Tag Archives: Benicia Black Lives Matter

2nd Annual Juneteenth Celebration hosted by Benicia Black Lives Matter

There was much to be celebrated this past Sunday, June 19, 2022.

Benicia Juneteenth 2022 – Ariel Marin Music

By Amira Barger, June 23, 2022

Thanks to community volunteers and the events team of Benicia Black Lives Matter (BBLM), the second annual Juneteenth Celebration brought us together as we collectively reflected on and commemorated a historic day. This event was made possible by community, for community.

From its origins in 1865, Juneteenth has presented a paradox – much like our little City by the Bay, Benicia – marking a legacy of systemic racism and inequity yet simultaneously representing hope and opportunity to see and do things differently. In this way, Juneteenth is not just a remembrance of the past, but a call to action for us, today and tomorrow. Each community member who showed up – on Father’s Day no less—joined in an act of solidarity with and for Benicia’s Black community.

Benicia Juneteenth 2022 – Solano County Supervisor Monica Brown with BBLM’s Amira Barger and Kashanna Harmon-Lee

Nearly one hundred Benicians gathered to commemorate Freedom Day and the end of enslavement in the United States. While the downtown Veteran’s Hall was filled with visible smiles, colorful artwork and other media, live music, and the smell of delectable foods, the stage was shared amongst a handful of stunning singers, speakers, poets, artists and activists who together reminded us that the fight for equity and freedom is far from over and won.

Benicia Juneteenth 2022 – around 100 in attendance

The event also welcomed a cohort of Black-owned businesses who showed up and showed out with their products and services on display. From soaps, to comics, to massage therapy, to jewelry – we had it all. We were joined by: Rest and Relax Massage and Bodywork LLC; Crumbbum Comics; Kelene Naturals, Wisdom Natural Soaps; Ethnic Notions Fine Art Gallery & Multicultural Bookstore, Soulful Seeds.

We were also joined by other community groups dedicated to the cause: Food is Free SolanoProgressive Democrats of Benicia; Omega Gents Youth Mentoring Program; and the ACLU – Solano County Chapter.

And our bellies and hearts were filled by Chef “D” by the Bay and Noonie’s Place, while our ears were serenaded by Ariel Marin Music, DJ Irrataetion and KajLoud.

There is still much more work to be done in our little City by the Bay. BBLM encourages each resident of Benicia to continue your journey of learning and working to celebrate Black culture, Black people, Black history and Black life. Some actionable steps you can take today are noted here and can be found on our website and social pages:

Be sure to attend this event each year and, most importantly, spend your money with our vendors that joined us – most of them Black-owned and -operated. Links are included in this article where vendors have been mentioned and shared on our social media pages.

To close this recounting, we urge you to center this passage from BBLM’s first-ever essay contest winner, Sydney Allen, who offered these apt words to our community:

“I will leave you with this quote from the Black-trans activist Marsha P. Johnson, who said, ‘History isn’t something you look back at and say it was inevitable. It happens because people make decisions that are sometimes very impulsive…’ If we do not stop to consider the outcome for all of those with whom we are making decisions for, then we continue to perpetuate a vicious cycle of racism and bigotry. But if we are able to authentically bring diversity, inclusivity, and unity to our nation’s government, then we are one step closer to a society that truly has ‘liberty and justice, for all.’”

Thank you for being in community with us and see you next year!


Benicia Black Lives Matter is a grassroots community group organized to address anti-Black racism in the city of Benicia. There is a lack of Black representation across City leadership, departments, and voluntary boards. The lack of Black representation tells a story of our complacency as a community and more so, the impact on our Black Benicians lived experience. The good news is, we can rebuild the City of Benicia into a better Benicia, one commitment and one change at a time – and we have a strategy to do so. Our Strategy: Actively Commit to Change. The City of Benicia must commit to a specific vision of what a better, more inclusive and equitable future looks like. For additional information see beniciablacklivesmatter.com.

Benicia Juneteenth Celebration at Benicia Veterans Memorial Hall, Sunday, June 19th

Please join Benicia Black Lives Matter in our commemoration and celebration of Juneteenth at the Benicia Veterans Memorial Hall on First Street on Sunday, June 19th from 11 am to 5 pm. (Not at the Camel Barns as previously posted here.)  There will be speeches, history, music, dance, vendors and children’s activities to honor Black history and culture as well as a few family activities for Father’s Day. For more information see below.

Juneteenth – Our Second Independence Day

As our calendar works its way towards mid-June, we are looking forward to observing the new National Holiday of Juneteenth to honor those who were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation and Constitutional Amendment of 1863.

Although Juneteenth is known as the “Second Independence Day,” it’s really the “First Independence Day” for many. The freedom some gained when England released its hold on the Americas when we won the Revolutionary War in 1783 did not affect a great and important part of our population. In fact, the term “freedom” at that time only applied to those empowered by the color of their skin, their gender, and the coins in their pocket. The practice of slavery— impacting the Africans brought to and sold in the United States, the subjugated Native Americans, and, to a lesser extent, those indentured—continued to experience immense growth over the next century.

According to the US Census Bureau, in 1790 there were nearly 700,000 enslaved people in the US, or approximately 18 percent of the total population. This included ninety-two percent of all people of African descent. By 1860, there were over four million slaves in the South alone. Of the total Black population living in the United States at that time, about 89 percent were living in slavery.

Early abolitionist work began in the 1780s with a handful of people, most of whom were from the Northeast. The movement was slow to gain momentum. In the 1830s Black leaders such as Fredrick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and John Brown brought more public awareness to the injustice of slavery. By the 1850s there was just enough recognition of the horror and inhumanity surrounding slavery to begin real change. At the height of the Civil War, on the eve of January 1, 1863, enslaved and free African Americans gathered in churches and private homes across the country awaiting news that the Emancipation Proclamation had taken effect. Finally, at midnight, all enslaved people in the United States, including those in the Confederate South, were declared legally free.

But some states, especially those in the Confederacy, held on to their claim to slavery for as long as they could. Even though the Emancipation Proclamation was made effective immediately, the South refused to recognize the Constitutional Amendment. It took time for the hard-earned proclamation to be honored, and its execution was rolled out state by state. The Confederate state of Texas was one of the last states to comply. Freedom finally came on June 19, 1865 – more than two years after the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation – when Union troops arrived in Galveston. The Union army, as commanded by the President, announced that enslaved Black people in the State of Texas were free by executive decree. June 19th came to be celebrated within the African-American community local to Galveston before it spread to other parts of the US, and is now known as “Juneteenth.”

The City of Benicia has its own history of slavery. According to an article written by Ian Thompson for the Daily Republic in 2012, our city included six African Americans among its population of 480 people in 1850. One of the six was a man named Adam Willis, who came from Missouri to Benicia with his enslaver, Singleton Vaughn. Willis also became one of the first free African Americans in town when he was emancipated by a Benicia courtroom on September 27, 1855. A second Black resident was a former Bear Flag veteran named Joseph McAfee. McAfee was part of the Western Underground Railroad that freed slaves in pre-Civil War California, when there was still dissent over whether slavery should be legally allowed or banned in our newly recognized state.

Although Juneteenth has been long celebrated in the African-American community, most Americans remained unaware of this important event and its significance until very recently. This is the second year that Juneteenth is listed as a Federal Holiday, commemorating the history of and triumph over slavery. It is also a marker of the work in progress and the work ahead as we move towards a more equitable society.


● The festival will take place from 11 am to 5 pm at the Veterans Memorial Hall at 1150 First Street.
● Everyone is welcome—this is a family event!
● There will be food and drinks vendors along with small businesses selling everything from cosmetics to fine art and literature.
● A formal staged program with speakers, and performances. Readings will start at 1 pm. There will be time to shop and enjoy the music, food, and drink before and after the
● Families can look forward to fun educational activities, including a scavenger hunt with prizes, a craft table with art, a storyteller, popcorn, and cotton candy.
● We’ll have a free Father’s Day culturally appropriate gift for fathers and father figures, and an opportunity to have a family photo taken for a suggested donation between 2 and 3:30pm.


Benicia Black Lives Matter – Reading to a child

Windows to a New World

Reading to a child. What could be a more magical way of learning for the child and a more gratifying experience to the reader? And what can be a more important way to introduce and connect children to things beyond their immediate world?

Benicia Black Lives Matter (BBLM) has been doing just that with pre-school level children in Benicia and Vallejo since January 2021 in our Preschool Reading Program. Using carefully screened and age appropriate literature, BBLM volunteers have been opening the minds and hearts of our preschoolers.

Once a month, volunteers go into different preschools to share a book and related activities carefully selected by the team to bring awareness of Black history, science, art, music, customs, culture, and daily lives, with the intent to plant seeds of humanity towards Black people as early as possible. And several of the preschools in this community embrace the opportunity to work with BBLM to bring the children a broader perspective and cultural understanding.

The books used are reviewed and offered by Roselind Johnson, the owner of Ethnic Notions, a gift and bookstore and art gallery located in Vallejo. Ms. Johnson is an expert in Black literature and the arts. At Ethnic Notions, she stocks a wealth of material on Black culture for people of all ages, including for a very young audience.

The books for the preschools are selected upon the seasonal influences within that month, much like the other books traditionally read to young children throughout the year, except that these books are chosen specifically to uplift and amplify historical and contemporary Black life. This helps young children of all races understand and accept that we are all different in some ways and the same in others. And a copy of the monthly book is donated to each participating school.

Some of the books that have been introduced include:

      • Rosa Parks
      • Nana Akua
      • If You Give Me Some Apples
      • MLK
      • Trombone Shorty
      • My First Kwanza
      • Catch a Kiss
      • Brown
      • Baby Botanist
        …and more.

All of the books are connected in some way to the Black community while demonstrating that we are all related. For example, Brown features the reality and acceptance of people of varying skin color, while Baby Botanist is the story of a young Black farmer. The ensuing and related activities and discussion focus on equity, and awareness. After reading Brown, the children decorated a globe with cut out human figures of a variety of shades. After reading Baby Botanist, the children planted green onions and talked about farming. Hand-outs included information on Black-owned farms in the Bay area.

Parisa Kelly, owner of Starlight Montessori, was one of the first to be on board with the Preschool Reading Program. Before the program started, Ms. Kelly had been trying to extend her library of books to include more diversity. When approached by BBLM, Ms. Kelly was happy to participate. “The reader is wonderful. She really reaches the children at their level. Some people find it difficult to speak about complex issues with 3-5 year olds without talking above their level or down to them. The messages are positive, and the activities are meaningful. They put a lot of thought into the preschool reading program, and I am grateful. Plus, BBLM has donated the books they have read to us and helped me to expand my library.”

Ms. Kelly has many anecdotal stories about the children’s responses to the stories. For example, after reading Brown, the children had a lively discussion about comparing the colors of flowers in a garden to the diversity of human skin color. Then they all put their hands together and compared the varying colors. “It was so joyful!”

Stories are mirrors. And the stories read by the BBLM volunteers help our young children better see themselves in relation to the world. The books are a window into a history and culture that may be different from their own. Using this simple way of teaching and connecting, we are helping our children to better navigate the world we live in, honor other cultures, make good social choices, and to become true global citizens.

The BBLM Reading Program is entering its third year and second summer and is going strong. We are reaching a broader community that includes both Benicia and Vallejo. We are not reading to only preschoolers, but older children as well. Literacy in Solano County is of utmost importance to BBLM, and our children’s reading program is just one of many ways BBLM serves our community. If you would like to learn more about BBLM, please visit our website at beniciablacklivesmatter.weebly.com.