Tag Archives: Benicia Black Lives Matter

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


BENICIA BLACK LIVES MATTER
…OUR VOICES…

From BeniciaBlackLivesMatter.com
[See also: About BBLM]

“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
beniciablacklivesmatter.weebly.com/ourvoices

BBLM Interview with Benicia Library Director Jennifer Baker

Community Partnering is the Answer

Benicia Black Lives Matter, by Sheri Leigh, August 8, 2022

“A truly great library has something to offend everyone.”  This quote by librarian Jo Goodwin is how Jennifer Baker, Benicia’s new Director of Library and Cultural Services, approaches her job.

Baker wants to shake it up by inviting the people of Benicia to think and act more critically and responsibly.  When BBLM members approached her to discuss partnering, Baker welcomed the opportunity.   Continue reading BBLM Interview with Benicia Library Director Jennifer Baker

Backpack Giveaway at Benicia City Park Gazebo

BBLM Supports Our Children in School

August 4, 2022 @ 3:00pm-7:00pm
Backpack Giveaway
Benicia City Park Gazebo

By Benicia Black Lives Matter, August 1, 2022

Benicia Black Lives Matter

Equal access to education is high on the priority list for the Benicia Black Lives Matters (BBLM) team. Children who begin school unprepared often feel embarrassed or ashamed and may lack the confidence to ask for help, which frequently leads to underachievement. Some children may be teased by other students because they don’t have the resources they need for success, leading to further disengagement. Sadly, there are families in Benicia and the surrounding community who struggle every year to purchase school supplies for their children. BBLM is here to help.

On the afternoon of Thursday, August 4th, from 3 to 7pm at the City Park Gazebo along First and Military Streets, BBLM, along with several community partners, will be giving out backpacks and school supplies to any family who asks. This is our second year of sponsoring a Backpack Giveaway for the community, and we are excited to bring back this important event. The backpacks, donated by Ethnic Notions Bookstore and Gallery, will be equipped with writing and art supplies, paper, folders and other important items for elementary students. Backpacks and other supplies, such as binders and dividers will be available for middle school, high school, and adult students as supplies last. All items have been purchased with money donated by local businesses and caring individuals, many of whom are members of BBLM. There will also be a book in every backpack as provided by Benicia Reads, which is a cooperative endeavor of the Benicia Public Library and the Benicia School District.

All of our partners are equally committed to helping our students start the school year off right. Faith Food Fridays is endeavoring to provide a healthy and nutritious food giveaway, so that no one goes hungry. The Bike Mobile will be there to get bicycles ready to use as transportation to and from school while Solano Safe Routes to School will be giving away helmets and other safety equipment. The Omega Gents will be offering Mentoring Services, and Willie B. Atkins Scholars will have College Preparation materials. And the community will be welcomed with music by DJ Irrateation.

For more information, or if you would like to donate to this important cause, please reach out to BBLM through beniciablacklivesmatter@gmail.com. We also welcome you to drop off donated school supplies, particularly binders and/or dividers, at Ethnic Notions, 930 Marin St, Vallejo. Please call first for hours at 707-334-3060.

Feeling Better in Benicia

PERSPECTIVE ON RACISM IN BENICIA

By Nimat Shakoor-Grantham, July 19, 2022 (brief bio below)

Nimat Shakoor-Grantham, Benicia

As a 20-year African American resident, I’ve enjoyed the beauty, good schools and small town feel of Benicia, but there’s been challenging moments:

    1. White middle school students daily calling my son *igger at school.
    2. Being asked by two white women while walking down First St., “Why are you here? Shouldn’t you be in Oakland or Vallejo?”
    3. A white man referring to me as “Gal” while “telling” me to get him a shopping cart at the Solano Square Safeway. African Americans have a history since the days of slavery of white people (teens to adult) referring us as “Boy or Gal (girl)” when we’re well past the age of being a boy or a girl. This to “remind” us that we were/are considered as inferior to white people and to “keep us in our place.”
    4. Benicia Police being called to my home due to the music I was playing during the middle of the day. When the officers arrived, I asked them if the volume of the music was too loud, and whether I was making noise outside of the hours allowed by the Benicia Municipal Code, the officers replied “no” to both and left. The white neighbor later informed me that they’d contacted the police because they could hear the music while walking past my house, and it wasn’t the “type” of music (classic R&B) that was acceptable for the neighborhood.
    5. A NextDoor post directed anyone who saw “any young black men” walking through their neighborhood to please contact Benicia Police based on a recent theft/burglary. The posting happened around the same time that Ahmad Arbury, a black young man in Georgia, who was around the same age as my son and nephew, was apprehended and murdered by white neighborhood residents simply because he was jogging through their neighborhood. The post immediately made me fear that something similar might happen to my son, nephew or another African American young man minding their own business while walking in a primarily white Benicia neighborhood. Based on historical experience, most African American parents instruct (our) children, primarily sons, on exactly how to interact with the police to keep from being harmed or killed. That post was unconscionable. I took my concern to then Benicia Police Chief, Erik Upson, who thought the post was incredulous, inappropriate, and assured me that under no circumstance would he accept any of his officers responding to a call based solely on the race of a person walking through a neighborhood. I appreciated that.
    6. A former white Benicia Arts and Culture commissioner stopped a struggling Downtown First street business from exhibiting a proposed mural of historic African American Benicians and other historic African Americans by threatening to organize people in a boycott to shut the business down if they did. It didn’t matter that the project was in the process of seeking approval from that commission before being implemented.

I shake my head when citizens exclaim, “There’s no racism in Benicia!” Racism in Benicia? Prove it!” and my favorite, “Why are you trying to paint Benicia as racist? If you don’t like living here, MOVE”; And spew “whataboutisms”.

In June of 2020 I’d had enough and organized a large peaceful protest for racial justice and formed the group, Benicia Black Lives Matter (BBLM). I submitted a list of items to then City Manager, Lori Tinfow for implementation by the city to address racism and promote racial equity in Benicia. By August those items were added into a co-authored resolution that was submitted to the Benicia City Council and passed by majority vote.

Since then:

I’m proud to have been part of the origin of the historic annual celebration of Juneteenth in Benicia. Initial recognition of Juneteenth (the day that slavery ended in the United States) by City Hall consisted of a proclamation presentation and a flag raising ceremony, a step in the right direction.

Two of the items presented to Ms. Tinfow and passed by the city council emerged into the city’s Equity Manager position and the Committee for Unity and Racial Unity (CURE), the only municipal position and committee of its kind that exists in Solano County, if not in the whole bay area.

In my opinion, the Benicia City Council and staff took appropriate steps to ensure that the implementation and convening of CURE was fair and transparent. Two African American BBLM members were duly appointed to CURE as was requested in the resolution, and the committee was expanded per amendment which allowed a greater level of community member participation. The time it took to implement CURE and seat its members took a while, but the Equity and Diversity Manger assigned to carry out this effort has only a “part-time” position.

The Benicia Library improved its inventory of books by expanding information regarding the history and current issues impacting the lives of people of color. The library director obtained a grant and presented community meetings based on African American author, poet and playwright Claudia Rankine’s profound book,” Just Us” to promote education and discussion of racial micro-aggressions, unconscious/conscious racial bias, and to explore possible solutions. The library also hosted a live discussion with Ms. Rankine, and presented a dramatic play written by the author and powerfully performed by Benicia community actors.

I applaud the citizens, city staff, school district and community leaders of Benicia who are speaking up and working on actions to mitigate offensive and potentially dangerous activities such as the racist La Migra “game” that many Benicia students play.

More white members of the community acknowledge that implicit bias and racism DOES EXIST in Benicia and are taking action to do something about it.

There’s still more to do to address racism and inequity in Benicia; However, I notice the progress, and in my opinion, Benicia is better.


Nimat Shakoor-Grantham, MA, MPA, LMFT/APCC is a 20-year Benicia resident and proud mom; School, family and trauma psychotherapist; Benicia Black Lives Matter (BBLM) Co-founder; NAACP member and equity, social justice, diversity and inclusion advocate. Views are the author’s own.