National Black Lives Matter protests may have died down in recent weeks, but racial justice work has continued around the clock for Santa Barbara activists.
Healing Justice: BLM S.B. is growing. The group’s outgoing leaders, Simone Ruskamp and Krystle Farmer Sieghart, are transitioning into their next phases of life after earning reputations for being loud and effective organizers — recently drawing in thousands at their co-organized march last month. The group’s mission is to “ensure that Black lives are centered and uplifted in Santa Barbara.”
But Ruskamp and Farmer Sieghart said their departure and slowing protests are not a sign that the movement to end racism and uplift Black people is over. It means there are new captains taking the helm, and with new minds comes a new vision for the Black community in Santa Barbara.
“Now that Krystle and Simone have transitioned, we’re looking to build a community center or impact hub so Black people can feel they have a place in Santa Barbara,” said Leticia Resch, who, along with Jordan Killebrew, is stepping up as a new leader of Healing Justice.
“Hopefully it can include a museum with goals of recording and documenting the landmarks in Santa Barbara,” Resch said. “There are so many Black places and businesses that have been erased. Those need to be remembered and acknowledged, so we are working with historians to get that done.”
The community center is the group’s biggest project at the moment, but it is one of several plans that have either been executed already or is in the works. Recently, the group delivered six demands to the City Council and city and county law enforcement, nearly all of which have been met. The city will discuss models for a civilian review board for police use of force later this month, which, if adopted, would be a major victory for the group.
Though both women are leaving town, Farmer Sieghart and Ruskamp said they are committed to seeing that these demands are carried out because they helped create them. They also acknowledged that even though their voices delivered the demands, the entire Healing Justice community played a role in creating lasting changes for Black people.
“There have always been more people than Krystle and I behind this work,” Ruskamp said. Ruskamp is moving to Washington, D.C., to attend graduate school at Howard University for social work, and Farmer Sieghart is moving to Germany to be with her recently wedded husband.
“There are always others leading in different ways,” Ruskamp continued. “Even when we were crafting our demands as Healing Justice, that wasn’t just created by Krystle and I. That was a whole collective of us from years of organizing. There were people at home posting on social media for us; there were people at the protest livestreaming for us; there were hundreds who spoke and wrote letters to the City Council.”
Both Farmer Sieghart and Ruskamp credited those who did social justice work before them, too, emphasizing that without their elders, they wouldn’t have had a foundation to build upon. They pointed to Sojourner Kincaid Rolle, a local Black poet and playwright who has focused much of her activism work on preserving Santa Barbara’s Black landmarks and history, as one of the elders they look up to who inspired and helped pave the way for Healing Justice: BLM S.B. today.
But it’s time for fresh blood. Though they have been a part of racial justice work for years, Killebrew and Resch are the new faces of the movement now — and they have ideas and goals even beyond the community center.
“My whole thing has been representation,” Resch said. “Whether it be in film, media, art, or theater, I want to engage with our Black artists. There are so many in Santa Barbara that feel they don’t get a voice, and we can create a place to showcase their talent.”
Resch, who grew up in Santa Barbara, emphasized the need for Black representation in art and a community center because she said she suffered feelings of isolation living as a mixed-race Black woman in a town where she didn’t see others who looked like her.
“One thing that always lacked for me was community,” Resch said. “My dad didn’t even have that in the ’60s. He told me when I was young that there were no Black people in Santa Barbara, and the only Black people I knew of were him and his cousins and his family. That was an illusion because the community was missing.”
For Killebrew, ensuring that the work continues is imperative. He said his activism is a “full-time job,” though he also works as the director of communications at the Santa Barbara Foundation.
“For me, right now it’s about taking this existing groundwork and moving it to the next phase,” he said. “It is setting up the infrastructure with Healing Justice, whether that be with creating a website, being transparent with our goals, continuing with all these meetings that we’re overwhelmed with — just pushing the needle forward.”
Healing Justice doesn’t have its own website yet, though it has an active Facebook page continued from when it was formerly known as Black Lives Matter S.B. Details like creating a website and developing a foundation online are skills Killebrew can bring to the table as someone with extensive experience in public relations and other communications jobs.
Killebrew said that the group has also been holding bi-monthly meetings for Black people to chime in with ideas and goals of what they’d like to see Healing Justice accomplish and to allow participants to generally check in with each other and give support to those who need it.
“It was the first time I was on a Zoom call with all Black people, like 30 Black people,” Killebrew said. “And it felt like home.”
He said he wants to make sure that the community knows that “we are here, we are thriving, we are making it work, and support us.”
Resch’s background has helped in her activism, too. Though she has no prior experience in activism itself, her work in the wedding industry has already come in handy for her goals. She was the lead organizer for the memorial installed on the corner of Yanonali Street and Helena Avenue that honors 216 Black people killed as a result of racial injustice or police brutality.
A photo of each person along with floral arrangements were weaved into a chain-link fence on a vacant lot. Many of the faces are of those more recently deceased, including Santa Barbara High graduate Meagan Hockaday, who was killed in 2015, but there were also faces of those killed decades ago, such as Emmett Till. Resch said she expects they will add more photos in the coming weeks.
Ruskamp and Farmer Sieghart said they know they are leaving Healing Justice S.B. in good hands.
“When there are no Black people in leadership spaces to sustain these movements, it’s hard to build community here,” Farmer Sieghart said. “But that’s what we are doing now. We have these relationships with Leticia and Jordan and other Black folks, so now it’s about letting them take that space. They are coming up with ideas we have never thought of.”
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