By Mike Kinney
A unique job expo at Nicholl Park in Richmond on Saturday not only featured employment opportunities and assistance, but also family activities, giveaways of school supplies, free haircuts, COVID-19 vaccinations and a beautiful display of low-rider vehicles.
The eclectic event was organized by the Southside Economic Empowerment Development LLC (SEED), Independent Holiness Church and the Contra Costa Building and Construction Trades Council, with sponsors including Chevron Richmond and Phillips 66.
Christopher Whitmore, chief of staff for Mayor Tom Butt’s office, noted that the city waived all fees for use of Nicholl Park for the job expo as part of an ongoing COVID-19 recovery effort.
“This Job Expo is about getting people connected with jobs because many people are changing their careers because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mayor Tom Butt said. “And any effort to connect people with jobs is important. There is no better place for a Job Expo than right here in Richmond.”
Various building trade representatives offered opportunities for enlistments and union construction company representatives offered opportunities for employment. Some attendees received stipends to pay for initial union joining fees. Current union members received assistance with FastTrak passes and parking tickets, PPE and tools support along with housing rental or utility assistance. In addition to trade unions, tents/tables at the expose were manned by the Richmond Police Department, Republic Services and County Health Services, among others.
Public agencies were on hand to assist with the expungement of misdemeanors, and faith-based and community organizations to help encourage and assist with life’s daily challenges.
Families of job seekers also received resources, including back-to-school haircuts. About 200 backpacks filled with school supplies were distributed by the local organization Got Goals! The backpacks were supplied by GO West Contra Costa as part of their Fresh Start Backpack Drive, sponsored by the S.H. Cowell Foundation, the Hercules, Rodeo and Crockett Rotary and Tom Panas. Another 100 backpacks were provided via donations by SEED, Independent Holiness Church and the Contra Costa Building and Construction Trades Council, which partnered with Walmart and Target to buy supplies to fill all of the backpacks.
The job expo also included a Kids Korner supervised by Got Goals! that included a play construction zone for children, and two jumpers supplied by the Richmond Police Activities League. CJ’s Barbecue & Fish served attendees.
Richmond’s Unfinished Business Car Club supplied the gorgeous display of cars. Meanwhile, Luther Evans and his son Brandon, owners of Evans Auto and Truck Services in Albany, raffled off a car for the expo. A flat screen TV and bike were among other raffled items.
“A real career changes a person’s life, especially in the building and construction industries,” noted Brandon Evans.
Don Gosney, a 51-year member and retired President of the Plumbers & Steamfitters Union Local 342, said even in the Internet age where a wealth of information is readily available, career expos are needed.
“Having a live person available to answer questions in real time is so much better than trying to email a union or company hoping that someone will respond, that someone will respond quickly and actually will answer the question being asked,” Gosney said.
Community leader Gerald Hatchett added the importance of connecting young people with jobs to get them on the right track and help them acquire necessary skills and experience for their futures.
The Bay Area is expensive, and good-paying jobs in the building trades will prevent local men and women from having to move, said Rev. Raymond Landry of Independent Holiness Church.
Hatchett credited community activist Antwon Cloird, who served as volunteer outreach coordinator, for making the job expo possible. During the expo, Cloird was honored with certificates from the offices of Mayor Butt, Supervisor John Gioia and Congressman Mark DeSaulnier for his community service.
“We’re honoring Antwon’s community service because he has overcome his own personal struggles and committed his life to improve the health and well-being of other’s who are dealing with serious challenges,” Gioia said. “Antwon’s service to Contra Costa have made us a stronger and more equitable community.”
Clorid said years of outreach in the community showed him that connecting locals with job opportunities has been lacking.
“There was simply no real resources,” said Cloird.
“Thanks to the building trades, who were watching my outreach work when I was a laborer, I was able to sit down with them and discuss having a job expo here in Richmond,” Cloird said. “After several meetings with them, they approved the Job Expo coming here to town.”
Cloird served not only as an organizer but as an example to community members struggling to get on their feet. For more than a decade, Cloird, a former addict known for helping community members battle homelessness and addictions through opportunities, “has worked tirelessly” to provide “a sense of hope” to neighbors in need, DeSaulnier said.
The expo is further proof of Cloird’s efforts.
“It is so rare to see so many life-changing opportunities in one place at one time,” said Robert Rogers, District 1 coordinator for Supervisor John Gioia’s office.