Tag Archives: Benicia CA

Benicia Schools honor Ruby Bridges


BENICIA BLACK LIVES MATTER
…OUR VOICES…

From BeniciaBlackLivesMatter.com
[See also: About BBLM]

“Benicia Schools joined thousands of other schools around the country to commemorate and celebrate Ruby Bridges, who was one of the first African American children to attend an all white school in the segregated South.”

November 22, 2022
By Sheri Leigh, a member of Benicia Black Lives Matter

Last week, several of the Benicia Schools joined thousands of other schools around the country to commemorate and celebrate Ruby Bridges, who was one of the first African American children to attend an all white school in the segregated South.  This was the second year that any of our schools participated in this important event.  Last year, Benicia Black Lives Matters (BBLM) partnered with the PTA and the administration at Robert Semple Elementary School to hold the first march and celebration in Benicia to honor the young American heroine and her family for the brave decision to risk Ruby’s personal safety and comfort to help create a more equitable future for all American children.  Every student at Robert Semple was present for readings of Ruby Bridges books and Ms. Bridges’ letter to students.  The children were enrapt while listening to the readings and asked in depth questions about Ruby’s life. The event at Robert Semple was so moving and powerful that BBLM worked with the City and School District to make this an annual, City-wide event.

Ruby Bridges was born in 1954 during the middle of the Civil Rights Movement, shortly after , Brown v. The Board of Education was enacted.  The famous Supreme Court ruling declared that separate public schools for white children, from which children of color were banned, was unconstitutional.  The segregated schools had six years to integrate.  Many of the southern states were extremely resistant, waiting until the end of the transition period or until they were forced into compliance by the US government.

In 1960, young Ruby was living in New Orleans, Louisiana, which was one of the last southern areas to enforce the federal mandate of integrated schools.  As Ruby prepared to enter the first grade, her parents responded to a request from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and volunteered her to participate in the integration of the New Orleans schools.  With the intent of continuing to keep Black children out, the Orleans Parish School Board opted to administer a rigorous entrance exam at their all-white schools. Ruby was one of six Black children who passed the challenging admissions test.  Two of the other five children decided not to attend the soon to be integrated schools.  Three of the others were transferred to McDonogh Elementary, and Ruby was sent alone to William Frantz Elementary.

On Ruby’s first day of school, the white community and nearly all of the white families protested by pulling out their children from that school and/or by gathering at the school entrance to shout at and threaten the small girl and her escorts.  It was reported that Ruby conducted herself with dignity and stoicism.  She did not cringe or cry, but simply ignored the threats as she bravely walked into the building.  All but one teacher protested by refusing to teach.  Although most of the children and teachers eventually came back, Ruby was taught in class by herself for the first year by Barbara Henry, a teacher from Boston.

The impacts of her bravery were harsh on Ruby and her family.  Her father was dismissed from his job.  Stores refused to sell goods to the family.  Her grandparents in Mississippi lost their land.  Her parents, under extreme stress, eventually divorced.  But there was support as well.  One family in the community donated clothing and supplies to Ruby to help aid her success.  A local psychiatrist volunteered his time to provide Ruby with mental health support, and she remained strong and mentally sound despite the stress.

Today, Ruby Bridges (now Ruby Bridges Hall) still lives in New Orleans with her husband and sons.  She is an activist for tolerance and equity and the chair of the Ruby Bridges Foundation, which she formed in 1999 to promote “the values of tolerance, respect, and appreciation of all differences.” Describing the mission of the group, she says, “racism is a grown-up disease and we must stop using our children to spread it.”

On Monday, November 14, with the help and support of members from BBLM and the community, the Benicia City Schools organized walks, pledges, displays and in-school activities to commemorate the tremendous efforts that were made by Ruby Bridges and others to provide a safe, integrated and equitable education for all children in this country.  Robert Semple, Joe Henderson and several of our other schools participated with great enthusiasm.  Although some of our schools sadly minimized the activities or did not participate at all, this is a tremendous step Benicia Schools have made towards the recognition and celebration of the history of all our families.

If you would like more information about Ruby Bridges Day or the efforts of BBLM, please contact us through www.benicia blacklivesmatter.weebly.com


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

‘Our Voices’ – One Benicia Man’s Contribution to California History


BENICIA BLACK LIVES MATTER
…OUR VOICES…

From BeniciaBlackLivesMatter.com
[See also: About BBLM]

“One of our early Black residents was a local barber named Joseph McAfee – a contributing citizen, a soldier, and an underground activist. It is likely McAfee arrived in California in the early to mid-1840s…”

October 14, 2022
By Sheri Leigh, a member of Benicia Black Lives Matter

When you look around the streets of Benicia, it is obvious that there are fewer Black faces than white.  The 2020 population data from the US Census reports that there are only 3.22% African Americans and 9.51% People of Mixed Race living here.  However, this data is only reflective of numbers, not of the remarkable history of Blacks living in Benicia.  Here is one Benicia man’s story, steeped in California and American history.

In September of 1850, when the State of California was admitted into the Union, there were 21 Black residents within Solano County.  Six of them resided in Benicia, which at that time, had a total population of 480 people.  One of our early Black residents was a local barber named Joseph McAfee – a contributing citizen, a soldier, and an underground activist.

It is likely McAfee arrived in California in the early to mid-1840s, during the great Western migration, when California was still a Mexican territory.  At that time, slavery was legal in this territory, and most Blacks arrived here with their subjugators.  Fourteen of the 21 original Black Solano County residents were bound for Vacaville as “indentured” slaves.  Although it is not clear whether McAfee was a former slave or not, he allegedly arrived in California as a free man.

In June of 1846, Joseph McAfee joined many other California settlers in Sonoma for the rebellion known as the Bear Flag Incident, a revolt instigated by John C. Fremont against Mexican government rule.  With McAfee’s and other Black participants’ help, the rebellion prevailed.  Mexican general Mariano Vallejo was temporarily imprisoned, and the territory was declared the “Bear Flag Republic,” which paved the way for eventual California statehood.

In 1849, McAfee, along with hundreds of other African Americans, joined the George Wyatt gold mining expedition.  They mined at Murphy’s Diggings in Calaveras County.  A year later, many of the enslaved Blacks who joined the party were able to purchase their freedom with their earnings from the prosperous mine.

Meanwhile, as California prepared to become a State, the status of People of Color did not improve.  In 1849, during the California Constitutional Convention held in Monterey, lawmakers enacted several discriminatory pieces of legislation which further disenfranchised Africans, descendants of Africans, and Native American people. The new laws interfered with daily freedoms, rights to land ownership, citizenship, and other oppressive codes similar to those enacted in other parts of the country during  that time.

In 1850, as California was granted statehood, Joseph McAfee settled in Benicia and opened up a community barbershop with his earnings from the gold mines.  Although California was declared a “Free State,” within a year the new State of California passed its own version of the Fugitive Slave Act, requiring the return of runaway slaves to their owners.  McAfee took action and joined the other local abolitionists in the establishment and operation of the Western Underground Railroad in Solano County, creating a safe haven for those seeking freedom from slavery during pre-Civil War California.

McAfee remained in Benicia until the mid-1860s before moving to Santa Cruz, shortly after the promulgation of the Emancipation Proclamation abolishing slavery in all States.  His efforts in the Underground Railroad helped to empower those who were wrongfully enslaved and secured a path towards a more equitable society.  And his contributions helped bring a special part of history to Benicia.

Now, nearly 160 years later, there is still work to be done.  Although legally all citizens have the right to freedom, land and business ownership, voting, etc. there is still racial discrimination, both systemically and individually, directed towards People of Color.  It continues to be the goal of Benicia Black Lives Matter and other organizations directed towards positive change to help usher in a new, more equitable era free from racism and discrimination.  If you would like to join us in this effort, please contact us at www.benicia blacklivesmatter.com.

*The information in this article is based on information from the “North Bay Area African American TimeLine 1850-1925” and a 2012 article from the Daily Republic, entitled, “Exhibit Highlights Benicia’s African American Heritage,” written by Ian Thompson. 


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

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

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.