My wife, Joni, and I moved to Richmond in July 2010. We made Richmond our home because it was affordable, had a good bus service for me to get around, was a relatively short commute to Emeryville where Joni works, and because our home came with a nice yard.
Soon after we moved here, I started checking out volunteer opportunities.
- I volunteered with Richmond Trees. Together, we planted 500 trees in Richmond in the last five years.
- I became a mentor with RPAL.
- I was a Math tutor with our city’s Literacy for Every Adult Program (LEAP).
- I volunteered as a writer coach with Writer Coach Connection. We go into local schools and work one on one with students on their writing assignments.
I continue to volunteer with Richmond Trees and with Writer Coach Connection after my appointment to city council.
I came to America in 1993 to study for a PhD in English Literature with a focus on Women’s Studies at Rutgers University. But when it came to assigning me a Teaching Assistantship, the Director of Composition refused because of my blindness. I felt that my job market prospects would be destroyed if I had no teaching experience.
Therefore, I enrolled in undergraduate Computer Science courses at Rutgers. After a couple of years, I started working for Verizon in downtown Manhattan as a Software Engineer.
After the 9-11 attacks, the lawyers I consulted told me that the applications backlog with Immigration would become so extreme that my legal stay would expire before Immigration would approve my application. My only option for continuing in this country legally would be to leave my job and enroll in school. I came to the Bay Area to study law at U.C. Berkeley. In due course, I got my law degree and my attorney’s license.
I met Joni Owen in 2006, and we married a few months later, the best decision of my life!
Mrs. Agashe was my teacher at St. Thomas. She was a widow, with three children including an adopted daughter. She started a teaching and recreational facility for the disabled. These were quite rare in India at that time. She gave her free time in school to reading to me whenever I had a class I could skip. In addition, she would read to me at her home.
More than the actual help, Mrs. Agashe taught me that my difficulties can never be so great that I can’t help others. She passed away soon after I came to America. I feel fortunate that I was able to let her know how much I appreciated what she was to me. I had gifted her my first month’s salary from my school teaching job as a token of my gratitude.
I had reached work at 7 o’clock in the morning. Nothing unusual happened until 8:45 when I felt the building shake and heard a muted sound as of thunder. My colleagues went to the windows and said that something had fallen out of the sky and hit the World Trade Center. My office building was connected to WTC1 at the second-floor level, hence the shaking. I made the necessary phone calls to family to tell them that I was fine, and continued working. There were news reports that a small plane had accidentally flown into WTC1.
15 minutes later, the second plane struck WTC2. Everyone realized right away that the country was under attack. There was some screaming and some hysterics. I didn’t know what to do. I thought about the real possibility of my death, but I wasn’t really worried. After all, I thought, thousands of little children were dying around the world of an easily preventable disease like diarrhea every day. Hundreds of people would be killed in these attacks. Clearly, my possible death wasn’t that important. So, I continued working.
We felt relatively safe inside our building because the thought of the towers collapsing wasn’t present in anyone’s mind. However, everyone started leaving. Meanwhile, we heard about the attack on the Pentagon. About 20 minutes after the attack on WTC2, we got worried that our building might be shut down, and I headed out with my Team Lead, Bob Sullivan.
The streets were packed with people, glued to the scene. Some were hysterical. They probably had friends who were trapped on the higher floors. Bob saw a few people jump out of the WTC. I was worried that there would be persons with suitcases full of explosives in the crowd. I wanted to get out of the area quickly. But our progress was slow. When we were a few blocks from our building, I heard a massive explosion. Bob turned around, and told me that one of the towers had gone down. A few blocks further, we heard the other tower go down. Around that time, we heard a plane overhead. And we both skipped a beat before we realized that it must be an Airforce plane.
I was born, the youngest of five, into a loving family. Dad was a police officer, and later a security executive; mom was a public school teacher. I attended St. Thomas School, a Catholic school, which operated with a private management and public employees. When I was 10, I started losing the little sight I had due to a congenital disease named Retinitis Pigmentosa. I could read the largish print in elementary school books until then.
Life became lonely because I couldn’t play with friends or family anymore. I started listening to domestic and international radio and developed a strong interest in politics during my teens. Friends and family helped me by recording study material on cassette tapes. Without their help, I couldn’t have succeeded in my studies. I graduated top of my class while studying for an M.A. in English Literature at the University of Bombay. It is this tremendous help I received that makes me want to help others, both through volunteering and through public office.