Jarschire Dennis knows well about unknowns. Like many of his peers from Richmond, the Kennedy High graduate was the first in his family to attend college, “opening up a whole world of unknowns.” Could a kid from Richmond survive the educational rigor of a competitive university?
Fellow Kennedy High alum Jackie Hopkins carried the same worry and anxiety as she headed off to UC Santa Barbara. Just one week into college, she had to return home to Richmond to attend a funeral. Juggling college coursework with struggles back at home isn’t uncommon for students from Richmond. Students from other communities may not have the same distractions, and so students like Hopkins often ask themselves, can they keep up?
The short answer for both Dennis and Hopkins is an emphatic yes. Dennis attends UC Merced, where he’s majoring in psychology, minoring in philosophy and is known for his passionate on-campus advocacy work. Meanwhile, Hopkins recently graduated from UC Santa Barbara on a high note: with a 4.0 grade point average in her final quarter.
Dennis and Hopkins are only two of hundreds of success stories coming from the Richmond Promise, a program established in 2014 by a $35 million investment from Chevron Richmond, which was part of a larger $90 million environmental and community investment agreement with the City of Richmond related to the Refinery’s Modernization Project. The program’s aim is to create both a college going and college success culture in Richmond.
At the annual Richmond Promise Scholars Celebration last week, Dennis and Hopkins told their stories to a new class of over 400 scholars set to attend their first year of college in the fall. These students are set to join over 1,300 current scholars from Richmond who are attending 100 colleges and universities nationwide as part of the seven-year-old Promise program. The program provides college-bound students from Richmond and North Richmond with $1,500 annually to support their college careers, along with guidance on financial aid, academics and college acclimation that remains available to them until they become college graduates.
Dennis and Hopkins urged the Class of 2021 to seek help when in doubt about their college careers. In her sophomore year, Hopkins said the challenges of juggling work, school and life at home had her grades slipping to the point that she was academically dismissed from the school. But before leaving the university, she sought guidance from an academic counselor who connected her with the resources she needed not just to survive but to thrive.
“Don’t hesitate to ask for help,” Hopkins said.
No matter what obstacle there might be, added Dennis, “you all will surely overcome and grow from it.”
“I know it’s easier said than done,” he said. “Because we cannot do it on our own…it is ok to reach out and ask for help, no matter what that help might look like. Know that you will have friends and family who love and support you. And you will always have the Richmond Promise who will do the utmost best to support you, whatever the need may be.”
He recommended that new Promise scholars also “take advantage of your own campus resources.”
“If you need financial aid, go to the financial aid office,” Dennis said. If you need academic support, make sure you visit the on-campus tutoring center, or visit your professor’s office hours,” he said. “Never be afraid to seek help.”
Miguel Molina, manager of College Access Programs & Partnerships for the Richmond Promise, stressed that the Promise provides far more than free scholarship money.
“We are a program that’s here to serve as a home base for any student from Richmond California who decides to go to either a community college, a four-year university or begin a [Career Technical Education] program,” said Molina, adding that the Promise provides programming every summer to prepare incoming college graduates for the challenges ahead.
And once a Promise student becomes a college graduate, they should not forget where they came from, said Jahiem Jones, a Kennedy High graduate who grew up in the flats of Richmond and is now studying at Boston University.
“Growing up in Richmond, there is a tendency for people to leave and not come back,” Jones said, adding, “I encourage everyone here to find a way to give back to your community.”
Jones plans to do so, in part, by bringing social justice to the healthcare system, with a mission to reverse such trends as the relatively high maternal mortality rates among Black mothers. Jones is studying biological sciences with the pre-med track in Boston.
“I believe in healthcare for all, regardless of identity, class, status, attributes of any, and that’s my exact goal for Richmond,” Jones said. “I envision a community of prosperity and joy.”
This year’s class of scholars includes graduating seniors from Richmond High, De Anza High, Kennedy High, El Cerrito High, Pinole Valley High, Hercules High, Salesian College Prep, Middle College High, Making Waves Academy, John Henry High, Vista High, Serra Adult School, Aspire College Prep, Summit K2 High and Leadership Public Schools.
They were all celebrated at last week’s scholar’s event, during which they were also treated to an impressive performance from fellow scholar and singer-songwriter Wanda Gonzalez.