Fresno retired teacher honored by city officials, former student working on building community trust

Local News

FRESNO, Calif. (KGPE) – A retired Fresno Unified Teacher was recognized by the Fresno City Council on Thursday for over 40 years of work as an educator.

Vanessa Richardson was shocked as her former student, Fresno Police Lt. Timothy Tietjen, told her that May 27 is officially Vanessa Richardson Day in Fresno.

“It was gut-churning,” said Richardson. “It was surreal because you don’t go into anything expecting people to honor you, you just do your job.”

Richardson taught at Hoover and Mclane High School for over 40 years where she and her colleagues were instrumental in creating an African American history curriculum for the district.

Her philosophy of “we all are one”, inspired many children, including Tietjen.

“I was at a crossroads in my life,” said Tietjen. “And she stepped in and she believed in me and I remember she understood who I was.”

Richardson’s husband was an officer and Tietjen said it was her stories of him that made him want to give back, resulting in him joining the police department.

“With these people in my life I just know I want to be a cop and then she said ‘but be a good one’,” said Tietjen. “And I have never forgotten that, that is how much of an impression that it made on me.”

Now, in a critical time in the nation’s history, Richardson, Tietjen, and Fresno City Councilmember Mike Karbassi are bringing forward the Take 5 initiative.

The project would center around officers taking a few minutes away from their normal duties to build relationships in the community like playing basketball with students at school.

“They are building those relationships so when they arrive on that call on a horrible day, that officer and that child, they are able to go ‘hey that is Officer Jones’,” said Tietjen. “There is going to be that mutual respect and that mutual love and that is just the start for us.”

The initiative is in the early stages and while Richardson’s teaching career is finished, her legacy leading to change and conversations.

“We have to have respectful conversations where we listen to one another and embrace each other with an understanding. That is what we need to move ahead,” said Richardson.

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