Campus, civic leaders toast town-gown ties and training efforts

Leaders of UC Berkeley, the cities of Berkeley and Richmond and a host of East Bay organizations celebrated ties between the university and  its neighbors — exemplified by two local education and training programs — at an annual event held Friday at Alumni House.

Chris Bell and Sal Vaca

RichmondBUILD graduate Chris Bell, left, with Sal Vaca, Richmond’s director of employment and training

“We chose these two groundbreaking efforts because they were born out of local leaders’ commitment to education,” Chancellor Nicholas Dirks told nearly 150 community and civic leaders at the seventh annual Chancellor’s Community Leaders Breakfast. “This commitment not only increases economic self-sufficiency, it also transforms communities.”

Berkeley 2020 Vision “speaks directly to some of the most pressing and salient societal issues we currently face — issues that I confront and contemplate on a daily basis as UC Berkeley’s chancellor,” Dirks said of one of the cradle-to-career community-change programs celebrated. A community-wide effort to end disparities in academic achievement based on race and economic resources, the 2020 Vision for Berkeley’s Children and Youth is a partnership between the Berkeley Unified School District, the City of Berkeley and UC Berkeley.

Chancellor Dirks & Richmond Mayor Tom Butt

Chancellor Dirks, center, with Richmond Mayor Tom Butt

Dirks praised the “vision and tenacious leadership” of Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, “a primary champion of the 2020 Vision.” Berkeley City College counselor Skyler Barton, co-chair of 2020 Vision’s college and career work group, shared experiences supporting youth in Berkeley. We need “unrealistic thinkers” who demand more for our students, he said, just as students are demanding more of their educational institutions.

Also sharing the limelight was RichmondBUILD, an award-winning program that has trained more than 900 Richmond residents for employment in construction, green building, solar installation and environmental remediation. Dirks said his visit to the program last year “confirmed that partnering with RichmondBUILD is one of the best ways that UC Berkeley can ensure that the Berkeley Global Campus will benefit the residents of Richmond.”

Richmond Mayor Tom Butt also cited the training program, as did Sal Vaca, Richmond’s director of employment and training. They were joined by Richmond native Chris Bell, who recounted how he had been on “a path to nowhere” until he encountered RichmondBUILD.

Skyler Barton

Skyler Barton, Berkeley City College counselor

Without the training and mentorship it provided, “I might not be here today, like many of other Richmond youth who have lost their lives or ended up incarcerated,” said Bell. Instead, “I am proud to walk through the neighborhood when I come home from work every night — in my work clothes, knowing I am earning an honest living.” There were few dry eyes in the room as attendees rose to give him a standing ovation.

UC Berkeley’s Rubén Lizardo, director of local government and community relations, served as emcee. “If you are in this room – representing business, a community organization, a municipal agency, an educational institution or a policymaking body – we know you are not just a true believer, but an active agent in the ‘plot’ to make the world better,” he said.