Category 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.

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!


About

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.