley hills. The park at that point was 1,700 acres, and less than a decade old and parts of it were being used by the military, including aircraft spotting stations.

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A map directing shipyard workers to the Labor Day picnic at Tilden Park.

Initial estimates were that as many as 25,000 people — shipyard workers and their families — might attend the epic gathering, held from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. with certain portions repeated for the benefit of workers who arrived at different times during the day before or after their shipyard shift had ended.
Admission to the gathering, described by the Berkeley Daily Gazette as “One of the largest and gayest events Northern California has ever seen,” was free — provided employees had paid the $1 annual family dues to enroll in the Richmond Shipyards Athletic Association. The association — an early incarnation of what is known today as the Kaiser Permanente “thrive” philosophy — was a recreation program that hosted baseball and basketball leagues, golf tournaments, bowling leagues, dances (by far the most popular of the association’s offerings) and other events for shipyard families. As with the groundbreaking Kaiser medical plan, the philosophy was that recreational activities resulted in healthier, happier and more productive workers. The day was also justified as a morale-builder and a chance for families — a good many new to the Bay Area — to meet, socialize and feel less like strangers.
The director of the Richmond Shipyards Athletic Association, and chairman of the picnic, was no less a personality than Claude “Tiny” Thornhill, already well-known locally and nationally as the former head coach of the Stanford University football teams that went to the Rose Bowl from 1933-35.
The event was promoted to workers in issues of “Fore ‘n’ Aft,” the shipyard employee magazine, which headline one article “Everybody will be there” and opened another by claiming that

It will be colossal…
It will be stupendous …
It will be terrific …
It will be everything a dozen publicity men from a Hollywood motion picture studio could dream of in a moment of wild imagination.
What are we talking about? Why, the Richmond shipyards Labor Day picnic, of course.

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A preview of the picnic from the Berkeley Daily Gazette.

Maps showing how to get to the park were also published and Kaiser put up signs along the various routes.
Activities included swimming and diving in Lake Anza; golf on the Tilden course; various relay races categorized for men, women and children; band concerts and a vaudeville show featuring shipyard workers that repeated during the day; pickup baseball and softball games; boxing and wrestling; tug-of-war contests; horseshoes “and many other sports.” Not to mention picnicking and barbecues fired up at various sites around the park. Employees also had access to the Brazilian Room, where a dance was scheduled (now-familiar attractions such as the merry-go-round and steam trains were not yet part of the park).
“Lake Anza to be invaded” was the headline in the Berkeley Gazette, while the Oakland Tribune assured readers that “Holiday won’t interrupt work” at Bay Area defense industries. (Interestingly, the machinists union held its own all-day picnic for members at Eastshore Park — now Booker T. Anderson Park — in Richmond that day.)
Actual attendance at the picnic was estimated at 10,000, less than the original projections, but still a large company picnic by any standard.
The event was recounted the next week in “Fore ‘n’ Aft”:

“Gone but not forgotten is the story of the Labor Day picnic held by the Richmond Shipyards Athletic Association at Tilden Park.
Early in the morning excited and anxious crowds began to arrive in cars loaded down with shipyard workmen and their families — and huge baskets piled high with good things to eat.
By mid=afternoon it was estimated that at least ten thousand were present. Some were playing golf, softball and swimming; others were dancing at the Brazilian Pavilion; still others were engaged in various friendly games and contests or listening to a band concer. The rest were milling around having the time of their lives meeting old friends and making new ones.
Everyone who was there can truthfully say, “We sure had a swell time.”

(Our gratitude to the Richmond Museum of History and the East Bay Regional Park District for their assistance with this entry.)

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Preview of the event in the Oakland Tribune.

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Richmond Independent preview of the shipyard picnic.

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Coverage and photos of the event by the Oakland Post Enquirer, courtesy of the East Bay Regional Park District archives.

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More coverage and photos of the event by the Oakland Post Enquirer, courtesy of the East Bay Regional Park District archives.

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A Richmond union also hosted a picnic that day.

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High society and the Marlboro man turn out at Candlestick Park for the 1962 World Series

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With the (supposedly) final event at Candlestick Park now out of the way, we thought it would be fun to look back at the much-maligned stadium when it was a new open-air ballpark that was considered modern and an attraction in itself.
The photos here, taken for the society page of a great metropolitan East Bay newspaper on Oct. 15, 1962, which was game six of the 1962 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the New York Yankees, give glimpses of the original Candlestick.
In the background of society figures, you can see the wooden-bench bleachers in right field, back when it was conceivable that a home run could bounce out of the park and into the parking lot. Looming over the bleachers is the original standalone scoreboard.
The World Series that year was truly a social event, with “country club casual” the dominant attire. Nobody besides players wears a baseball cap or team-themed attire other than an usherette wearing the official uniform designed by Joseph Magnin.
Also notice the stadium’s original wooden seats, which were notorious for snagging women’s nylons (the Giants routinely reimbursed women for the cost of their ruined hose), and the traffic control tower affixed to the back of the stands down the right field line (the tower, which looked designed for a small airport, was relocated to the parking lot and put on a higher pedestal when Candlestick was enclosed in 1971-72).
For the record, game six of the World Series had been postponed three times because of heavy rain in the Bay Area. The Giants, in front of 43,948 fans, won that day behind a complete game by starting pitcher Billy Pierce, to even the series at three wins apiece. Accounts noted that “Two-hundred of the 250 inmates at Alcatraz stayed in their cells to hear the game.”
The day of the series finale on Oct. 16, 1962 was dubbed “Showdown at Candlestick Park” by Marlboro cigarettes, which took out a full-page newspaper ad showing its legendary advertising cowboy standing on the turf of the ballpark behind home plate and claiming the ballpark as “Marlboro Country.” (And indeed, the pictures show some of the fans nonchalantly smoking at their seats, which was the style at the time.)
As we all know, the Giants lost game seven in a 1-0 heartbreaker.

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1948: PG&E proposes a giant natural gas storage tank for Albany Hill

Albany Hill before construction of the condominiums.

The opening of the Gateview Condominiums in Albany in 1977 have changed the look of the city’s namesake hill from Interstate 80.
A proposal almost 30 years earlier might have changed its appearance even more.
In May 1948, PG&E announced plans to build a $1.5 million natural gas storage tank in a residential zone at the northwest side of the hill, presumably about where the condos are now, that won approval from the Albany Planning Commission after a two-hour hearing attended by more than 200.
The Oakland Tribune at the time reported that the steel tank would hold 17 million cubic feet of gas and “would tower over Albany Hill.”
Supporters, including a former mayor, said the city could benefit from the tax revenue the installation bring. Alarmed residents of the area around the hill raised safety and aesthetic concerns and began a petition drive to bring the issue to voters.

“Walter Howell, Berkeley area manager for P.G. and E., told the hearing, that steel for the tank had already been ordered and the company “”will have to start from scratch” if they find an election will delay rezoning …”
“Backing its drive for the tank the company pointed out it would supply 15 to 20 per cent of the gas used in the East Bay and that the company has never had a tank burn.”

We wonder if the condominiums would have been proposed if the project had been realized.

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1944 Port Chicago explosion: ‘We didn’t know what to think’

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The 70th anniversary of the Port Chicago explosion on July 17, 1944 that killed 320 men and critically injured hundreds more will be commemorated by events looking back on the World War II home front disaster from a modern day perspective, most notably the 50 African American men charged with mutiny for refusing to return to work in the unsafe conditions at at the segregated Naval facility.
The explosion was heard and felt in every county of the Bay Area and given the wartime conditions, “We didn’t know what to think,” said one of the women employed at the Kaiser shipyards in Richmond at the time. The first thought for many was that the enemy had attacked or there was some sort of sabotage, she added.
Port Chicago today is a national memorial site commemorating those who died and those who stood up for their rights.
Presented here is some of the coverage of the explosion as it appeared in the first two days after, 70 years ago in the Berkeley Daily Gazette.

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Richmond: Home Front Film Festival presents “Casablanca” on Thursday

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This week’s screening at the Home Front Film Festival is the Warner Bros. all-time classic “Casablanca” (1942), showing in all its black-and-white glory at 7 p.m. July 10 on board the the SS Red Oak Victory, 1337 Canal Blvd. in the Port of Richmond. Boarding begins at 6:30 p.m.
The all-star cast includes Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet, and, of course, Dooley Wilson as Sam, performing “As Time Goes By.”
The film will be introduced and put into the context of the World War II Home Front by Ranger Craig Riordan.
This showing is free to the public.
For more details call 510-237-2933.

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Video: El Cerrito High School jazz ensemble in final hometown performance before their European tour

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Music instructor Keith Johnson leads the El Cerrito High School jazz ensemble in a performance for celebrants at the city’s annual July 4 Festival on the closed block of Pomona Avenue next to Cerrito Vista Park, (scroll down for video of their opening number). It was the ensemble’s final stateside presentation before leaving this week for an eight-concert tour in Europe that will take them to Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

The tour schedule is shown on the back of the group’s tour T-shirt, pictured below.

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