By Kathy Chouteau
Last year, Jesus Parra said his life ran into a “dead end” and he ended up in Juvenile Hall and received probation. YouthBUILD was recommended to him.
“They offered us the right path in life; they told us we didn’t have to give up,” said Parra.
Parra was among the latest eight-member cohort to graduate from RichmondBUILD’s YouthBUILD program, where participants overcome at-risk backgrounds to earn their high school diplomas through John Muir Charter School, while concurrently receiving free training in construction careers. Parra, John Muir valedictorian, spoke at a graduation ceremony on Friday at RichmondBUILD Academy, 360 South 27th St.
“They taught us having a job is a new way of life,” he said. “It helps you provide for your family and it keeps you focused on nothing but positivity.”
Parra then exclaimed, “We are the future,” to enthusiastic audience applause.
Class of 2021 graduates also include Alfredo Sanchez, Angel Gomez, Adam Martinez, Educardo Teepa, Joshua Phuthama, Mayra Sanchez and Alonzo Castillo. Along with their diplomas, the graduates received their OSHA 30, House Wopper 40, First Aid/CPR and MC3 certifications—as well as their RichmondBUILD certification, which allows them direct entry into the carpenters’ union, according to RichmondBUILD/YouthBUILD Program Manager Fred Lucero.
“They are truly remarkable young people; they have a bright future ahead of them,” Lucero said during the ceremony regarding the graduates, who spent the past 14 months in the YouthBUILD program.
Recognizing many of the students’ winding but ultimately successful roads to graduation day, their instructor, Eric Smith, from John Muir Charter School took the podium and paid tribute. In a booming voice, he said to great impact: “MOUNTAIN! MOUNTAIN! MOUNTAIN! Get out of my way,” paraphrasing Matthew 17:20-21 from the Bible, which he first heard via Gwendolyn Goldsby Grant at a pivotal time in his own life.
Referring to them as “words that changed my life,” Smith urged his students to “keep moving to the top.” “You’ve already experienced those mountains, and you will have many more mountains to say ‘get out of your way.’ This is not to scare you, gentlemen and ladies, but it is to prepare you for what is ahead.”
With that, and before an audience of approximately 50 people, proud parents and other family members among them, Smith distributed the diplomas to each of his students and declared: “Graduates of the Class of 2021, you are now graduated. That’s a wrap!”
To the sounds of Pomp & Circumstance, the graduates exited the building, ready to conquer their next mountain.
Learn more about RichmondBUILD, which runs YouthBUILD’s program here. Call (510) 621-1781 to reach YouthBUILD directly.