Simone Ruskamp, Healing Justice cofounder | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss (file)

The Santa Barbara County Supervisors denied Healing Justice their request for $500,000 for an African-American Black Cultural Resource Center — the second time the group has been denied by a government body in two weeks. The organization had first asked the Santa Barbara City Council for the $500,000 to pay for two years of rent. But the requests were not on either of the meeting agendas and were denied.

The cultural resource center, members of Healing Justice said, would be a place to preserve Black history, Black joy, and highlight Black artists, among other services. The request for the funding came directly after both the Santa Maria NAACP and Healing Justice gave presentations to the supervisors on the work they’ve been doing in the community and around Juneteenth celebrations and activities.

Healing Justice’s work over the past year includes being part of developing the formation commission to establish oversight for the Santa Barbara Police Department, redistributing over $3,000 in emergency grants to local Black residents, preserving St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church and the Second Baptist Church, public art exhibitions centered on Black artists, and more.

“We have been doing the work,” said Simone Ruskamp, Healing Justice cofounder. “We came to you all a year ago saying this is what the community needed and wanted and the county was not providing it, and rather than just give up, we created what was missing. We come to you today because Juneteenth in its entirety has not been realized and an investment from you is still lacking.”

Tensions were high. Although all of the supervisors supported the idea of a cultural resource center, they had already set aside $500,000 to advance and support equity in the wake of George Floyd’s killing last year and contracted with the Fund for Santa Barbara to distribute the funds. Before agreeing to more money, the supervisors suggested they apply to the Fund.

“I do think the cultural center is an excellent use of the funds,” 1st District Supervisor Das Williams said. “We have turned over those funds to the Fund for Santa Barbara, and I encourage Healing Justice to apply to them. I’m not sure that they would prevail for $500,000, but I’m sure there would be a healthy amount to help fund the cultural center.”

The Fund for Santa Barbara will review applications from community organizations that are doing equity work in the community, like Healing Justice, and make the final decisions for funding.

This response was insulting to the Healing Justice members.

“There is no reason, when you as Board of Supervisors can directly move to honor the work that we’re doing, for you to tell us that we have to go through yet another application process — while you sit here and publicly say you care about Black lives,” Ruskamp said.

For more information regarding Healing Justice, click here.

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