Category Archives: Benicia Public Library

Benicia marches for Ruby Bridges

Students from Robert Semple Elementary School walk from Francesca Terrace Park in support of Ruby Bridges during Ruby Bridges Walk to School Day in California on Tuesday in Benicia. | Chris Riley / Times-Herald.

School system honors Ruby Bridges, the first African American child to attend whites-only school in 1960

Vallejo Times-Herald, by Thomas Gase, November 14, 2023

In 1960 Ruby Bridges became the first African-American child to attend formerly Whites-only William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana during the New Orleans school desegregation crisis. Today — 63 years later — students in Benicia are making sure nobody forgets.

Students in the Benicia High School Unified School District took part in a day to raise awareness for Bridges after learning about the civil rights activist in school during this year. For students at Robert Semple Elementary School, that meant walking from Francesca Park to the school while carrying signs and wearing T-shirts supporting Bridges.

The third annual event has grown in size every year, thanks to organizers like Kashanna Harmon-Lee, Laura Cohen, Krista Heredia and Rozalind Sinnamon.

“This is something good for Benicia and I’m really proud of the support of what everyone shown,” Harmon-Lee said. “The kids learn about Bridges’ life and these are kids that maybe didn’t know anything about Bridges previously. Each year the parents become more involved. So I’m very proud and very humble about the community effort.”

In early 1960, Bridges was one of six Black children in New Orleans to pass the test that determined whether they could go to the all-White William Frantz Elementary School. While two of the six decided to stay at their old school, Bridges went to Frantz by herself, and three other children (Gail Etienne, Leona Tate and Tessie Prevost) were transferred to the all-White McDonogh No. 19 Elementary School.

U.S. Marshals escorted Bridges to and from school. As soon as Bridges entered the school, White parents pulled their own children out, and most teachers refused to teach while a Black child was enrolled. Only one person agreed to teach Bridges — Barbara Henry, from Boston.

For over a year Henry taught her alone, “as if she were teaching a whole class.”

Students walking on Tuesday morning — along with teachers and family members — wore swag and T-shirts provided by UA Local 342. In total there were approximately 450 purple T-shirts made showing support for Bridges.

“Rich (Patten) reached out to the school and it’s been honor and privilege funding this effort,” UA Local 342 business agent Dave Herwat said. “It’s amazing to be more than just a labor union in this cause and to be an actual prescience in the community. If there is an opportunity to spread the wealth, then this is certainly the way to do it.”

Student supervision aid, Chelsea Bearce, walks with students during Ruby Bridges Walk to School Day in California on Tuesday in Benicia. | Chris Riley / Times-Herald.

One of the students wearing the swag was fourth-grader Gianna Patten, who also made a sign showing support for Bridges.

“I knew about her before this event but I like her (Bridges) because she never gave up,” Gianna said. “Even when people were yelling at her she never gave up.”

Sinnamon was also thrilled to be part of the third annual event.

“This is something I got behind three years ago and it’s grown a lot ever since,” Sinnamon said. “It celebrates diversity, it a teaching lesson to kids and adults and there is just so much forgotten and overlooked in history that we have to remember. We have to remember that it’s, ‘we the people and we still have power.’”

Benicia City Councilmember Kari Birdseye was happy to be involved with the event.

“I’m so proud of the parents that have been involved and this all started on the shoulders of a few people and it has evolved into something much bigger,” Birdseye said. “This is not just a walk. There is so much education around this. It promotes freedom, love and it is a great thing for the country and community.”

Robert Semple Principal Christina Moore said she let her teachers decide the role of how Bridges would be educated in classrooms.

“The pride I have is unmeasurable. I cannot express the gratitude and honor for being apart of something so meaningful in our community that was brought along by our parent group,” Moore said. “I love the beautiful posters, the writings about Ruby Bridges, the solidarity with all of us wearing all the shirts together. It’s all beautiful.”

TODAY 2-5 pm – Learn about Ruby Bridges at Benicia Public Library’s free, family-friendly event

Get ready for Ruby Bridges Walk to School Day with Benicia Public Library and BBLM

From Benicia Public Library:

Who is Ruby Bridges? And why are we walking to school for her? Come find out! The Library invites children, families, teens, and adults of all ages to the launch of a new program series: “We Are All Related”.

The inaugural “We Are All Related” event will celebrate Ruby Bridges and help children get ready for the annual Ruby Bridges Walk to School Day. Six-year-old Ruby Bridges stepped into the history books November 14, 1960, when she became one of the first students to integrate William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, Louisiana. Since 2018, students have celebrated Ruby’s courage by walking to school making Ruby Bridges Walk to School Day the perfect opportunity to teach children about the civil rights movement and make connections to our ongoing, collective efforts to end racism.

2:00 pm: Stories about and related to Ruby Bridges

3:00 pm: Messages from Benicia Mayor Steve Young and BUSD Superintendent Damon Wright

3:15 pm: A screening of the movie about Ruby Bridges

PLUS, snacks, crafts, and community conversation.

Disclaimers: Benicia Public Library does not support or oppose any political party or candidate.  This is not a program of the Benicia Unified School District (BUSD); BUSD accepts no liability or responsibility for this program, nor does it support or oppose any political party or candidate.  Benicia Independent is not affiliated with either Benicia Public Library or BUSD.  

Ashton Lyle: Save Friday, September 8 from 6–8 pm for Benicia Public Library’s future

As the culture wars find a new front in public libraries, Benicia Public Library’s strategic plan presentation this Friday represents more than just a look into our library’s future

By Ashton Lyle, September 5, 2023

Portrait of Ashton Lyle
Ashton Lyle, BenIndy contributor.

During my first year of college, my friend offered me a tour of her hometown, a small community in the Boston suburbs. While exploring downtown, she pointed out a small, nondescript building that had been the nation’s first public library. Founded by Benjamin Franklin in a town named for him, this library broke with the tradition of previous lending collections, which had subscription rates equivalent to $575 today. Instead, access was free to the community. 

The public library model pioneered in Franklin, Massachusetts expanded across the country, and libraries rapidly became essential public spaces, serving as community gathering points that hosted meetings, town events, and literary discussions. The Benicia Public Library, which helped introduce me to a love of learning as an elementary school student through its summer reading program, continues in this tradition and was fundamental to my intellectual development, especially when coupled with the libraries at my elementary, middle, and high schools.

Today, these same institutions are regularly under attack, both in Benicia and nationwide. The state of Georgia just applied its “divisive concepts” law for the first time, firing a longtime teacher for reading “My Shadow is Purple” to her class, a children’s book about “being true to oneself and moving beyond the gender binary.” And in Benicia, proponents of anti-trans bigotry have spoken before the school board with all the faux intellectualism typical of the “do your own research” crowd. 

These attacks have converged around school libraries which, despite their importance in educational outcomes, are now at continual risk of restriction and censorship. This is an especially concerning development because of the strong correlation between strong library programs and student success, even after correcting for parent education and income levels. Interestingly, studies find it is staffing levels, rather than the size of a library’s collection, that determine students’ success.

This finding reflects the changing nature of the contemporary library. The library, once focused largely on lending and storing books, has adapted to the internet age, refocusing its mission to become an essential training resource for media literacy, academic research, and critical thinking. In an age where a nearly infinite amount of written material is instantly accessible to students at an increasingly young age, libraries play an essential role in teaching young people how to process and prioritize information. 

Today, libraries are the primary means by which we teach students to vet the truth and relevance of something they’ve read. School libraries regularly provide students with formal training on how to responsibly use online resources, providing fundamental approaches to gathering quality information that is missing from many segments of our population. They also lead by example, providing young people with reading material that is accurate and well-contextualized, thereby familiarizing them with factual texts and well-informed opinions. In contrast to the internet, which provides stimuli in the most engaging package possible, a library contains information that is organized, research-backed, and vetted for extreme content. Learning to tell the difference between fact and fiction is increasingly difficult to teach, but libraries do it more successfully than any other resource I’ve seen.

Equally important to consider is that attempting to limit the information in school libraries, where it can be contextualized by librarians and expanded upon by other texts, does not eliminate a young person’s desire for this information. By removing texts and topics from the professionally curated and regulated space of a public library, “activists” such as Mom’s for Liberty force young people to seek insight through more accessible means, like the internet, where information is wholly unregulated, regularly untruthful, and usually decontextualized. Real harm takes place when naive children, desperate for guidance, stumble across content that exposes ignorant, explicit, or hateful beliefs. Algorithmic incentives to prioritize engaging content can lead teens to view self-harm, dangerous, or extremist content at a very impressionable age, potentially trapping them in silos of thought from which it can be difficult to extract oneself. 

Attempting to pull books off shelves condemns our young people to explore the world of information alone, without guidance and without guardrails. It leaves them un-inoculated against illiberal thought, prejudice, and other harms. Ultimately the censorship approach harms children’s development, produces adults less interested and able to participate in civil society, and further weakens our democratic institutions. This has been evidenced in civil societies across regions and cultures; there is nothing innate in America that will prevent it from happening here. Only a wholesale rejection of reactionary tendencies amongst our neighbors can stop the slow slide to autocracy.

Libraries are essential to giving young people the tools, information, and desire to maintain and expand America’s civil society. This is why I encourage all residents to participate in the upcoming discussion regarding the future of the library. On Friday, September 8th from 6 – 8 pm, the BPL is holding a meeting that discusses future planned initiatives. Help keep our library relevant and our society free. 

RSVP here. 


California’s Poet Laureate, Lee Herrick coming to Benicia

“Benicia Our Home” Celebration at Benicia’s Clocktower on June 25

Special to the Benicia Herald, by Lois Kazakoff, June 9, 2023
[Note from BenIndy Contributor Roger Straw: For more about California’s first AAPI Poet Laureate and his understanding of racism and the importance of telling story, see KCRW News LA.]

California Poet Laureate Lee Herrick will headline “Benicia Our Home” on Sunday, June 25 at 3 PM at the Clock Tower.

California’s poet laureate wants you to write about Benicia, maybe in rhyme – but definitely with heart.

“Usually those who speak for a community are politicians or officials but we all have thoughts connected to where we live, grew up and raise a family,” said Lee Herrick, 52, a Fresno City College writing instructor who was appointed state poet laureate in November. “We each have a voice. And there is poetry in everyone.”

Herrick will headline “Benicia Our Home,” an afternoon of poetry, art and song at the Clock Tower on Sunday, June 25, sponsored by the Benicia Public Library. Everyone is invited. To learn more, go to or email Benicia’s Poet Laureate, Mary Susan Gast at .

Event flyer – click to enlarge

Benicia is one stop on Herrick’s travels around the state to hear what Californians experience and celebrate. Or what concerns them. Or what they see differently. In April alone, he participated in 27 events.

Poetry can help us explore and celebrate California’s diversity and the range of our experiences through a personal, emotional and social lens, he said. The poet’s imagination can transport us and illuminate the full range of the human condition. California is the most populous state in the country, and we lead in many disciplines, including the literary arts and poetry.

He hopes to bring together the social justice, civic engagement and poetry communities in each town under his platform, “Our California.” Californians will be able to submit their poems at the “Our California” webpage on the California Arts Council’s website when the project launches later this year.

Poetry can help us reflect on how life in our hometown could be different or celebrated more widely. “Change starts with an individual’s imagination,” said Herrick.

Herrick, the first Asian American California Poet Laureate, joins a long line of poets who have been central to the state’s history of social activism and struggle for civil liberties. Among his favorite books is “Wherever There’s a Fight: How Runaway Slaves, Suffragists, Immigrants, Strikers and Poets Shaped Civil Liberties in California,” written by Elaine Elison and Stan Yogi (Heyday Books, 2009).

His own poetry is rooted in these themes. His 2020 poem, “What I Hear When I Hear You in My Head,” begins: It’s the little whisper, the aggregate sorrow …

Poetry lays bare what we find beautiful and joyous but also the less pleasant human emotions – anger, sadness, fear, grief, he said. “When we are writing, we discover more of who we are.”

As the world sheltered in place in 2020 and health concerns engulfed us, Herrick wrote, “The Birds Outside My Window Sing During a Pandemic:”

What we need has always been inside of us.
For some — a few poets or farmers, perhaps —
it’s always near the surface. Others, it’s buried.
It was in our original design, though — pre-machine,
pre-border, pre-pandemic. …

Herrick, Fresno Poet Laureate in 2015-17, emerged from the remarkable Fresno poetry scene. That Central Valley city has produced two U.S. Poet Laureates, Juan Felipe Herrera, the nation’s first Latino poet laureate (2015-17), and Philip Levine (2011-12), known as the poet of the working class.

Herrick has three published books of poetry: “Scar and Flower,” “Gardening Secrets of the Dead,” and “This Many Miles From Desire.

He was named in November to a two-year term as California’s 10th poet laureate and confirmed by the state Senate in May. In announcing the appointment, Gov. Gavin Newsom said, “Lee (Herrick)’s dedication to highlighting the diverse experiences of Californians, and making them so accessible through his poetry, makes him a perfect candidate for Poet Laureate. I look forward to his work to inspire communities and individuals across the state through the power of the written word.”

Herrick was born in Daejeon, South Korea, and adopted as an infant by White American parents. He lived in Danville until the family moved to Modesto when he was 8. He has taught at Fresno City College for 26 years and teaches in a master’s of fine arts program at the University of Nevada, Reno at Lake Tahoe. He lives in Fresno with his wife and teenage daughter.

Lois Kazakoff is a member of the Benicia Public Library Board of Trustees.

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Write a ZipOde

Maybe you are a poet and don’t know it? Start small. Write a ZipOde, a poem about a town based on its ZIP code.

Each ZipOde has five lines, with the number of words on each line determined by the numbers of the ZIPcode. Benicia’s ZIP code is 94510.

For example,

I will change into my painting pants and shirt (9 words)
Benicia is a palette (4 words)
Of limitless and gorgeous vistas (5 words)
Yay! (1 word)
[Ooooo] (0 words)

For more examples of ZipOdes, go to benicia

Next, go bigger and write a poem to submit on the California Arts Council website when the state poet laureate’s web pages go live in July.

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