By Kathy Chouteau
It was a Richmond gathering for the community, organized by the community. On Fri., May 19, the Santa Fe and Coronado Neighborhood Councils came together to host a “6th Grade Graduation Party for Nystrom & Coronado Elementary Schools” in the outdoor playground of Nystrom Elementary.
The jubilant event brought together two sixth grade classes of approximately 59 students and 10 adults from Nystrom and 37 students and 10 adults from Coronado—along with Richmond’s City Manager, City Councilmembers, a School Board trustee, Neighborhood Councilmembers and other city leaders to celebrate the students’ milestones over a pizza party.
“Stay in school,” Richmond City Councilmember Cesar Zepeda advised the youth during a greeting, while they noshed down their lunches. “Then you can be president of us.”
Linda Whitmore, who chairs the Santa Fe Neighborhood Council’s Community Outreach, was the lead organizer of the event and helped serve the students lunch alongside various community leaders. Vernon Whitmore, Linda’s husband who is president of the Santa Fe Neighborhood Council, said that most of the students will go on to attend Richmond’s Lovonya DeJean Middle School next year.
Friday’s event wasn’t just any old pizza party. The graduation celebration saw Richmond Master Chef Arnon Oren of the Sailing Goat, Anaviv’s Table and Anaviv’s Catering & Events on hand—with his sous chef Jennifer Benitez—to create and donate wood-fired pizzas for the students, along with specially prepared salad and brownies.
Chef Oren said that the company moved to the neighborhood in 2014, “And since then we’ve always been involved with any activities that the neighborhood has for the kids. It’s really an amazing partnership…and we’re honored to be invited for these events.”
Joining both Whitmores, Zepeda and Chef Oren at Friday’s event was an impressive roster of who’s who in Richmond, local leaders who showed up to underscore to the youth their importance to the greater community. Richmond City Manager Shasa Curl; City Councilmember Doria Robinson; Deputy City Manager of Community Services LaShonda White; Board of Education Trustee Otheree Christian; Coronado Neighborhood Council President Joe Fisher; Nystrom Elementary Community Outreach Director Rev. Andre Shumake; Coronado 6th grade teacher Sytha Jo McCray; and Nystrom 6th grade teacher Jocelyn Rohan, were also there to help mark the occasion.
White, who was raised in the city and attended WCCUSD schools, said she thinks “It’s really important as government leaders, as residents of Richmond, as communities, to really show our support for our young people so they know that we stand with them and that we want them to succeed…”
Richmond City Councilmember Robinson echoed White’s sentiments, saying that “It’s really important just to be here to celebrate their wins and then to know that they’re not alone. That it’s not just about their family or their teacher, but their whole community is really behind them.” She added that it’s “so important for our kids to know that…the whole community is interested in their success.”
Rohan said from the teaching perspective, said that the pizza party “Not only shows that the community wants to support and nurture our students, but also that they love the kids in this community. They want to make sure our community is safe, they want to make sure our community has students that are empowered [and] that they feel respected.”
After pizza, the graduating 6th graders from both schools got busy having fun with each other and making use of the selfie board organizers set up for them on the playground. Organizers also gave out keychains with “Class of 2023” to the graduating students, while teachers received black books—inside of which the kids can write them messages.
Linda Whitmore said the day was about celebrating the students and hoped it “Might encourage other neighborhoods to reach out and support their schools.”