Category Archives: Anti-racism

Latest ‘Our Voices’ – Racism is real in Benicia


[See also: About BBLM]

“I was horrified to witness such abject racism in my own city…”

July 13, 2021

Chris Kerz
70 year old white man
6 year Benicia resident

I consider myself a good person. I try to treat everyone with respect and compassion. I have friends of different cultures, different races, different socio-economic levels, and different age groups. I generally greet everyone in my path with the same friendliness and warmth. I know that racism exists everywhere, but I never expected to witness such viciousness in my own quiet community.

During the Covid months, like many people, I took at least one brisk walk every day to get my blood flowing and maintain some sense of normalcy. On this particular October 2020 day, I was walking through the Ninth Street Park from the north end around 3pm. As I approached the boat launch I saw a Black gentleman, possibly in his mid-40s, seemingly also out for a walk, heading in my direction. When he was about 20 feet from me and before I was able to greet him, I began to hear a low chanting of what sounded like the word “N****r” coming from the parking lot. I looked around. The parking lot had several cars in it, but from where I was, I couldn’t see any people in the cars. Then the chanting stopped.

At first I thought I was mistaken. That didn’t seem possible, particularly since I couldn’t see the source. We both circled around, going opposite directions, and neared the parking lot a second time. As we again approached each other, I heard it – the same chant, only louder. This time there was no mistaking the content or intent. The voices were men, and there was more than one. I met the eyes of the Black man and mouthed, “I’m sorry!” which, of course, he could not see through my mask. He sent me a furtive glance, but I couldn’t interpret what he was communicating either – Fear? Anger? Suspicion? I only know that I felt a terrible sense of anger and disappointment. And above all, I was shocked. The targeted man picked up his pace and headed towards the downtown area.

In the meantime, I doubled back through the parking lot one more time to see if I could identify the perpetrators. There were several people milling about and about a dozen cars in the lot, so it was hard to tell. A moment later, a vehicle with at least two people in it pulled out of a parking space and headed downtown. The driver exercised the appropriate caution and speed for exiting a parking lot, raising no particular suspicion other than his/her timing. Still, I thought it was likely they were the chanters. By the time they were clear of other cars, they were too far away for me to read the license plate, and even if I could, I knew that I had no evidence that the people in the car were involved in any way. My opportunity to identify anyone was lost.

And so I did the only thing I could. I retold the story of this horrifying event to my family and friends, not only as a witness, but in hopes that other Benicia residents acknowledge that racism does exist here and that we must be proactive in opposing it.

In hindsight, I would have liked to have been more of an active ally. I could have turned around and caught up with the man and asked if he needed any help and/or walked with him. I could have run through the parking lot looking for the sources of the ugliness and excoriated them, or at least obtained a description to call the police. I could have done a lot of things. I just hope for two things by making my story public: the man who was accosted will realize that he was not alone in his pain; and that the people of Benicia will wake up to the fact that these horrible injustices do indeed happen in our community and should NEVER be tolerated.

Previous ‘Our Voices’ stories here on the BenIndy at
Benicia Black Lives Matter – Our Voices
     or on the BBLM website at

Recent Anti-racism letters in the Benicia Herald

Collecting our thoughts here on the BenIndy…

By Roger Straw, June 29, 2021

Check out the growing number of letters sent in to our local print newspaper, the Benicia Herald: strong calls for racial justice, offers of praise where deserved, decrying of local incidents of racism, and opposition to racial bias and expressions of white supremacy.

Below is today’s listing of collected letters.  Check back regularly for new letters at the BenIndy Anti-Racism Letters page.


Benicia is definitely NOT the happy little totally progressive, inclusive community many of us have long thought it was.  Racism is real in Benicia.  See the following letters which appeared in the print edition of the Benicia Herald, and a few from the Vallejo Times-Herald(And check out Benicia Black Lives Matter: Our Voices, also published here and in the Benicia Herald.)

Benicia Herald letters on racism
Date Author Link to letter
Sunday, June 27, 2021 Brandon Greene Equity Training & Critical Race Theory – Open Letter to Solano County Board of Supervisors – Board discussion ‘disappointing but not surprising’.
Sunday, June 27, 2021 Craig Snider Reflections on Systemic Racism and White Privilege – We Can Do Better.
Friday, June 25, 2021 June Mejias Fairytale? Myth? Lie – (The children are watching & listening) – Definitions for Our Times.
Wednesday, June 16, 2021 Carrie Rehak I Can’t Breathe – Refinery fumes, George Floyd and COVID-19.
Sunday, June 13, 2021 Kathy Kerridge Implicit Bias or Outright Racism – Racism is alive and well in Benicia.
Sunday, June 13, 2021 Jean Walker Shine a Light on Solano County Sheriff – Open letter to Board of Supervisors.
Sunday, May 23, 2021 Roger Straw Intensive Care for Benicia – I See You Differently Now – A white American’s deepening awareness of Black lives.
Wednesday, May 12, 2021 Mark Christian Silence is Complicity – America not a place of liberty & justice for all, Sheriff and Solano supervisors complicit.
Sunday, May 2, 2021 C. Bart Sullivan, Esq. A World Without Prejudice Requires Vigilance – Early childhood innocence, BLM, Local writer with head in sand.
Friday, April 30, 2021 Vicki Byrum Dennis SURJ / BBLM Study & Action Course – How can whites become allies? History, racial injustice is systemic. SURJ invitation.
Wednesday, April 28, 2021 Susan Street Off the Mark As Usual – Local writer missing the mark, praising City leadership, racism is real.
Sunday, April 25, 2021 Jean Walker What Can I Do to Make Racism Go Away in Benicia? – Racism is systemic, white privilege, pleased with City Resolution 20, critical of appointments, SURJ.
Friday, April 23, 2021 Nathalie Christian White Supremacy Is Not a Cancer, It Is a Choice – Jan. 6 in D.C., Sheriff’s deputies, call to action.
Wednesday, April 21, 2021 Benicia Mayor Steve Young On the Hate-Crime & Arrest Last Weekend – Racism in Benicia, Raley’s incident, racial bias conscious and unconscious, City took first steps Equity Mgr, we can do better.
Sunday, April 18, 2021 Ralph Dennis Two Peas in a Pod – Raley’s incident, Sheriff investigation 2 peas in a pod.  Be an ally, don’t blame BLM or City hiring of Equity Mgr.
Contact the Benicia Herald – write your own letter!

To add your voice, write to Benicia Herald editor Galen Kusic at  Note that the Benicia Herald’s online edition is not currently being maintained.  To subscribe to the print edition, email or phone 707-745-6838.  Main phone line is 707-745-0733; fax is 707-745-8583.  Mail or stop by in person at 820 First St., Benicia, 94510.  (Not sure of days and hours.)

‘Our Voices’ – Personal witness to a pervasive undercurrent of racism in Benicia Schools


[See also: About BBLM]

“In an ideal world, public schools should inspire a love of learning in all young people, regardless of what they look like, where they are from, or what their family or cultural beliefs are. Educational staff should be inclusive, sensitive, and warm in order to promote a healthy learning environment. That is not what I witnessed at the Benicia schools…”

June 11, 2021

Non-white woman
Age 32
Employed in Benicia for 4 years

As a member of the working community of Benicia, I had the opportunity to do business with with the Benicia School District. Over the last five years, I observed and got to know many staff members from several of the schools. My first impression of the Benicia Schools was they are comfortable, communal environments. However, within a short time I noticed a pervasive undercurrent of racism. I witnessed several staff members, particularly among the support staff, make casual comments to each other and sometimes to parents about students and families of color that were both derogatory and clearly based in biased beliefs. Although I am not white, my ethnic background was not visually obvious, so I was considered part of the “privileged” group and overheard their conversations without any filters being applied. After noticing the first few comments, I began to listen for it, and was shocked at how frequently demeaning things were said or done.

Although I have been witness to occasional racist comments or acts being said or done at other venues, what I saw and heard at the schools was far more offensive. It was blatant. And there was an assumption that this behavior is appropriate and normal. The engaged staff did not mask or hide their comments. They did not lower their voices. The principal’s offices, which are typically right in the midst of the main office where much of this was taking place, were sometimes wide open and the administration easily within earshot. Staff and people of the community were regularly walking in and out of the area, all within hearing range of the comments being said. And yet it continued uninterrupted. I found myself feeling increasingly uncomfortable and afraid for the students and families of color.

These are some of the things I witnessed:

The Benicia School District accepts and encourages the attendance of transfer students (students who live outside of the District) in order to keep the schools open and maintain attendance numbers to increase State funding, yet they are not readily accepted at the school sites. Some of the administrative staff handling these transfers assume that non-white transfers, particularly Black or Brown ones, come from Vallejo. In fact, “Vallejo” seemed to be used as a code word for non-white or poor. On the other hand, white transfer students are never presumed to be from Vallejo, even when that is their hometown. Regardless of where the families live, rather than being welcomed, transfer students are seen as “sucking up resources” and getting an education at the “expense of Benicia tax payers. There seems to be a firm belief that transfer families should be grateful, rather than we should be grateful that the transfer students are bringing additional revenues to our district, or more importantly, these are individual children with individual circumstances, all of whom should be welcomed and embraced.

Non-white students and their families are frequently referred to as “ghetto.”

White parents seemed to disproportionately report the behavior of non-white parents at student drop off. Sometimes I saw them threaten to call the police for common traffic grievances such as driving too fast, arriving late, or blocking traffic, all of which are experienced and/or committed by nearly everyone sometime during the school year. I rarely, if ever, witnessed a parent of color complaining about the same things.

Christian-based holidays, such as Christmas and Easter, are often celebrated in the classrooms, alienating non-Christian students. When the principal at one school made an effort to be culturally sensitive and teachers were asked not to put up Christmas trees and similar decorations in classrooms, the mandate was largely disregarded.

Similarly, traditional curriculum that includes stereotyped versions of certain ethnic groups are still widely used. A few years ago, the District made an effort to remove books, references and curriculum that are inaccurate or offensive, much of which was ignored in favor of the historical curriculum, such as the 4th grade Mission Project or assigning “tribe” names to desk groups.

Black students (particularly boys) are frequently singled out by teachers and are far more likely to be sent out of class to work alone than their white counterparts. Also, African American boys were more likely to be treated as older than their peers. I even heard that a white female teacher in her 50s told many coworkers that she was being sexually harassed by a ten year old boy because he commented that he liked her outfits. She said he must have learned it from his father, an African American man she also perceived to be “aggressive.”

These are just a few of the many examples of prejudiced and intolerant behavior I noted. It saddens me to know that there is a dark underbelly of racism that runs through the schools in this beautiful community. This is where our youth are learning lifelong lessons – both academically and socially. I only hope that the school district wakes up from its complacency and implements some serious equity training and consequences for the staff members who continue to cultivate an imaginary and dangerous hierarchy amongst the staff, families and students.

Previous ‘Our Voices’ stories here on the BenIndy at
Benicia Black Lives Matter – Our Voices
     or on the BBLM website at

‘Our Voices’ – Overcoming racial bias


[See also: About BBLM]

“A friendship based on hard work and personal truth is worth the effort.” This story is not about racism, but about overcoming racial bias.

May 21, 2021

White woman
Age 60
Benicia resident for 8 years

Like most white people, in my age group, racism was an integral part of my childhood. I lived in the Midwest with my grandparents. My grandmother who, although never used disparaging language in front of me, clearly felt superior to people of other races and cultures. Grandma occasionally made negative comments about the Black family across the street or the Catholic family on the corner but only very quietly so she couldn’t be overheard. Our Black housekeeper, whom I adored, was “good enough” to watch over me when they went out of town, but not good enough to invite to dinner or a party. And when I asked my grandmother why our housekeeper was never included in family events when she was definitely part of our family, she dismissed my question with, “It’s just not done that way.”

When I moved in with my mother at age 7, everything changed. We lived in an integrated apartment complex far away from my grandparents’ community– and it was great! There were lots of children from all backgrounds, and we all played together. The families watched out for one another. In hindsight, my social life suddenly became uncomplicated and unhindered. I didn’t have to worry about what Grandma or anyone else thought about my friends. My best friend was a Black girl, and she and I did everything together for the three years I lived there – sleepovers, family dinners, trips to the zoo, etc. My mother socialized with wide variety of people and never discouraged me from making friends with whomever I chose. It was a very different experience than my earlier years. I felt culturally liberated.

I tried to live my life using the model I had learned from my mother. Then, in 2002 while attending graduate school, I had a life changing experience involving racial relations. I was in an educational psychology program and part of a cohort of about 60 individuals. We were carefully screened for our potential to be change agents within a school system. The program was very racially and socially integrated. Much of the curriculum was focused on racial justice, cultural awareness and sensitivity, and appropriate interpersonal interaction. The class was divided into two groups, and I took most or all of my classes with the same 30 people. We were further divided into two groups for our counseling internship. This smaller group of fifteen grad students met twice a week to discuss personal challenges in our fieldwork and our lives.

One of the Black women in my group fascinated me. She was frequently rushing into class at the last moment or shortly after class began. She seemed scattered and harried. But no sooner did the professor ask the class a question, she offer a response with a calmness and a wisdom that was completely different than the manner in which she had arrived to class. Clearly, this woman was possessed with a deep intelligence and the ability to focus her intent without pausing for breath. She was also one of the fifteen in my internship class. Unlike in the others in the classes, she didn’t share much. She seemed uncomfortable talking about her personal life. Instead, she would sit quietly, curled up in one of the armchairs, only speaking when prompted, and then as little as possible. I couldn’t wait to get to know her.

I finally had my chance when we were alone in an elevator on our way to class one day. It happened to be my birthday and someone had given me flowers. She commented on them, and I shared the reason I had them. “Oh – It’s my son’s birthday, too.” Okay, I thought, she’s a mother. We have that in common. “How old is he?” I asked. She told me, and I asked if she had other children. She told me she had two boys, the other one younger. I told her I had a son, too, and gave his age. And then I asked her if she was a single mom. The tentative friendliness she had extended at my encouragement immediately evaporated. I didn’t quite understand why, but I was sensitive enough to realize she had a lot of feelings around her marital status. I didn’t want to pry, so we finished our ride in silence.

About two weeks later, the students in my internship class were discussing racially based micro-aggressions, when the woman I was wanting to meet uncharacteristically spoke up. She said that someone in the cohort had used a micro-aggression against her. Without revealing any identities, she shared the story of being in the elevator with a white woman, ending with the white woman’s “assumption” that all Black mothers are unmarried. There was a long, shocked silence in the room. I took a deep breath and drummed up my courage. “That was me. And I’m sorry you feel upset. Help me understand what happened.”

She was angry – really angry. She saw this as a typical attack against the integrity of Black women from a white person who was coming from a place of superiority. She passionately argued her point while I tried to explain where I was coming from. The class sat there witnessing this exchange in silence. I felt the discomfort growing as the conversation continued for the better part of 10 to 15 minutes. I finally blurted out, “Any woman can be a single mother. I have been a single mother. And I’m now going through a rough patch in my second marriage which may well put me there again.” I have to add that this was very hard for me to admit at that point in time. I continued, “I noticed that you regularly arrive to class like you have way too much on your plate. It just struck me that you being single was a possibility, once I learned that you are a mother, too.” I paused, “I just wanted to get to know you!” The other woman looked stunned, and a silence fell between us.

The professor took this momentary break as a good time to end the discussion. “We can talk more about this next time,” he said as he dismissed the class. Meanwhile, I was trying to maintain my equanimity. I fervently hope the discussion wouldn’t have to be continued at all. I felt depleted, troubled, and embarrassed all at once. I concentrated on gathering my things in preparation to go home. As I turned around, my contender was standing there. “I’m so sorry…” I started to say, but was cut short as she gathered me into one of the biggest hugs I have ever experienced.

Nearly 20 years later, this woman and I are still close friends. We’ve travelled together, celebrated together, laughed till we peed our pants, and held each other while we cried. She was there for me when I did eventually go through a second divorce. My son took her boys under his wing. We now live several states apart, and I miss her. And now that pandemic related travel warnings have been lifted, I need to visit her – or her me.

I wanted to share this story because it contains some very valuable points about getting to know others outside of your regular social group.

● My white perspective may not be the same as someone from another culture or ethnic group.
● Although I didn’t intend my question to be a micro or any kind of aggression, it was perceived that way.
● The other woman’s experiences of racism deeply colored her ability to accept me until we had the opportunity to hash it out.
● One is never finished learning, no matter how much they think they know about other groups of people.

And although my experience (and probably my friend’s as well) was uncomfortable and challenging, we got through it, and it was worth it. I am profoundly grateful that my friend had the courage to express what she felt. And even though her anger frightened me, I stayed with it, and I learned from her side of the story. So did the rest of the class. I am proud of myself that I had the strength and the tenacity to really listen without judgment, without letting emotion get in the way; to be authentic; and not to shift the compassion of our witnesses to me by breaking down and crying. This is an example of how to bridge the gap despite ethnic and cultural barriers.

Previous ‘Our Voices’ stories here on the BenIndy at
Benicia Black Lives Matter – Our Voices
     or on the BBLM website at