First responders from across the Richmond region will play alongside representatives of the multicultural community at Saturday's event.
Conceived in 2018, a unique regional event is coming back Saturday after a two-year COVID-induced hiatus.
Beginning at 10 a.m. at River City Sportsplex, first responders from across the Richmond area will play soccer alongside members of the region’s multicultural community during the Community Cup tournament and cultural festival.
The free event -- a regional partnership between Chesterfield and Henrico counties, the City of Richmond and Virginia State Police – also will feature music, food trucks, a kids zone with various fun activities, first responders’ vehicles on-site and information booths staffed by public safety agencies and local organizations.
It’s no coincidence that a fun-filled day of community-building and family activities is oriented around the most popular sport on the planet – the passion for which is an unspoken language that unites people from all nations, races and cultures.
“It’s a great way to channel everyone’s efforts in a positive direction,” said Djibril Niang, a native of Senegal who played in the inaugural Community Cup in September 2019 and has recruited several of his fellow African immigrants to participate this year. “You can’t make an informed decision about whether to trust someone unless you have an understanding of their background. This gives people an opportunity to communicate, get to know each other better and build relationships.”
Bridging language and cultural barriers is even more critical for local governments as the region has become increasingly diverse over the past two decades. While most attention has been paid to growth in the Latino population, the influx of new arrivals truly is global in nature; there are now more than 100 different languages spoken in Chesterfield County Public Schools, and both Henrico and Richmond are seeing similar demographic trends.
Using a soccer tournament as the backdrop is intended to generate maximum interest and buy-in from the intended participants.
“Soccer is in their DNA,” said Natasha Lemus, executive director of the Waymakers Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to provide immigrant Latino families the foundation for a healthy lifestyle by developing culturally sensitive programs that address their needs in the areas of food, health, education, finances, art and culture. “It’s something new and interesting for a lot of people, and it’s a great time to come out and have fun while getting to know officers as human beings who are here to help you.”
The broader goal of Saturday’s event is to encourage dialogue between first responders and multicultural community, promote understanding and demonstrate that people from varied backgrounds can live, work and play together while appreciating both their similarities and their differences.
For that reason, each of the 14-person teams in the Community Cup is comprised equally of seven public safety workers and seven community members.
“The intent was for us to play side-by-side on the same team -- we absolutely didn’t want it to be seen as ‘us against them,’” said Chesterfield Sheriff Karl Leonard.
It’s not a one-off, either. All of the region’s public safety agencies recognize the necessity of ongoing outreach and engagement with multicultural communities to maintain an atmosphere of mutual respect.
“Distrust of law enforcement is a deeply cultural thing for some people, but by doing events like this we start eroding that,” Leonard added. “We continue working at it because we see the value in it.”
River City Sportsplex is located at 13030 Genito Road. Gates will open at 9 a.m., with activities scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Feel free to bring lawn chairs and coolers, but no glass containers are allowed on premises.
Attendees are encouraged to bring a donation to benefit the Waymakers Foundation. Among the items requested are rice (jasmine preferred), cooking oil, sugar, soap bars and shampoo.