By Rafael Lima
Before Abel Pineda began participating in programs at the RYSE Youth Center in Richmond, he says he was a teenager who had lost his friend to gang violence, and who, at a time of severe state budget cuts, found that opportunities and resources for young people were limited in Richmond.
Without the RYSE Center, where Pineda was an organizer at Youth Together, “I wouldn’t be here, and there’s a likelihood I wouldn’t be alive,” Pineda said.
Early this year, at just 26 years old, Pineda was appointed as a city councilmember for the City of San Pablo. The city leader is among a growing list of young people coming up in Richmond who credit RYSE programs for providing a positive, encouraging environment that offered career and life skills. On Friday, they joined RYSE staff and local elected officials at a groundbreaking ceremony for a major renovation and expansion of the RYSE Center, called RYSE Commons, that will increase the center’s program and partnership space by 225 percent.
The center’s existing 6,650 square-foot building at 205 41st at Macdonald Ave will be renovated, and also a new, two-story building and outdoor gardens will be constructed in adjacent lots at 3939 and 3927 Bissell Ave. The lots will grow RYSE’s campus to 37,000 square feet. The new campus is set to open in Spring 2021.
Designed by youth and staff, RYSE Commons will feature “an art studio and exhibition space, teaching kitchen, black box theater, video and media production facilities, business center, spiritual healing space, maker space and pop-up shop, garden, community conference room and rooftop patio,” according to RYSE.
The campus “will be a hub for personal and political development, play, self expression, incubating new ideas, performance, art, launching businesses, exploring tech, youth organizing, and connecting with universities and partners,” RYSE stated.
John Gioia, who was one of the RYSE Center’s founding board members, believes the skies are the limit for the new campus.
“We started this journey about 17 years ago, when there was a lot of organizing work being done by [RYSE co-founder Kimberly Aceves] and others at Richmond High School,” Gioia said. “And they were really trying to understand from young people, what do they want especially in the after school hours and as a support to their efforts at school. And it’s about a safe place that they could have a voice in leading. Not just a place that adults created.”
The property in which RYSE currently sits was formerly owned by Contra Costa County. Today, it is owned by RYSE, and led by Aceve and fellow co-founder Kanwarpal Dhaliwal with the aim of providing youth-led programs in areas such as education and college-readiness, youth organizing, community health and development opportunities in video production, music, visual arts, and performing arts.
RYSE has become “a place that meets young people where they’re at; accepts them where they’re at,” Gioia said. “[A place] that is friendly to young people of all races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, wherever their place in life. And I’m really proud of what the co-founders and staff have done.”
RYSE owes its ability to provide programs and services to a healthy list of donors and foundations, such as early funder The California Endowment.
“I’ve seen this seed of an idea turn into a powerful community based upon love,” said Diane Arronda, senior program manager for The California Endowment who has been involved in the RYSE Center for over a decade. “RYSE challenges and supports young people to dream beyond what the world, and even their own community, tells them what’s possible or what they deserve. The RYSE Commons is a manifestation of those dreams.”
Isaiah Grant, a fellow at RYSE and media producer, said the expansion will harbor “the next generation” of Richmond youth. He said the expanded RYSE Center may no longer be just an interesting, unassuming building near Target, but one that is eye catching and attracts more community members to it.
“I have a lot of memories here,” Grant said. “Now it’s time for new memories.”
Among attendees at Friday’s groundbreaking were Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, a representative of Sen. Mark DeSaulnier’s office, Richmond Councilmember Ben Choi, Contra Costa County Public Defender Robin Lipetzky and Contra Costa County District Attorney Diane Becton, who as part of a restorative justice grant has declared RYSE as a youth diversion center.