RICHMOND -- Mayor Gayle McLaughlin this week presented five community groups with the 2013 Martin Luther King Jr. Richmond Community Leadership and Service Award for their work on behalf of immigrants and parolees.
"When people serve their time and return to the community, they deserve a second chance," said McLaughlin, who introduced the annual civic award in 2007.
The five groups honored Tuesday were the Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization, the Safe Return Project, the Re-entry Solutions Group, the Secure Communities Task Force and the Richmond Progressive Alliance.
The awards were earned for the groups' work "mobilizing to oppose jail expansion and unnecessary detention of immigrants, advocating that public funds be redirected to support critical re-entry services for those returning to our communities, and supporting safe and welcoming communities for all," according to the city proclamation.
"There's nothing great that we can't accomplish if we don't mind who gets the credit," said the Rev. Alvin Bernstine, one of the honorees. More than 30 people joined McLaughlin in front of the council dais to receive the award.
For more than six months, the community groups packed meetings held by the Community Corrections Partnership, a seven-member panel charged with developing a $20 million plan to shift low-level offenders from the state to the county's jurisdiction.
The coalition succeeded in thwarting proposals to expand the West County Detention Facility while securing $5.2 million for partnerships with community organizations aimed at reducing recidivism through locally provided rehabilitation services.
"Martin Luther King would have supported (these awards) because he didn't want to see his people continue to be put in jails," said RPA member Jose Lopez.
But not everyone was pleased that McLaughlin included the RPA, a political coalition she helped create, among the award winners. Days before, McLaughlin sent a letter to Willie Robinson, president of NAACP's Richmond brach, disagreeing with that organization's decision to give its own King award to Richmond Councilman Corky Booze, a political rival of the RPA. Booze was allegedly attacked by an RPA member in November.
"It's ridiculous," Robinson said. "They criticize the NAACP's choice one day, and then they give themselves their own award to try to offset it."
But the reaction at the ceremony was decidedly upbeat, as a series of speakers from the groups, many of them young activists, thanked the mayor and the city for its support.