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Part 2

An Angel Among Us

Somehow it's not surprising that, miraculously, her services were not needed during that exact time that there were no homicides in the city and therefore, no families calling her for help.

Here's what she does, in her own words: "Citizens call me when something happens. I go there, have a word of prayer. Through prayer, they calm down. Some scream, some fall out, and then I tell them Jesus is gonna come in and make a way for them. The Lord just puts words in my mouth. I ask Him to shield and wrap his everlasting arms around them. … Prayer's the key."

Rasin has been praying all her life. "When I was 11 or 12, I had The Little Praying Band. I'd go to different houses with friends. We'd sing our little songs like 'Jesus Loves Me' and 'God is a Good God.' I always wanted to give somebody something. I'd see homeless people in the park and take them food and blankets. When I would see people hurt, I'd think, 'Oh my God, these people need somebody.'"

Rita Edwards, Rasin's sister, remembers those days. "What she's doing is really great, but she's been doing it since we were small little children. At supper, sometimes she'd bring four or five people home to have dinner with us. Our mother always set extra places."

As an adult, Rasin's compassion began to reach outside her neighborhood.

"One day I was on my way to church and on the street a lady was crying, saying, 'My child is in the car, dead … I have nobody!' I stopped and told her, 'You're not alone.'

Rasin's kindness and willingness to be there for families in need quickly gained notice. "I guess it became public when people started to see me at the scenes," she says.

Rasin is known for her accessibility and willingness to answer a call at any hour and head straight to the scene of the crime. Her phone number is in the book, and word of mouth keeps the calls coming. Rasin relies on the kindness of friends — including neighbors Valerie Muhammad, Vicki Campbell, Rita Cousins, Eugene Smith and Carlise Talley — to take her places when her health prevents her from driving, even at 3 a.m. when she's called to crime scenes.

After witnessing time and time again the difficult moments that immediately follow a murder, does it get any easier? "The violence does bother me," she concedes. "I get emotional; I am human and I get tired of it all. But I don't lose any sleep. I can't take it personal. I give them my phone number and my address, a shoulder to cry on and a listening ear. My heart and soul is with the families."

But Rasin's health is somewhat fragile, and her sister worries about the stresses of the job. "It takes a lot from my sister," says Edwards. "Sometimes we get into arguments when I tell her to take time for herself."

Malachi Rasin agrees. Introducing her father, 79, to a visitor, Alicia proudly says, "He was the first African-American health inspector for the city. He was there for 35 years." He shakes his head modestly.

Now retired, he and Alicia occupy the family home — his wife, Australia, died 14 years ago and Alicia has never married. A phone rings plaintively from another room. What does he think of the incessant calls? "I'm used to it," he says, with a smile and a sigh.

And what of Alicia's ministry? "The only real problem is that it's too much going on," he says in a firm, protective tone of voice, as he slips on a jacket to get ready to go out.

"I love doing it," Alicia counters from the living room sofa.

"It's physically and mentally too much of a burden," her dad contends.

"I don't think so," Alicia insists.

Clearly, no amount of protest on the part of the father will stop the daughter.

"This keeps me going," Rasin explains. "I think if I didn't do this, what would I do? This is my life, being there to pray and comfort. God has blessed me so I can bless others." Of her unpaid status, feasible only because she lives with her father and collects disability, she says, "No indeed, I don't want a dime. I don't have to do this. I want to do it."

Rasin's house has a symphonic quality. Her cell phone, telephone and pager signal at random intervals. "My pager can overflow in less than six or seven hours," she says. Calls come in from as far away as New Kent and Charles City, mostly from people who have seen her on TV or in the newspaper and know, at the very least, that she is someone who cares. Not all calls are related to homicides; she has gotten a reputation for being useful in almost any situation. Most are serious — recent calls were related to the anniversary of a child's death and a son's death from AIDS — but then there are the everyday requests for assistance. Rasin is even amused at times: "I helped one day to find a cat — and I'm afraid of cats."

Says her friend Tonia Irving who occasionally drives Rasin places and has stopped by to do her hair, "I told her she needs a staff. … She gets so tired, but she still gives her all and all."

Rasin's all and all includes participating in activities at Fourth Baptist Church where she is a life-long member, gathering clothes together to donate to those in need (some of the clothes are made available to families of deceased who have no clothes to be buried in), helping Del. Dwight Jones with his elder constituents, and delivering turkey baskets to the needy at Thanksgiving.

Stretched out across her bed for a quick rest, Rasin takes a moment to answer a phone call from one of her sisters. "Oh my God, they had me in that paper lookin' like I don't know what!" She's doodling on a composition notebook. The cover has a hand-scrawled title, "City Notes," and it's nearly full of names and numbers and details of crimes and calls for help.

Off the phone, Rasin turns her thoughts to the population of citizens who spend their days on city corners. Often, she'll walk right up to a group on a corner and talk with them, telling them that guns are not the answer and listening to what's on their minds. She knows that others might find fraternizing with corner folks to be unsafe, but she's undaunted. "As far as death goes, I don't fear that. All of our days are numbered. We need to be ready and have our souls ready."

As for the accolades she receives from the community, Rasin says, "I'm not impressed by that. It's not about me. It's about the Lord using me. He brought me from a mighty long way." Those who do sing her praises, despite her protests, include city officials.

"I've never known anybody in my life like her," says Tim Kaine. "Every day I get at least one voice mail from someone saying, 'Thank you for Alicia.'" Does he usually call Rasin to alert her to a fresh homicide?

"No, it's usually Alicia calling me. She usually knows before me … she has ties in the police department. … She has a calling in life that she is pursuing."

Says Richmond Police Chief Jerry Oliver, "Every city needs an Alicia Rasin, but few cities are blessed to have one." He explains that she is particularly instrumental in providing resources to citizens who don't have the tools to get help in times of crisis. "And she represents the city as she does it, in a very humanistic way. She is calming, and she brings a spiritualness to the situation." That spiritual angle, Oliver says, may be unfamiliar to those she's helping, and there are times when it helps them not only get through the dark days surrounding the death at hand, but possibly turn their own lives around.

Without really trying, Rasin has become valuable to investigators.

By building trust in the community, Rasin has become "an ombudsman for people who clearly don't know what to do," says Oliver. "And because of the tremendous trust that she has with people on both sides of the law, she is able to serve as a great intermediary for information and understanding."

"I support the Richmond Police Department 100 percent," Rasin says. "In every city you need a strong leader. Jerry Oliver came here to clean this city up. … When he came here, the homicide rate was outrageous, and he showed the bad guys he was not playin'. I'm thankful and grateful to God that he was chosen."

Longtime city detective C.T. Woody, director of Richmond's Community Intelligence Team, remembers the first time he met Rasin. Six-year-old James Kermit Richardson had disappeared into thin air, off of a North Avenue corner. "Nobody could find him," recalls Woody who has worked on more than 500 homicide cases in his 32 years of police work. "Ms. Rasin went to the family's house and calmed them down, talked to them. Some little girls on the street told her they'd seen a weird-looking man around that corner." Kermit was ultimately found in a closet, suffocated; the weird-looking man was identified as Alonzo Johnson, and he paid for his crime with a life sentence, no parole.

Since that first case, Woody and Rasin have become friends and constant colleagues. She admires his thorough knowledge of the city and ability to get charges pressed, and he touts her sincerity and dedication. "You've got to show people that you care, not just tell them — and she shows them. If she's going to see a victim's family, and she pulls up and there are a bunch of guys on the corner, she just gets out of her car and walks right on through them. Here comes Ms. Rasin."

Not only city officials respect Rasin, but also the legions of citizens — she doesn't keep count, but estimates somewhere in the hundreds — whose lives she's touched. One who remembers the power of Rasin's presence is Kathy Balthrop. Her son Timothy Wilhite Jr. was shot right in front of her at an Amoco station last spring. "The next day, she was right there to comfort me and guarantee to me that the police and detectives would do their job," Balthrop says of Rasin. "Strength from her gave me strength. She helped me so that the reporters wouldn't aggravate me, she hugged me and helped me with the funeral, she advised me with that and where to start, got me numbers I needed. I am thankful for her over and over again."

With so much exposure to crime, does Rasin have any ideas of her own about solutions? She credits the team approach to fighting crime that Oliver and others have assembled. Add together projects like community policing and Project Exile, which mandates five years in jail for convicted felons caught with a firearm, and results begin to show. "When you have a team that's working together, things happen," she says. Raisin shows her team spirit by wearing a Richmond Police Department pin that says "We Care."

"Those words mean a lot to people," she says.

The woman whose nicknames include "Rasin Lady," "Mother Teresa" and "Guardian Angel," pauses to consider the question further. A siren wails in the distance. "We need to get kids while they're young," she offers. "People need to take time to stop and talk to young people. Don't be afraid. If everybody took time, the world would be better. Children are raising themselves. There's an old-fashioned saying that the streets take them if you don't get them first."

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