Two people speaking to an audience in front of a curtained backdrop that says rich city kick back. Five small children are standing around in the audience.

Community Kicks Back at Wellness Event

Two people speaking to an audience in front of a curtained backdrop that says rich city kick back. Five small children are standing around in the audience.

The Richmond Community Center hosted the second annual Rich City Kickback on Nov. 4. (Natasha Kaye / The CC Pulse)

By Natasha Kaye

The Richmond Community Center was brimming with music, dance and life Nov. 4 as the site of the second annual Rich City Kickback.

Richmond nonprofit YES Nature to Neighborhoods hosted the free event, with the focus of teaching healthy alternatives to harmful substances and increasing awareness for mental health resources.

Drumming circles, Danza ensembles, and rap artists performed for the audience, while other attendees floated among a coloring station for relaxation, a gardening booth to plant native wildflowers, and even an acupuncture and massage station provided by Oakland’s Freedom Community Clinic.

“This is a new experience for all of us as a collective,” said Michelle Nguyen, the young adult program coordinator for YES Nature to Neighborhoods, and the kickback’s lead organizer. “They’re like, ‘Oh, my God, I didn’t know that I could get a massage’ or, ‘It was my first time getting acupuncture, and I thought it was scary, but  I did it. I worked with the healer, and now, I know I have poor blood circulation.’ It’s things like that the community is really supportive of.”

Nature-related community development organizations like the Watershed Project hosted an indoor pop-up gardening station where attendees planted native wildflower seeds in cardboard pots to grow at home.

“There is a real mental and physical health benefit to working and getting into soil,” said Pinkie Young, the youth field manager for the Watershed Project, a Bay Area nonprofit dedicated to protecting and revitalizing the regions’ waterways. The group actively leads several restoration projects in Richmond, most notably the Rheem Creek restoration project which is working to reduce the notorious flooding after storms in the Rollingwood neighborhood by removing sediment from the creek bed and replacing it with trees and native plants.

Heaps of fresh kale, cilantro, potatoes and onions, grown just three miles away, were also distributed at the Urban Tilth booth, a local community agriculture space in North Richmond.

>>>Read: Threat of Nearby Development Looms Over North Richmond Farm

The idea for the kickback came through Nguyen’s work with the Teaching Racial Environmental Empowerment Series, or TREES program, which hosts a cohort of six to 10 young adults each year to educate them on the history of the war on drugs and the impacts of substance abuse. Nguyen said mental health was a “recurring theme” in her discussion with the cohort, so her team decided to bring it to the wider Richmond community for free through the kickback.

The TREES program is funded through taxes collected from Prop. 64, which legalized recreational marijuana for adults in California. Since its passing in 2016, the revenue generated from the taxes are deposited into the California Cannabis Tax Fund, which funds youth education and substance abuse prevention initiatives, like YES Nature to Neighborhoods, through grants.

Juanita Anderson, a member of a TREES cohort said, “The TREES program has helped me a lot with my confidence because I was super super shy in the beginning, and I basically just needed to be built from the ground up.”

At one point during the event, Anderson and others from the TREES program showcased their leadership skills by sharing personal stories and calls for action for what they want to see change in their community.

“We called to get more help with mental health resources in schools, and we called for community circles, which is basically a meditative type of thing where you talk to the community in a circle and you get to know each other and heal,” Anderson said.

The event closed with a performance by Richmond artist Mani Draper who used to spend his teen years hanging out at the very same recreation center.

“I really, really, really appreciate YES. Shoutout, Michelle, and the whole team with the TREES program,” Draper said. “We learned a real valuable lesson about the art of music and  performance and the exchange that takes place, and it’s about being intentional and being grateful. Y’all could have been anywhere in the world and I’m so glad to see yall right here in sunny Richmond, California, today.”

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