Black Family, Diversity and Contributions Honored During Black History Month 2021

March 22, 2021 7:45 PM
by Delana Gbenekama

Nearly 1,000 people gathered virtually in February 2021 for Black History Month events and activities organized by the City’s Black History Month Committee and Government Alliance on Race and Equity cohort. Programming for the month aligned with the theme The Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity and included a mix of fun, educational events and activities ranging from Zumba fitness to an Afro-Joy Dance Party that included body movement and healing components to panel discussions elevating the perspectives and works of Black community members to Black History-themed bingo. Participants joined from locations around the world, including Santa Monica and many other California cities, New York, Texas, Kansas, Antigua and Barbuda, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom and Sri Lanka. 
Below are recaps and video links for the events that were recorded. You can also view our Black History Month photo album on Facebook; read about the City’s equity work at; and watch “Community Conversations: Why Black Lives Matter,” a virtual forum on how community members can collaborate to advance anti-racism work, at

February 4 | The Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity 

The City officially kicked off Black History Month on Rosa Parks Day with its second annual opening ceremony highlighting the family history, contributions, diversity and family food traditions of Santa Monica’s Black residents and staff.  
The event featured a performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also known as the Black National Anthem, by the artist Cozce, a Los Angeles native focused on uplifting the African American community. 
The event also dance performances by African Soul International, an organization led by Dr. Jewel Jackson that presents and preserves African culture through the dances, songs, rhythms, and stories of the African and African-American experience. 
Pacific Park joined the City in celebrating the month by lighting up the Pacific Wheel during the evening on Rosa Parks Day to coincide with the opening ceremony. 

February 11 | Catherine Adel West Discusses “Saving Ruby King”  

Longtime Santa Monica resident, organizational and community development consultant, and founding member of the Black Agenda Karen S. Gunn, Ph.D. moderated a conversation and Q and A with author Catherine Adel West about her debut novel, “Saving Ruby King.”  
“Saving Ruby King” takes readers on a journey that explores trauma, friendships, and secrets that intertwine two Southside Chicago families for three generations. After Ruby’s mother is found murdered, Ruby is left alone at home with her abusive father and forced to fend for herself. Her best friend Layla, understanding that Ruby’s life is in danger, sets out to save Ruby and in the process uncovers dark secrets that must be confronted head-on for both of their families to heal and break free from generational trauma. Named one of the most anticipated books of 2020, Saving Ruby King landed on the Library Journal’s Best Books of 2020 list.  

February 16 | Historic Belmar Park: Preserving History through Stories and Art   

Santa Monica resident and entrepreneur Kathleen Benjamin moderated a panel discussion featuring community advocate and entrepreneur Lloyd Allen, and founder and president of the Santa Monica Venice Reunion Organization Dr. Naomi Nightingale who reflected on their experiences living and working in the area, the displacement of the Belmar Neighborhood, and the Belmar History + Art Project commemorating the area’s history. The panel also included social practice artist April Banks and historian Alison Rose Jefferson who discussed their work on the project and what they hope people will gain from their work. The discussion was followed by Q&A with community members. 

February 25 | Celebrating Black Excellence Community Awards 

Community members gathered virtually for the second annual Celebrating Black Excellence Community Awards honoring 13 leaders for outstanding leadership and service, three of whom received lifetime achievement awards.  
Emceed by Barry Snell, a founding member of the Black Agenda and longtime member of Santa Monica’s business and education community, the event featured a tribute to Black staff, residents and public figures we lost in 2020. The in memoriam was set to a rendition of the Boyz II Men song “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye” performed by the artist Cozce, a Los Angeles native focused on uplifting the African American community. 
The event also featured traditional West African dance performances by Daansekou Arts Collective, led by founder and artistic director Daunté Fyall.  
Dr. Shirley B. Compton, Educator 

Dr. Ben Drati, Superintendent of Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District 

Carolyne and Bill Edwards, Founders - Quinn Research Center 

Keonna Harris, Santa Monica Resident 

Rana Kirkland, Community Advocate 

Maurice L. Maxwell, Santa Monica Resident and Activist 

Shaun E. Newsum, Tech Entrepreneur 

Angela D. Scott, Arts Commissioner 

Jacqueline A. Seabrooks, Interim Chief of Police 

Luthern Williams, Head of New Roads School 

Nathaniel Trives, Former Santa Monica Mayor 

Lloyd C. Allen, Community Advocate and Entrepreneur 

LaVerne Ross, Community Activist 


Black History Month 2021 to Highlight the Black Family, Leadership and Service

Published November 16, 2020

Every February, people across the nation come together for events and activities to celebrate Black History Month. It’s a time for us to continue our collective journey of honoring and deepening our knowledge of the history and contributions of African Americans and people of African descent that have been marginalized from mainstream curricula and discussions because of our country’s legacy of slavery, and institutional and structural racism. The City of Santa Monica’s Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE) cohort and Black History Month Committee will offer a roster of events and activities in February 2021 to highlight the history, diversity and achievements of our local Black community and the Black community nationwide. This year, events will be held virtually to keep us all safe during COVID-19. 

The theme for Black History Month 2021 is The Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity and is set every year by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History®, an organization founded in 1915 by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the famed African American historian known as the “Father of Black History. Much of the programming for Santa Monica’s Black History Month events and activities aligns with the theme, with discussions by community members about their family histories and contributions to the cityreflections by current and/or former residents on memories of Historic Belmar Park and the Belmar History + Arts Project commemorating its history, and a community conversation about the novel “Saving Ruby King,” which explores trauma, friendships and secrets that intertwine families for generations.   

We hope you will join us for these free learning opportunities that are food for our minds, bodies and soulsWhile we would love to hold in-person fellowships with you, we instead will meet you in virtual spaces for our events and activities as we continue to exercise caution during the COVID-19 pandemic. RSVP details for each event and activity are listed below 

In addition to participating in our Black History Month event programming, we encourage you to visit our Black-owned businesses page to discover local entrepreneurs you can support and our equity page featuring information about the Black Agenda for Santa Monica and the newly formed Santa Monica Black Lives Association, a nonprofit organization formed by Black community leaders. 


Zumba with Miss Debi 

When: Tuesday, February 2 at 6:30 p.m. 

DescriptionJoin us for a mix of low-intensity and high-intensity moves for an interval-style, calorie-burning dance fitness party. People of all ages and fitness levels are welcome to join. RSVP: 

The Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity 

When: Thursday, February 4 at 10:30 a.m. 

DescriptionJoin us for the Black History Month opening ceremony on Rosa Parks Day. The event will feature a discussion by local families highlighting the diversity, identitand history of Santa Monica’s Black communityThere will also be special dance performances and small segments highlighting the cooking traditions of Black families. Community members are asked to submit their family stories by January 10, 2021 for the chance to be featured during the opening ceremony and/or on the City’s blog. 


Bingo with comedienne Angel Gaines 

When: Tuesday, February 9, 2021 at 12 p.m. 

DescriptionLaugh your way through an hour-long Black History Month-themed bingo facilitated by comedienne Angel Gaines. Learn about Black history while trying your luck at winning coveted prizes. 

Catherine Adel West Discusses “Saving Ruby King” 

When: Thursday, February 11, 2021 at 12 p.m. 

DescriptionAuthor Catherine Adel West joins the Santa Monica community for a book reading and conversation about her debut novel, “Saving Ruby King, which explores trauma, friendships and secrets that intertwine families for generations. Digital and print copies of “Saving Ruby King” are available through the Santa Monica Public Library. To check out a copy, visit Need a Library card? Sign up at 

Historic Belmar Park: Preserving History through Stories and Art  

When: Tuesday, February 16, 2021 at 6 p.m. 

DescriptionJoin historian Alison Rose Jefferson and social practice artist April Banks for a discussion about the Belmar History + Art Project, including the outdoor exhibition that will soon encircle the new park, Historic Belmar Park. The outdoor exhibition features a monumental new artwork, A Resurrection in Four Stanzasand interpretative story panels which are an outgrowth of the book "Living the California Dream: African American Leisure Sites during the Jim Crow Era." These and other features of the Belmar History + Art Project commemorate the history of the Historic Belmar Park area and other South Santa Monica Beach neighborhoods that were home to a thriving African American community until they were displaced in the 1950s. Keeping this history alive is a goal of the Belmar History + Art project and the Santa Monica Black Lives Association, the nonprofit organization founded by Black community leaders spearheading the creation of the Black Agenda. 


More Information: 

Afro-Joy Dance Party with Tatiana Zamir 

When: Thursday, February 18, 2021 at 6:30 p.m. 

DescriptionThe Afro-Joy Dance Party is for all bodies and levels of experience to embody joy, healing and connect with community. This follow-along dance party is mainly inspired by Afro-diasporic music and movement. Come feel your heartbeat guide you to the rhythms while we elevate our spirit, our health and each other. Tatiana Zamir is a dancer, performing artist and movement instructor who has spent a lifetime of training and exploration of the body as a vehicle for healing and awakening to our highest destiny. 


Celebrating Black Excellence Community Awards 

When: Thursday, February 25, 2021 at 6 p.m. 

DescriptionJoin us for the 2nd annual Black Excellence Community Awards to honor Black professionals in Santa Monica for outstanding leadership and service. The City of Santa Monica's Black History Month Committee is accepting nominations for professionals who will be honored. Nominees must live or work in Santa Monica. The deadline for submissions is January 10, 2021. Click here to submit nominations. Additionally, the City is accepting in memoriam submissions to honor Santa Monica community members we lost in 2020, including residents, employees and business owners. Click here to submit in memoriam entries by January 10, 2021. 


Authored By

Delana Gbenekama
Equity and Communications Program Manager