Feeling Better 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.