Richmond Has Hella Culture
By Haley Pollock
The Bay Area is well known for some its larger urban centers. San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland and Berkeley often steal the spotlight and have global name recognition. Tucked in here and there are dozens of tiny cities that completely fall under the radar. Most locals don’t know places like Marshall or Port Costa even exist. Richmond falls right between those categories. Many people have heard of the city for all the wrong reasons – the 2012 Chevron incident, the late 90s crime rate, blah blah blah. So many Bay Area residents have written off Richmond as a busted little afterthought.
Yes, the poverty in downtown Richmond is pretty intense but it’s hardly alone there. Yes, the Iron Triangle is a legit thing. Public schools here could do with a lot more support. However, to write off the whole city would be a mistake, because Richmond has a unique culture and things that just can’t be found in other parts of the Bay. Here are just few reasons you should give Richmond a chance and a lot more respect.
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Juneteenth is celebrated in larger sister cities, but Richmond has a way of making it its own. Most folks I talk to have no idea what Juneteenth is and considering it represents the real abolition of slavery, celebrated on June 19, it is kind of mind-boggling that it hasn’t been established as a national holiday. If you want to share in that experience, head over to Richmond where they’ve been doing it right since 2003. The Neighborhood Block Association, City of Richmond, and Chevron host a huge community celebration each year on the weekend adjacent to the holiday that begins with a parade down Cutting Boulevard and ends with a party down at Nicholl Park. Attendance has risen from hundreds to thousands in the past 16 years. The event offers up soulful music, powerful speeches, delicious food, free health screenings, kids activities and more. The hugely uplifting day is not one to miss if you really want to see what the city and the beautiful people of Richmond are all about.
Everyone knows the iconic “We Can Do It” Rosie the Riveter poster, but most don’t know that Richmond was where many of the Rosies lived and worked. One woman, not a Rosie but famous in her own right, Betty Reid Soskin, leads museum tours at Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park (yeah, that’s a thing!) on Harbor Way. Betty’s history is impressive by any measure, living through the era of segregation and later becoming the “oldest person now serving as a permanent National Park Service ranger.” She dedicates her older years to educate others about America’s reliance on women much like her during the Second World War.
Richmond also has a Rosie the Riveter festival where Rosies in coveralls and polka-dot hankies gather en masse to beat the record for most Rosies in one place, a title Richmond volleys with Ypsilanti, Michigan. We always win because we allow all genders to be Rosies but Michigan only allows women. Then, of course, there’s a big party with music and food after the record is broken.
And so much more…
If those two events don’t impress, this tiny city also hosts a massive Cinco de Mayo event, which is not unique to the area but definitely epic. Richmond has its own tiny Pride celebration and just hosted its first drag show at Kaleidoscope Coffee in Point Richmond. The city doesn’t shy from embracing all of the rich cultures that combine to make Richmond what it is. Richmond’s diversity is notably reflected in its leadership as well with a former Green Party female mayor and an openly gay chief of police.
On the environmental sustainability end, the city has a long, conscious history with all LED street lamps and single-use plastic bags banned five years ago. The Rich City Rides organization helps community members who need safe and ecological transportation to become proficient bike riders and hosts regular group rides. Urban Tilth teaches sustainable gardening at Richmond High.
Artistic expression is encouraged among the youth and along the streets. The Richmond Art Center and the Richmond Library team up to teach art to kids for free and even the city’s garbage cans are lovingly adorned with mosaic art, called “treasure boxes.” The amazing downtown murals alone deserve their own article.
So, the next time someone makes a face when Richmond is brought up, be that person who says “Nuh-uh” to that negativity, and give props to this proud, progressive, brown, queer, cultured little city. It truly is a beautiful place that welcomes all and one that should not be so easily dismissed.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article mistakenly identified Betty Reid Soskin as an original Rosie. The text has since been changed for accuracy.