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Santa Monica Honors Past, Present Achievements with Milestone Black History Month Events
March 5, 2020
by Delana Gbenekama
In February 2020, the Santa Monica community gathered for two milestone Black History Month events organized by the City’s Government Alliance on Race and Equity: the inaugural Black History Month kickoff event at City Hall on February 4 and the first Celebrating Black Excellence Community Mixer at the Third Street Promenade on February 25.
Both events, which will occur annually going forward, generated extreme excitement from community members. The month culminated with the Greens Festival, presented by the Parent Connection Group, at Virginia Avenue Park on February 29.
February 4 – Divine Nine: Commitment to Community Service
Nearly 100 people gathered at City Hall for the Black History Month kickoff event on Rosa Parks Day to learn about the history of our nation’s nine historical Black fraternities and sororities, and those organizations’ commitment to community service. The event also featured step show performances by Africa in America™ and Step Masters Step by Step, and a panel discussion with City leaders who are Divine Nine members. The occasion marked the City’s first official Black History Month kickoff event, which was organized by the City’s Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE).
February 25 – Celebrating Black Excellence Community Mixer
More than 100 community members descended upon the Third Street Promenade for the City’s inaugural Celebrating Black Excellence Community Mixer, organized by the GARE and co-sponsored by Downtown Santa Monica Inc., to honor Black professionals in Santa Monica and to make new community connections. The event featured traditional West African dance performances by Daansekou Arts Collective, and an awards presentation honoring 10 leaders for outstanding service and leadership:
- Sabrina Fields, housing director at St. Joseph Center who is a tireless advocate for youth and vulnerable communities.
- Delana G. Gbenekama, a member of the City’s Government Alliance on Race and Equity who organized the City’s first Celebrating Black Excellence Community Mixer at the Promenade and inaugural Black History Month kickoff event at City Hall.
- Dr. Karen S. Gunn, an organizational and community psychologist who is dedicated to creating a diverse, inclusive, vibrant and equitable Santa Monica.
- Rashan Ivy, who has worked for the City of Santa Monica for over 20 years, served as a custodial supervisor for nearly a decade, and is highly regarded by staff for his integrity and professionalism.
- Derric J. Johnson, who is the founding director of Crossroads School’s Equity and Justice Institute, which oversees social justice advocacy and equity education on campus.
- Robbie L. Jones, who has been an active advocate for justice her entire life and has donated countless hours to support and mentor Black youth and parents.
- Dr. Antonio M. Shelton, the principal of Santa Monica High School who is devoted to an equitable education for all students and is an educational leader for faculty and staff.
- Reginald E. St. Claire, who has worked and volunteered with children in all capacities, including through his own Santa Monica-based soccer club called Westside Premier Soccer Club and his nonprofit organization, the Grass is Greener Foundation.
- Professor Muriel Walker Waugh, who teaches chemistry at Santa Monica College, is known for using rhyming phrases and other memory techniques to ingrain information into her students’ memories, and established a chemistry boot camp to empower students to succeed.
- Doug Willis, who is a tireless advocate for housing and has also served on the Housing Commission, Rent Control Board, Pico Neighborhood Association and Family Services of Santa Monica. He is also the Treasurer for the Santa Monica/Venice NAACP.
February 29 – Black History Greens Festival
Over 500 children, youth and families celebrated Black History Month at the annual Greens Festival at Virginia Avenue Park presented by the Parent Connection Group. In keeping with this year’s theme of African Royalty, children and parents made their own royal African crowns, participated in a Trivia Quiz of the African Royalty in the Annex exhibition and listened to a book reading of the Adventures of Obi and Titi by O. T. Begho. In addition, attendees enjoyed tasting the winning greens recipes, Kale ice cream, Kale salad and collard greens as well as performances by Isokan Dance Collective, Dancing in Place workshop and the music of DJ Jihaari. The community truly enjoyed culminating Black History Month with the Greens Festival!
Month of February – Black History Exhibits
The GARE team displayed Black history exhibits in the City Hall lobby all month long, which included narratives on the historic Belmar Neighborhood drafted by historian Dr. Alison Rose Jefferson as well as the history of Black suffrage and Santa Monica’s first Black mayor.
For more photos from Santa Monica's Black History Month events, please check out our Black History Month 2020 Facebook album.