Berkeley Journalism establishes community fellowships with Richmond Pulse

December 8, 2020

A composite image with two side-by-side portraits. The left portrait shows a woman with styled curly hair, wearing a black turtleneck and a gold necklace with a pendant, exuding the poise of someone from Berkeley Journalism. The right portrait depicts a man with a goatee and braided hair, wearing a bright orange quilted jacket.

Maria Bernal and Denis Perez. Photos by David Rodriguez (’21)

To invest in the city of Richmond, a Bay-area community long reported on by our student publishing site Richmond Confidential, Berkeley Journalism has established a fellowship program with the youth-led, local community news outlet Richmond Pulse.

The idea was spurred by students in Dean Geeta Anand’s class in 2018—when she was the J200 instructor for Richmond Confidential— who argued the need for the School to take on a leadership role in embracing local journalists of color and bringing more BIPOC reporters into our community on campus. 

Photojournalist Wesaam Al-Badry of the Class of 2020 was critical in advancing the fellowships. “Wesaam was the one who said we need to give back to Richmond, not just take from it,” said Dean Anand. “And he was right. I couldn’t be prouder of our students who propose ideas that force us, as a public institution, to reflect on what our role should be in the communities we live in and act on demands that people of color be given a seat at the table.”

“To me, it’s about investing in the people of Richmond, a gateway to a bright future where they control the narratives from their own communities,” Al-Badry said. “It says: We acknowledge you. We see you. We want you to be part of this established community that will treat you as valued equals from the get-go.”

“I was one of those young reporters myself, albeit via Lincoln, Nebraska after spending years in a refugee camp in Saudi Arabia when my family fled Iraq,” he said. “I needed people to give me the opportunity, to see my potential and receive mentorship from some of the top journalists in the country. I’m so happy to see Berkeley Journalism go forward with this program.”

Berkeley Journalism has selected two Richmond Pulse reporters, Maria Bernal and Denis Perez Bravo, as our inaugural fellows. Each fellow will receive $2,000 and will audit J200 classes with lecturer Mark Schapiro, have special one-on-one mentorship from a lecturer for an hour each week, and receive a certificate of achievement during our annual commencement.

Richmond Pulse managing editor and alumna of Berkeley Journalism Danielle Parenteau (‘17) said, “I’m proud to work for an outlet that is led by a Black man and where most of the people creating and editing content are women and/or people of color. My experiences as a white woman are definitely different from my colleagues’, but having grown up poor, I know how hard it can be to make it in journalism or feel like you belong without the “right” connections or background.”

“For me,” Parenteau said, “attending the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism was a major stepping stone to being able to get my foot into doors that would have been closed to me otherwise. So I think this fellowship will be a great way to create new and much-deserved opportunities for young BIPOC journalists. The journalism industry champions giving voice to the voiceless, but it’s beyond time for many in the industry to recognize when people aren’t voiceless; they just need to be heard. I am excited about the fellowship because it will give the participants the chance to tell meaningful stories and represent people and communities who have often felt ignored.”

This program is funded out of existing school funds to get it started in the Fall semester, with plans to raise $5,000 annually to make it into a full-fledged permanent part of the School. 

About the Inaugural Fellows
María Fernanda Bernal is a 23-year-old community health reporter for Richmond Pulse, specializing in health, social and environmental justice.

She immigrated from Guadalajara, Mexico, at the age of four. Being DACA and growing up in Richmond, California, has played an essential role in her diligence and writing style. 

“My writing expresses truth in the silence and is vibrant with cultural richness despite the systemic and pervasive gender and race inequalities that subjugate me,” she said. 

María is the first member of her family to attend American schools and to go to college. She has a bachelor’s of science in public health from San Jose State University, where she won the Department of Health Science and Recreation Fortitude Award. She was later a research assistant for Stanford School of Medicine and San José State University during her senior year of college. 

She aspires to combine her background in research and journalism to bridge the communication between officials and the public, to create healthier spaces for all.

“Although classes are online, I feel like I am bringing my ancestors with me to Berkeley Journalism by receiving this fellowship. Pride overcomes me to think that through me, I am also able to pave the way for other recipients, with ancestors of their own.”

“I am passionate about what I do, and this Fellowship is the space to exercise that flame. I feel pride representing the Richmond Pulse and immigrants in this opportunity.”

Denis Perez is a 24-year old undocumented Richmond resident originally from Tecate, Baja California, Mexico. He started practicing journalism in 2014 when he bought a camera and began taking street photography. After graduating in 2014, he says, “I had no plans for college and started working. Taking pictures, I was set back on the path I need to take. I was obsessed with it. I took my Nikon D3200 all over the Bay taking pictures of people outside almost everyday for two years, especially in Oakland where I grew up until I was a teenager.  I would talk to all types of people and ask them questions about what they were doing or just talked about random things. Those experiences led me to enroll in Contra Costa College and study in the journalism department and work in the student newsroom, The Advocate. I started working with the Richmond Pulse in 2016 and since then worked with the local publication covering local events, news and sports.”

“Receiving this fellowship is water for my journalistic roots,” Perez said. “It means that I have access to a fountain of knowledge that I wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for this program. Learning from professor Mark Schapiro and all the speakers that have come through the class not only fills me with different perspectives I need to become a better journalist, but also encourage me to continue working steadily as a local journalist in my city.”  

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Black and white portrait of Berkeley Journalism Dean Geeta Anand with short hair and hoop earrings, wearing a dark top. The background is blurred foliage.

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