By Kathy Chouteau
While Sylvester Greenwood Academy students Octavious Mims and Oswaldo Navarrete earned the spotlight at a speech competition in the school’s gym last week, they ended up turning the spotlight right back on their community, expressing their gratitude to their school and organizations like the Boys & Girls Club of Contra Costa County (BGCCC) for helping put them in a position to succeed.
Navarrete and Mims, both high school seniors, vied for a title and a $1,000 prize at the BGCCC’s “Youth of the Year Event” on Thurs., May 12. The competition was part of a broader youth program funded through sponsorships that include Chevron Richmond, Rosie the Riveter Trust and the National Park Service.
During their senior year at school, the student competitors spent two days per week participating in life-bolstering BGCCC programming. Before an intimate crowd of approximately 25 supporters, Mims and Navarrete delivered public speeches for the first time in their lives.
Navarrete—who won the competition—spoke about his difficulties as an undocumented student who came to the U.S. at age five with his aunt, with his early years spent frequently moving from place to place and school to school in Southern California.
“At a young age, my environment consisted of gang culture, poverty, discrimination—and most of all—broken promises,” he said, noting that a “blessing” occurred two years ago when he moved to Richmond with his older sister, who envisioned “a better future” for him.
Although Navarrete encountered the added setback of having to make up school credits, a turning point came for him when he began attending Greenwood Academy, which he said “allowed him to form great friendships, find my passions—and most importantly—find supportive staff who care about me.” He expressed gratitude to the BGCCC, which he said “opened the door to new possibilities,” such as experience in public speaking. He said staff members were there to offer guidance “when I needed it the most.”
Navarrete said he hopes to be an inspiration to people about how you can “overcome obstacles that life throws at you.” He plans to attend college and pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science and a Master’s Degree in Business.
Fellow competitor Mims said in his near-five minute speech that “a lot changed after [he came to] Greenwood,” where he received a great deal of support from teachers.
He gave a shout-out to the BGCCC staff for taking “an interest in his hobbies” such as making YouTube videos and streaming. Mims added that he “learned a lot of good things” and “really enjoyed everything they were trying to teach me” in the financial literacy class he took and thanked the BGCCC “very much for this opportunity.”
Mims’ future plans include attending Sacramento Community College, where he will study History; he someday hopes to “make his hobbies a career.” Later in the evening, he was delighted to be told by BGCCC reps that, he too, would receive $1,000 for participating in the competition.
The Youth of the Year event also recognized Darcy De La Cruz, who the BGCCC honored with the Rising Star Award. BGCCC also awarded with Outstanding Member was Zander Wilson, who served as the event emcee.
“This event allows us to shine a bright light on some of the brilliant and creative minds who attend the Sylvester Greenwood Academy,” stated Michael Dunn, CEO of BGCCC, adding that it was their night to “let their voices be heard.”
The young competitors weren’t alone in expressing gratitude. Among Thursday’s speakers was Jay Lloyd, Regional Occupational Program instructor at the Chevron Richmond Refinery. Chevron not only funds BGCCC’s program at Greenwood, but also the work of the Wright Institute, a school-based collaboration providing trauma-informed, culturally competent, evidence-based psychological services to Greenwood students.
Lloyd shared how, growing up on the east side of Detroit, he faced things “that a lot of people in this community may have dealt with,” including physical abuse, household alcohol abuse, drug abuse and domestic violence against his mother. “I saw a lot of things that I probably shouldn’t have seen,” he said, adding that “God showed me what not to do.”
Lloyd emphasized to the audience that “those roadblocks are going to come in your life every day” but that “the one thing that can clear those roadblocks for you is having gratitude.” Expressing that gratitude is “more than just saying thank you,” Lloyd said that “it’s an attitude you have within yourself.”
“The success that you seek every single day that you wake up is only going to be manifested if you are faithful, not to anybody around you so much, but to yourself,” said Lloyd. He underscored that “gratitude is going to push you for the success you want to see,” later advising the students and audience members to “keep that attitude of gratitude,” advice which was met with rousing applause.
Richmond City Councilmember Demnlus Johnson—who grew up in Richmond and went on to graduate from Howard University—and more recently, from Cal with a Master’s Degree in Public Affairs—remarked to the Standard that “what these young kids have been able to do throughout the course of this program is nothing short of amazing.”
Johnson, a write-in candidate for Congress in CA-8, said he “hopes to impart on the young kids today [that] no matter where you came from, no matter what narrative or story folks try to subscribe to you, you still have the agency and the power to make things happen within your own life.”
Other speakers included Sylvester Green Academy Principal Phillip Johnson; Leo Cuevas, director of Special Programs, Mariana Sauceda, assistant director of Special Programs, Sheila Kelly, director of operations and Ivonne Malave, community service outreach, all of BGCCC; Lejon Reese, Patrick Scott and Dante Gaines, mentors from the 1 Hundred Years Enterprise Foundation; and students Giulia Carvalho and Zander Wilson, who served as the event emcee. Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia also attended the event.
Learn more about BGCCC’s work here.