Richmond Public Schools adjourned last week, flooding neighborhoods with energy unbound. Typically, summer also brings more crime. In the last few months, Richmond’s homicide count has risen sharply to 47, up from 41 the same time last year. (A 48th homicide is being investigated by VCU Police.) Three of the victims this year were younger than 18.
Richmond has a myriad of summer programs, in which thousands of youth will take part. They’re offered at churches, civic centers, Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs and area YMCAs.
The city’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities offers the lion’s share of activities, including 29 specialty camps in such wide-ranging subjects as cheerleading and photography, with space for up to 980 children ages 5 to 17.
The department’s “Great Escape” program for teens, which offers a variety of activities, is held weeknights at seven locations and can accept as many as 400. And the city has even earmarked more than $250,000 for a new East End Teen Center.
But despite the abundance of camps, classes and plans, Goodall says, police still expect thousands of youth won’t take part.
The day version of “Great Escape,” for example, which reaches 6- to 12-year-olds and includes meals, has space for 1,700. But enrollment at press time was 628.
Torey Edmonds, head of the East District Teen Education Empowerment and Nurturing (TEEN) Center, knows firsthand about the challenges of keeping out-of-school kids out of trouble. On a stifling afternoon, she takes a reporter on a tour of her neighborhood, a show and tell of how it’s changed.
Edmonds, 46, is a candidate for Richmond School Board in the 7th District, challenging incumbent board member R.M. “Reggie” Malone. Edmonds has lived in Richmond’s East End her entire life.
“This is Chimborazo,” Edmonds begins, walking toward the mostly abandoned park. “As you can see, it’s nothing.” In saunalike air, two young men sit on a bench and talk while a young boy dribbles a basketball below a netless hoop. Edmonds spies a condom wrapper in the sand and points out the freshly painted outlines of pavement games. “You have hopscotch and shuffleboard, two basketball courts and a tennis court,” she says, “and a nice playground that just needs to be maintained.”
There’s also a pool that, until two years ago, was open to the public and free. Today “Chimbo” pool — as nearby Church Hill residents call it — has been dismissed by the city, deemed too costly to keep, and stands to be bulldozed soon. “This is where a community is kind of left hanging,” Edmonds says.
For the past six years, the teen center has been in the basement of the East District Initiative building on 25th Street.
“We do academic improvement and activities that utilize area resources,” Edmonds says. The children take field trips to local museums and nearby theme parks. They play board games like Taboo that reinforce reading skills.
The center has four rules that must be obeyed: No hitting. No inappropriate touching. No bullying. No representing — “no posse, no Creighton Court crew,” she explains. When a fight broke out a few years ago the reason behind it — a child’s erupting anger over the death of a parent — prompted Edmonds to provide grief counseling at the center.
She took stock. Of the 50 young people at the center, 13 had lost a parent to homicide, HIV or substance abuse.
Edmonds recalls her own childhood: “We had all the indicators of at-risk kids. My mom worked and we were home a lot alone.” She spent her summers in a place you now have to imagine. Gone is House of Happiness on Venable Street — now the Citadel of Hope — where she learned to crochet and cook. Gone is the Richmond Occupational Improvement Council at First and Leigh streets, where she’d wait in line all day with her closest friends, hoping to land a plum summer job.
Gone is the Lucks Field she knew, where crowds gathered for baseball games and to socialize across from Fairmount Pool. “This is what we did in the summer, this is where we hung out,” she says. “We weren’t fearful.” Today the modest bleachers at Lucks Field are wrapped in yellow tape that reads “Police Line Do Not Cross.”
Blocks away, a pack of pre-teen girls carry towels and skip through the street to Fairmount Pool.
“We have to be careful to bring about quality programming for youth,” Edmonds says. “These kids are the offspring of mamas and dads who were the perpetrators and victims of the violence in the late ’80s and early ’90s.” (In 1994 Richmond reported a record 160 homicides.) “They may have been in strollers but they were raised on gunplay,” she says. “They saw it, they heard it, they were being groomed for it.”
At the corner of 20th and U streets, this pool is the equalizer. On a day like today everybody just wants to be wet and, as C.J. Lewis, 17, puts it, “hang.”
Lewis is one of a hundred or so children and teenagers who have flocked to the pool, one of eight that the city runs. Each opens daily in the early afternoon. But Lewis says this may be the only day he comes to the pool. He won’t attend any special programs or camps because he doesn’t want to, he says. When he’s not working his part-time job at Lee’s Famous Fried Chicken, he’ll keep his summertime free. “You know, chill, just be cool and have fun,” he says. S
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