EAST BAY PROFILE: VETERAN OF RICHMOND'S NEIGHBORHOOD WARS CHANGES LIFE
(Extensions of Remarks - May 23, 2013)

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[Extensions of Remarks]
[Pages E733-E734]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]




 EAST BAY PROFILE: VETERAN OF RICHMOND'S NEIGHBORHOOD WARS CHANGES LIFE

                                 ______
                                 

                           HON. GEORGE MILLER

                             of california

                    in the house of representatives

                        Wednesday, May 22, 2013

  Mr. GEORGE MILLER of California. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to commend 
my colleagues to read the following article, titled ``East Bay Profile: 
Veteran of Richmond's neighborhood wars changes life,'' posted in the 
West County Times on May 21, 2013.
  I've had the opportunity to meet this extraordinary young man, Eric 
Welch, a number of times, both here in Washington and in my district in 
Richmond, California, during visits with the City of Richmond's Office 
of Neighborhood Safety's Peacekeeper Fellowship program, of which Eric 
is a member.
  Eric's only 24 years old but has had a long history of involvement 
with gun violence. At 14, he was almost killed in a shooting, and by 
the time he was 22 he had already been shot on four separate occasions. 
But now, he is on a new path in life now, and that is very encouraging.
  I was so proud to read that this fall Eric will start classes at 
Tallahassee Community College in Florida, and that he hopes to later 
transfer to Florida A&M University. And just as exciting, Eric has been 
selected as a Summer Policy Fellow for the Campaign for Youth Justice 
in Washington, D.C. this summer where he will write for the group's 
blog, brief congressional committees on his experience, and work with 
grass-roots groups to reduce youth crime.
  The Richmond ONS Peacemaker Fellowship exists to save lives--Eric is 
a living testament to that. It is designed to create a viable space for 
at-risk individuals ages 16-25 to contribute in a real way to building 
and sustaining community peace, health and well-being--with the express 
purpose of eliminating gun violence in Richmond. Time and again I'm 
blown away by the work these young men do to develop a positive life 
path forward and mentor other young men in similar situations.
  I wish Eric all the best, both in Washington this summer and at 
school this fall. I hope his successes will serve as inspiration for 
many more to follow in his steps.

              [From the Contra Costa Times, May 21, 2013]

 East Bay Profile: Veteran of Richmond's Neighborhood Wars Changes Life

                           (By Robert Rogers)

       Richmond.--Eric Welch's mind and heart are on a higher 
     plane, but the street reflexes remain.
       He'll be in Washington, D.C., this summer, wearing tailored 
     suits and briefing Congress.
       But for now, Welch still tenses when certain cars round the 
     block.
       He has good reason. He was shot four times before his 22nd 
     birthday.
       ``At first, getting shot was a source of anger,'' Welch 
     said. ``Now I look back at it differently. I wonder why I got 
     so lucky in a place where people like me get killed all the 
     time.
       Welch, now 24 but with the weary face and measured speech 
     of an older man, has gone from self-described ``goon'' and 
     survivor of multiple episodes of gun violence to celebrated 
     member of the Office of Neighborhood Safety's fellowship 
     program. The program appeals to about 50 violent residents 
     with incentives, including small cash stipends, if they give 
     up gunplay and pick up education and job training.
       The program is unique in the region, a city-sponsored 
     department that stems violence through intervention in the 
     lives of violent offenders. For his efforts, Welch earned an 
     internship with the Campaign for Youth Justice, a Washington, 
     D.C.-based nonprofit focused on juvenile justice.
       Welch will serve as a ``policy fellow'' from June 10 to 
     Aug. 9, writing for the group's blog, briefing congressional 
     committees on his experience and working with grass-roots 
     groups to reduce youth crime.
       It's a far cry from Welch's teen and early adult years, a 
     haze of neighborhood beefs and sporadic gunfire, interrupted 
     by hospital and jail stints. He bounced between a dozen 
     schools, toting guns when most kids still were watching 
     Saturday morning cartoons.
       Guns and violence permeated his rugged south Richmond 
     neighborhood. It was only when he enrolled in the Office of 
     Neighborhood Safety program after a 2010 jail stint that he 
     turned away from crime.
       ``Eric is a shining example to other young people in 
     Richmond and beyond that people can change, and in the virtue 
     of hard work,'' said program director DeVone Boggan.


                             Cheating death

       Welch leans on a black gate in front of a California 
     bungalow home at 26th Street and Virginia Avenue.
       ``This is the spot where I got shot that first time, almost 
     died, man,'' Welch says, looking down the street. ``I was 
     14.''
       Welch re-enacts the scene from a decade ago. He was 
     ``hanging'' with another teen a few blocks from the apartment 
     where he grew up with his mother and sister.
       One block west, a car glided around the corner. Rifles 
     poked through the windows and spit flames from the barrels, a 
     nanosecond before the crackle of gunfire.
       ``I don't remember the car, just the flame spit out in the 
     night; it was AK-47s,'' Welch said.
       Welch and his friend dove to the sidewalk and crawled for 
     cover.
       ``The bullets was whistling by, and ricocheting all over 
     the concrete, too,'' Welch said.
       The pain was an intense heat, Welch remembered. A large-
     caliber slug struck Welch underneath his left arm, collapsing 
     his lung and breaking his clavicle. Welch's friend was hit in 
     the hip. The car screeched away.
       ``Lot of blood, out my mouth, out my chest. I thought I was 
     going to die,'' Welch said. ``I couldn't breathe.''
       Three scars mark his upper torso. One is the entry point 
     near his armpit. One is the spot in his side where doctors 
     plunged a tube to help him breathe. The exit wound is on his 
     back, knotted into a mound of dark scar tissue the size of a 
     golf ball.


                               Low points

       Welch survived, but his innocence didn't.
       ``After that, I was bouncing around schools, just living 
     the neighborhood life,'' Welch said. ``I was angry. I was 
     vengeful.''
       His drive for vengeance intensified after the 2006 killing 
     of Sean ``Shawny Bo'' Melson, a pint-size 15-year-old police 
     say was a charismatic, up-and-coming neighborhood leader. To 
     this day, odes to ``Shawny Bo'' and old photos are posted on 
     social networking sites.

[[Page E734]]

       Welch and other friends vowed to ``keep it lit'' for 
     Melson, meaning to exact retribution on rival neighborhoods 
     they blamed for his death.
       Welch was shot three more times, in both ankles, the 
     buttocks and the hip. He declines to get into specifics but 
     admits he has been involved in ``shootouts.''
       ``I have a chance at a peaceful life; I just don't want to 
     die or go to jail when I am so close.''
       Welch said that in Richmond's toughest neighborhoods, 
     violent deaths of relatives and friends, shootouts and close 
     calls ``hang over everything.''


                               The future

       The mere notion of a future is a far cry from where Welch 
     has been.
       ``Eric was on his way to prison or death, for sure,'' said 
     Sam Vaughn, an Office of Neighborhood Safety neighborhood 
     change agent who has worked closely with Welch. ``Where he is 
     now, about to go to college, is a miracle given what he's 
     been through.''
       Welch spends little time in the old neighborhood, knowing 
     he could lose it all in an instant.
       He plans to attend Tallahassee Community College in Florida 
     in the fall, and he hopes to transfer to Florida A&M 
     University. But first, he's on his way to the Capitol.
       ``I am really looking forward to a new start, a place where 
     I can be by myself and focus and not worry about my past 
     catching up with me,'' Welch said. ``I feel alone here, in my 
     neighborhood. My friends are mostly dead or incarcerated.''

                          ____________________