The cost and academic rigor of college has intimidated Kennedy High senior Sam Bauzon many times before. But she’s made a promise she intends to keep. Her immigrant parents sacrificed to provide her a better future, she said, and attending college is a way to give back to them.
“It’s a way to end the circle of poverty,” she said.
On Friday night, Bauzon also gave credit to a separate promise, this one made by the Richmond community, for helping her realize her college dreams.
Bauzon will be the first member of her family to attend college and will attend UCLA in the fall semester, focusing on anthropology and film and media, according to the West Contra Costa Unified School District.
During her student keynote address at the 4th Annual Richmond Promise Scholars Celebration at Richmond Memorial Auditorium, Bauzon expressed gratitude in being among the over 500 graduating seniors from 16 high schools who are receiving scholarship money and guidance to attend higher education institutions next year. Next fall, over 1,000 recipients of the Richmond Promise program will be representing Richmond at 100 colleges and universities across the U.S., a mighty feat for a relatively new program that aims, ultimately, to build a college-going and college-success culture in the city.
The Richmond Promise provides $1,500 per year to assist Richmond and North Richmond students obtain a bachelor’s degree, associate’s degree or Career and Technical Education (CTE) certificate from an accredited four-year university or community college. This year’s class received a total $4.5 million financial commitment, the Promise reported. Established in 2014 by the Richmond City Council, the program was funded by $35 million from a $90 million environmental and community investment agreement with Chevron Richmond connected to the Refinery Modernization Project.
The program goes well beyond providing scholarship money. It has established Middle School U, a classroom-based strategy at Richmond schools to help break barriers to college for younger students. It is also rapidly growing its financial aid application assistance program, which holds workshops, fields calls for assistance and heads onto local high school campuses to guide students in completing all forms necessary to help make college affordable. The Promise team also set up summer workshops to help high school students transition to college, and has partnered with colleges and universities to continue support for students while they’re in college. Individualized college success coaching and campus peer networks have also been set up.
The ultimate goal? To ensure that college is accessible and achievable for all Richmond students.
“…The Richmond Promise believes in me,” Bauzon said during her keynote address Friday. “The Richmond Promise sees the potential in everyone here and is willing to see us into success. They are funding our dreams.”
Hundreds of community members, including elected officials and representatives of local businesses, nonprofits and education institutions, attended Friday’s scholarship celebration.
“We need to ensure that all children in Richmond have access to a high quality education that provides them with bright futures,” Richmond Mayor Tom Butt said at the event.
The mayor was integral in establishing the Promise along with Councilmember Jael Myrick.
“By investing in you and your education, we’re investing in the future of this city,” Mayor Butt said.
Lily Rahnema, community engagement manager for Chevron Richmond, echoed the mayor’s sentiments. Beyond providing the seed funding for Richmond Promise five years ago, the company continues to invest in such programs as Project SEED, a paid summer internship at the Chevron Richmond Technology Center; MESA, which provides underserved youth a pipeline to college and careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math); Fuel Your School, which funds project materials for local teachers and the state-of-the-art Richmond Fab Lab at Kennedy High.
A robust education is key to the success of communities, Rahnema said. The rapid pace of technology, including at the Richmond Refinery, has Chevron focusing investments on key subjects of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
“By investing in these programs, we are giving students in our community access to specific resources today that will help prepare them for tomorrow’s economy, and that includes a future workforce for the Richmond Refinery,” Rahnema said.
Also attending Friday’s event were several Richmond councilmembers, West Contra Costa Unified Superintendent Matthew Duffy, district trustees, and representative from multiple higher education institutions, including Contra Costa College President Mojdeh Mehdizadeh. Mayra Padilla, dean of Institutional Effectiveness and Equity at Contra Costa College, delivered the keynote speech, encouraging students to trust in themselves and to go after their dreams.
“The Promise is as strong as its partnerships,” said Executive Director Jessie Stewart. “We recognize that our mission is much larger than any one organization and necessitates alignment across school partners, local nonprofits, institutions of higher education, and most importantly, our students. This is why relationships, trust, and community are at the core of our work. Together, we can create a Richmond where every young person has the opportunity to own and define their future, and shape the direction of this City for generations to come. The future is bright.”
Friday’s celebration was sponsored by Permanente, The California Endowment, Sims Metal Management, Mechanics Bank, Republic Services, and Travis Credit Union.
Additional information about the Richmond Promise is available at www.richmondpromise.org.