Latest ‘Our Voices’ – With the right approach to learning


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“With the right approach to learning, I know our schools can provide a more holistic, respectful, and equitable educational experience for all of our young people in the future. “

August 29, 2022
Branden Ducharme, White male, age 20
Lifetime Benicia resident

As a person who spent all of their elementary and secondary education in Benicia schools, I can vouch for the consistent underlying tones of racism that run through the school system and much of the student body.  I witnessed it regularly.  Sometimes I was a part of it – not to be deliberately demeaning, but because I wasn’t aware.  

There were passing comments among the students that denigrated students of color, and of course, racially biased jokes.  There was self segregation of the various races during lunch and breaks, which I believe is because kids do not feel welcomed or comfortable with students who are unlike themselves.  There were incidences of students using racial slurs towards other students to deliberately insult them, particularly when tempers flared.   

To my shame and embarrassment, I can recall repeating a racially insulting joke about police shootings when I was in the fourth grade. I had heard the joke from older friends, one of whom was an adult and staff member at an afterschool center I attended. They were all laughing at the punchline, so I thought it was cool. I shared this “joke” with my friends at school, a few of whom were Black.  To their credit, my Black friends called me on it. They complained to the administration. I was called into the principal’s office to be reprimanded, rightfully so. Rather than have a proper discussion about the reality of racism in America and the interpersonal and societal impacts of racist jokes, racial bias, and exploiting Black trauma, I was merely told that my joke was offensive and racist. There was no in-depth analysis of what “racist” truly means. I was made to reflect on my racist comment and write a letter of apology to my peers. However, how can one reflect without proper guidance at such a young age? How can one genuinely apologize for what they do not fully understand? Sadly and understandably, the friends who reported me chose to no longer remain friends with me.  Their actions said way more than the principal (who evidently is now a prominent figure in the district and a roadblock to anti-racist initiatives) had, and losing their friendship was the bigger part of this life lesson for me. I could see their pain and disgust but I did not understand the roots of it, which was a failure on the part of Benicia schools. 

Racism is prevalent systemically as well. For example, in my thirteen years in the District I can only recall three Black teachers and one Black administrator.  As an aside, the Black high school administrator was the friendliest and most positive vice principal I have yet to encounter, yet he was dismissed mid-year and replaced by a more conservative and traditional white woman who was not able to make the connections with the students that her predecessor forged.  Discipline, when involving white students and students of Color, typically favored the white students. And if highly charged and insulting racial slurs were the provocation of an escalated situation, the impact of those remarks were not validated or treated as very significant when directed at a student of Color.

One of my biggest concerns about the perpetuation of racism in the schools is the curriculum.  Most of the history and literary texts used in Benicia schools are very white-centric. They approach history primarily from the experiences and perspective of the white settlers and their progeny, while largely ignoring the violence, betrayal and subjugation that whites frequently committed upon others from that point forward. History curriculum is rarely, if ever, presented from the perspective of Black, Asian, Indigenous, or Latin people, nor the many other populations and cultures that make up this country.  We did discuss slavery and civil rights but only minimally and, for the most part, only during Black history month.  The literature introduced in school was nearly always written by whites, and most commonly about whites, rather than reading books from the wealth of important and excellent literature written by marginalized voices. I can only imagine how minimized students of Color feel when their history and culture is largely ignored by the very school from which they are getting their basic education.  

As I got older, I became more aware of prevailing racism, both at school and in the community.  Around age 15, I was walking around First Street with two Black male friends. It was a weekend evening around 9pm, and we were laughing at something funny one of us said. As we passed by Sailor Jacks, a middle-aged white woman exited the restaurant, and came towards us, clearly angry at something.  She was obviously inebriated and immediately directed her anger at my friends for laughing too loudly.  She did not address me, even though I was participating in the hilarity.  My friends were harassed and berated for disturbing a supposedly quiet night when her own behavior, in my opinion, was out of line.  She was loud, she was publicly intoxicated, and she was racially biased in her actions. Most importantly, we were doing nothing wrong, yet for some reason, this woman’s bias guided her self-proclaimed right to treat those she thought socially beneath her with inappropriate contempt.  

I have found that it is easy to be racist and not even know it.  People, those who are white in particular, develop bad patterns because they are not taught early enough to be more open, accepting, and equitable in their minds and actions. Social and interpersonal conditioning make bad behaviors even more difficult to unlearn.  Our experiences in elementary and secondary school have a huge impact on who we become as people. As I prepare to attend UCLA this fall to study sociology, I am making it my goal to generate change within this inherently racist country. With the right approach to learning, I know our schools can provide a more holistic, respectful, and equitable educational experience for all of our young people in the future. Schools are a vessel for change, insofar as what is taught in them reflects a desire to confront inequality, racism, sexism, patriarchy, and all other forms of bigotry or flawed ideology.

Previous ‘Our Voices’ stories here on the BenIndy at
Benicia Black Lives Matter – Our Voices
     or on the BBLM website at

Progressive Democrats of Benicia endorse Kari Birdseye, Terry Scott

City Council Endorsements for Benicia’s November Election

On Thursday, August 25, after an informative and well-attended meeting of the Progressive Democrats featuring a forum for three Democratic Benicia City Council candidates, the membership voted to endorse Kari Birdseye and
Terry Scott for City Council.

The membership failed to endorse the third Democrat running for two seats on Council, Christina Strawbridge.

In the forum moderated by Interim Chair Kathy Kerridge, the candidates were presented with prepared questions on topics ranging from the Valero PAC—which has a stockpile of over $200,000 to support candidates favorable to their issues—to climate change response and adaptation strategies, as well as affordable housing for seniors and low-income families. Each candidate was afforded ample time to answer each question and provided thoughtful, forward-thinking responses.

The membership also voted to endorse Jose Altamirano for the State Board of Equalization and to make a financial donation to each of the endorsed candidates.

Benicia Library to host Readings & Conversations

Yearning to Breathe Free—A Community Journal of 2020
Plan to attend on Sunday, Aug. 28 (on Zoom)

Readings and Conversations from the book:
The Impact of the Times

Sunday, August 28, 3-5 p.m.
Sunday, September 18, 3-5 p.m.
Sunday, October 16, 3-5 p.m.
Zoom link:
To purchase the book, see below.

How this came about in Benicia…

More than sixty writers from diverse ages, backgrounds, and circumstances contributed to the Benicia Herald’s newspaper column “Going the Distance” from April 1 to Election Day, 2020. Those writings appear in the book Yearning to Breathe Free, published by Benicia Literary Arts

Benicia readers of the column called it a 2020 “lifeline,” a “chronicle of our shared history,” with writings that “consistently stir truth…desperately needed truth.”

Collected in the book are the personal responses of a community, presented as they appeared, day by day, during the thick of uncertainty and doubt.

The period spanning the onset of coronavirus restrictions and the 2020 elections is one of the most eventful, demanding, exhausting, scary and scarring in our recent history.  We were not all in  the same boat, but we all lived through the same storm.  “The craving for normalcy growls like an empty stomach,” Poet Laureate Emerita Lois Requist wrote in early April. In October an anonymous twelve-year-old asked, “Dear Future, Will you be there for me?”

Yearning to Breathe Free stands as a historical record from our small corner of America, a raw, unmediated testimony to hope and fear, anger and despair, inspired by events as they unfolded.

The writings are also testimony to the power of poetry and story to encourage individuals, strengthen community, and confront significant issues in a time of multiple crises.

You are invited…

You are invited to attend any or all of three upcoming readings & conversations, sponsored by the Benicia Public Library at 3-5 p.m. on August 28, September 18, and October 16.  Each event will feature a different program of selected readings from Yearning To Breathe Free.  The readings will be presented chronologically, as they appear in the book, providing a perspective on the intense events of 2020 from April 1 through Election Day.

Here’s the link:
Meeting ID: 863 3771 4167
Passcode: 515278

Anticipating the reading in which she will take part, Poet Laureate Emerita Johanna Ely said, “I look forward to hearing the other poems, and joining in a conversation about how it felt to suddenly realize that our lives had changed in a huge way.”

The readings and conversations will offer opportunity to reflect on our shared history, strengthen our community, and support one another. To look back and to move beyond. Please join in the first event on Sunday August 28. For more details, go to


Yearning To Breathe Free—A Community Journal of 2020, published by Benicia Literary Arts, is available at Bookshop Benicia and on the BLA website,  and can be borrowed from the Benicia Public Library.

Jarrod Slate: Kari Birdseye, Truly a Voice for the People

Kari is studied and informed, respectful and fair

By Jarrod Slate, August 19, 2022
Mr. Slate is a Benicia Business Owner and a Benicia Planning Commissioner

Jarrod Slate, Benicia

As a longtime resident, a parent, a homeowner, and business owner in Benicia, I felt it was my obligation to become active in this small community, especially on major issues.

I really started paying attention to Benicia planning and politics when “Crude by Rail” was in front of Benicia’s Planning Commission. It was a subject I knew nothing about, but one that provoked a lot of feelings within the community. I began attending the meetings, with no opinion on the topic, and loved witnessing the process.

Many Planning Commissioners stood out to me during that time, with one of the main ones being Kari Birdseye. She came across as well studied and informed, which allowed her to confidently ask thorough questions. This is a great characteristic of someone in that kind of role, or higher office.

Fast forward to today and I now have the honor of serving with Chair Birdseye on the current Planning Commission. She continues to amaze me with her thoroughness in reviewing all material, her leadership skills, her overall respect to the public, their concerns, and the process. She is fair in her assessments, approaching issues from a centrist position, reviewing all the facts, and ultimately making decisions for the greater good of our small community. She has been a role model and mentor for me on how I want to conduct myself as a commissioner.

These are the qualities I want and expect in City Council, which is why I can confidently support Kari Birdseye for Benicia City Council. She will work hard to represent everyone and make decisions that benefit all Benicians, based on the facts that she has. As someone with personal interests in Benicia schools, sports, business, and property, I support Kari Birdseye for City Council.

Jarrod Slate

More letters, news & links about Kari here on the BenIndy

And best of all – Kari’s website!

Kari Birdseye For Benicia City Council 2022