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Where have I been? Getting to know Richmond…

I get up early, because I need at least one hour and a half to make it there.

My bags are carefully prepared, exactly what I need, no more, because if I loose something I don’t want to loose it all.

Depending on the timing I will need two or three different trains. N-Judah, jump in and jump out at embarcadero; Bart train one, jump in and jump out at 19th avenue; Bart train two, jump in and jump out once I get there. At this point I am so used to the transitions and the timings that I can almost jump from one train to the other like locals do.

I should mention how much I love using public transport. The kind of people I have seen! Today, this guy was sitting next to me with his instrument. He looked mad. Maybe they got on a fight.

“Ashby station,” I’m getting close… “El Cerrito del Norte,” I’m in the neighborhood… “Richmond station, this train is now out of service,” I’m here.

I step out to a clean and solitary Bart station in the heart of the city.

Little has changed since I first came here three months ago… The Jehovah’s witnesses are still there, still displaying their small books in the cold cement bench inside the station.

There’s always representation of the homeless/drug addict community, but I must confessed I never saw the 32-cents lady again. Maybe she got her cash an fled the city.

The Spanish sounds mixed with the mispronunciation of English is also there.

City Hall... so many times I had to come here!

Again, it feels like home, but after so many visits in only 15 weeks, it has turned into a new home.

Despite the feeling of familiarity, this new home is different because it has gone and it is going through a lot that is new for me.

When you think about it, Richmond is not that big. It only has 100,000 inhabitants and even though it looked really big on the map, I have discovered that with one hour between appointments I can actually walk from one corner to the other (there is no better gym)

But this small city has the problems of a metropolis: wealthy industry mixed with extreme poverty; violence mixed with faith and church; black mixed with white, mixed with brown, mix with yellow.

Reporting about this city has been a wonderfully challenging experience.

The challenge of telling stories with words has always been there, but doing so about Richmond has been wonderful because it gave me the opportunity to use my bilingual skills, it kept me close to the issues I care to report about, and it pushed my sixth sense to develop even more, always asking myself, where’s the story? Where’s the danger? Where’s the bart station again?

I have met amazing people in the process. From my editor at the Pulse, Malcolm Marshall, who’s been an unconditional supporter, to former drug-dealing young men that are trying to make their life a more productive one, for them and their city.

There are so many people in this city doing good that I think is really sad how only the bad some people do gets out to the world.

That is why my reporting talked mostly about the good and not the bad: Mrs Bennie, 23rd Street, Cease Fire program, young poets, proud police officers.

Cease Fire night walk at Pullman Point on Friday March 9, 2012. Larry Bradford was at Pullman Point and received literature about Cease Fire. "I want to be famous," he said as he posed for the photo.

But I also got to see the consequences of the bad by reporting about the Grisby Case.

It is so sad to see two young lives waisted: Gene Grisby died at 16-years-old just because he was born in a particular neighborhood and that day he walked to the gym. Tyris Franklin was found guilty of first degree murder and on May 25 he will hear his sentence, which could go from 50 years to a life in prison.

Many fathers and sons have been lost in this city. They pain is strong and hard to let go. A wall with photos and trophies from Grisby's and Bell's football championship.

Lately I met six people that shine. They have been giving without reserve to the city for many years and the city wanted to honor them for it, they are the winners of the 2012 Distinguished Service Awards.

Allow me to introduce you…

Bea Roberson posses for a photo outside of City Hall at Richmond on Friday, April 27, 2012. Roberson received the 2012 Distinguished Service Award in the special category for her service to the city of Richmond for decades. Roberson is the president of the Richmond Neighborhood City Counsel, the Chairman of the Police Commission, treasurer of the Richmond and El Cerrito Fire and Police Holiday Program, member of the Crime Prevention Board, logistic chair of the June 10 celebrations and the Home Front Festival, among others. Roberson moved to Richmond from Oklahoma in 1964. "€œI need to go back to work to get a vacation," said Roberson when she talked about how busy she is.
Bradley Blake posses for a portrait at the Career Center at Richmond High School on Thursday May 3, 2012. Blake received the Distinguished Service Award in the Education category for his service to the city of Richmond for creating "College is Real." College is Real gives kids from the the poorest areas the chance to think about and/or consider going to college, and if they chose to go to college they are shown the way.
Isela Gonzales poses for a photo at Nevin Park on Tuesday May 1, 2012. Gonzales received the 2012 Distinguished Service Award in the Public Safety category for her service to the city of Richmond for the past five years. The 35-year-old woman native from Mexico is the Co-Chair for Dinner Dialogue, the representative of the voice of the Latino community. She has participated in many Iron Triangle community organized events, including the street clean up of 7th, 8th and 9th street.
Cameron J. Williams posses for a portrait at the Center for Human Development youth community garden in North Richmond on Wednesday May 16, 2012. Williams received the Distinguished Service Award in the City Beautification category for his service to the city of Richmond for the past 10 years as a volunteer at Teens Wiping Away Stereotypes (TWAS). Cameron has work in several projects, mostly in community sustainability and improving the physical appearance of North Richmond, like the community garden, the 100 Community Bricks, and leading a petition against developers building condos and houses on Breuner Marsh, which is a local regional park and home to several migrating birds.
Jan Schilling posses for a portrait at Richmond Veteran's Hall on Friday May 5, 2012. Schilling received the Distinguished Service Award in the Health and Wellness category for his service to the city of Richmond for the past six years. Schilling is the volunteer Executive Director and founder of Weight of life, a program for the under-served community in Richmond where residents have access to a high-quality, culturally appropriate, low-cost way to engage in vigorous physical activity, learn about nutrition, eat nutritious foods, and support each other along the way.
Goshi Kogure posses for a portrait at Richmond Art Center on Thursday May 3, 2012. Kogure received the Distinguished Service Award in the Arts category for his service to the city of Richmond for the past two years. Kogure takes care of the bones of the Art Center by vacuuming, light plumbing, cleaning bathrooms, gardening, mopping, dusting, and others. He also trains and supervises community service workers.

Reporting from and about Richmond in the past 16 weeks improved my hearing and note taking skills, it exercised my capacity to see and dig for stories and it reminded me that no matter where you come from and where you are going to, humans are humans, and we all share the same desires, the same hopes, the same fears and the same needs, whether we externalize them in Spanish or English.

Richmond has help me become a better journalist, a decent writer and a more compassionate person.

Oh! and it also help me gain a couple of pounds! The Mexican food was amazing!

At Pepito’s Deli having a quesadilla today, Wednesday May 16, 2012.

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