Art Hatchett looks back in awe at the 25 years he’s participated in the Richmond GRIP Harmony Walk.
What once was a simple event involving about 100 people to show unity among the community’s faith organizations is now heading into its 30th consecutive year on Oct. 29 with an expected 500 participants, a timed 5K run competition and a large family festival at Nichol Park.
The walk will start and end at Nichol Park in Richmond. Registration begins at 9 a.m., the race start is 10 a.m. and runners will finish at the Harmony Walk Finish Line Festival.
“It used to raise awareness about the homeless. Now it’s grown to include festival with pony rides, train rides, food trucks, music and dancing, the whole bit,” said Hatchett, executive director of GRIP, which is celebrating its 50th year. “It’s really a big community event.”
When the Harmony Walk started 30 years ago, members of various Richmond area congregations walked the streets together to show that unity was needed to battle hunger and homelessness. They were some of the early members of the Greater Richmond Interfaith Program, or GRIP, where various faith organizations agreed they shared this same vision.
“No matter what faith you are, Muslim, Jew, Christian, whatever. Whoever you chose to serve, they wanted you to do something beside serving yourself,” Hatchett said.
Hatchett wasn’t surprised the event would eventually attract participation from local residents and businesses. GRIP as an organization began in 1966 in a small basement with the purpose of pooling resources to help needy seniors in the community. The organization has since evolved to serve 130,000 warm meals in the West County community annually from its soup kitchen, runs a family shelter serving about 250 people this year and a basic needs resource center for the homeless, so they can have laundry services, access to homes, showers, shampoo, all the basic necessities.
The GRIP Harmony Walk/5K Run was started to support some of the growing organization’s services, but the event itself has evolved just as rapidly.
What once was a stroll starting and ending at the Civic Center now includes both relaxed walkers as well as competitive runners in a professionally timed race akin to some of the best known Bay Area races. Golden State Race Timing, a Richmond company, has been tapped for the GRIP Walk/Run this year.
The event also receives sponsorship similar to other big-time competitions, attracting corporate and small biz contributions from Chevron, Kaiser Permanente, Clif Bar, Mechanics Bank, Sims Metal and MA Hays, among others. New this year are Safeway Foundation and Home Depot.
Unlike other races, however, these sponsors are not partaking for profit but for the shared goal of enriching programs that help community members in need.
And don’t even get started about the race-ending festival planned at Nichol Park this year.
“We’re going to have the largest Kid Zone ever,” Event Planner Danielle Franklin said. “We’re pulling from all areas with jumpers, petting zoos, pony rides, a trackless train, arts and crafts, and family oriented pumpkin and costume contests.”
Our favorite new activity may be a costume exchange section. Participants will be encouraged to donate costumes (clean if used) so that children who may not be able to afford one can pick one out, Franklin said.
And those children will then be able to Trick or Treat, as the many vendors at the Nichol Park festival will pass out candy.
“Giving back; that’s what this is all about,” Franklin said “While it’s a fundraiser, it’s really about embracing the community, the people here.”
For Uche Uwahemu, a GRIP board member and candidate for Richmond City Council, the event is special for his family. Last year, Uche’s son Lemuel, 4, became the youngest person to participate in the GRIP Harmony Walk, he said.
“The fact that we have young folks, old folks, homeless people, everyone coming together to take part,” Uwahemu said. “When you get a chance to be out there, you’ll feel the atmosphere; you’ll see that we are actually doing something for the community. No one is segregated from participating. It’s amazing to see all those people coming together.”
Uwahemu credited local companies including Chevron for being a “strong foundation” for GRIP.
“Not just making donations, Chevron has employees donate their time to GRIP programs,” he said.
Chevron officials say it’s an honor to help an organization that makes an impact on the community’s most vulnerable population.
“We hope Chevron’s participation can be a catalyst for other local companies to sponsor and participate in this unifying effort to support our community members who are most in need,” said Andrea Bailey, community engagement manager at Chevron Richmond.
In addition to businesses, dozens of local nonprofits will take part. For more information or to register to walk/ run, visit here.