The County Supervisors marked the beginning of Black History Month by honoring 19 Black “health-care heroes,” both living and deceased, who have worked to expand health options for people of color throughout the Santa Barbara Community. 

Lawanda Lyons-Pruitt | Credit: Erick Madrid

Getting the longest mention was Dr. Horace McMillan, Santa Barbara’s first Black doctor, who in the 1950s established the city’s first multiracial medical clinic, was a founding doctor of what became Goleta Valley Hospital, and was a tireless community crusader against the housing discrimination he and his family experienced firsthand. McMillan’s efforts to create a healing center to address the multiple traumas experienced by Black people in Santa Barbara led to the creation of the Franklin Community Center.

Supervisors Joan Hartmann and Das Williams provided brief sketches of the 19 honorees. The healing work of nurses figured prominently, including that of Sonia Brown, who is now retired but during her 40-year career delivered thousands of children, describing each birth as a “journey of love.” Another medical practitioner, Dr. Richard Beswick, is the vice president of research and chief research officer at Cottage Hospital. Other honorees included therapists and psychologists, several affiliated with UCSB. 

Lawanda Lyons-Pruitt, head of the local NAACP, told the supervisors, “My heart is full.” Pruitt also took exception to those who ask “What’s all the fuss about?” or object to teaching critical race theory. Growing up in small-town Mississippi, she said she had no knowledge or understanding of Black history. Her textbooks were very informative about the plight of serfs, she said, but totally silent on the subject of slavery and lynchings. “It is our history — American history — 365 days a year,” she stated. “We honor the past and celebrate the present.” 

Also speaking before the board was Jordan Killebrew from the Santa Barbara Foundation; Anna Everett, a trustee of Santa Barbara City College; Luz Reyes-Martín from Planned Parenthood; and Santa Barbara school boardmember Wendy Sims-Moten, who argued that all histories had to be included, even if some of it was difficult to hear. Supervisor Steve Lavagnino added, “If you aren’t excited listening to Lawanda Lyons-Pruitt and Wendy Sims-Moten, you probably don’t have a heartbeat.”

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