Black people’s history in Santa Barbara, and their significant contributions to many community centers and organizations that exist today, were discussed at Healing Justice Santa Barbara’s virtual event “Prioritizing the Preservation of Black Legacies in Santa Barbara” on Thursday, February 17, in continuation of the Black History Month series being produced by the group.
The event featured two panels, split with a screening of Black Is Beautiful, a short film sponsored by Healing Justice S.B. The short film and both panels were moderated by community organizer and Santa Barbara Foundation Communications Director Jordan Killebrew.
The first panel featured E. Onja Brown, president of the Martin Luther King Jr. Committee Santa Barbara (MLK S.B.); Isaac Garrett, vice president of MLK S.B. and former president for the local chapter of the NAACP; and Akivah Northern, a spiritual care provider. This segment covered their own personal history in Santa Barbara and their works as activists during the civil rights movement.
Garrett spoke about his time on the NAACP and the work the group did to seek more employment opportunities for people of color, including at the city government level and at UC Santa Barbara. Garrett also spoke about the racist real estate practices occurring when he attempted to buy a home, with Realtors not showing certain areas of town to minorities and refusing to accept offers. He eventually became a real estate seller and began joining real estate boards and committees to combat these practices.
“Things began to change,” Garrett said. “More people began to understand that discriminatory practices in the real estate profession was not going to be allowed as long as I knew about it and had anything to say about it.”
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Following the short film Black Is Beautiful was a Q&A segment featuring Simone Akila, cofounder of Healing Justice Santa Barbara and Juneteenth Santa Barbara; Sojourner Kincaid-Rolle, a community historian for the Santa Barbara African American Oral History Project; and Nicole Hernandez, an architectural historian for the City of Santa Barbara. The panelists spoke about efforts to create an African-American Black Historic Context Statement for Santa Barbara, meant to provide a holistic history of the African-American/Black community in Santa Barbara, identify possible historic resources that represent that history, and inform future cultural preservation goals. The statement is currently in the research phase, and a draft will become available sometime this May or June.
“Our history is everybody’s history,” Kincaid-Rolle said. She explained that the African-American community history has not been well represented in Santa Barbara.“We really need this to be a consistent part of what is presented as who and what Santa Barbara is.”
Black Is Beautiful delved into the history of Black people on Santa Barbara’s Eastside. Millions of African Americans migrated to California between the 1920s and ’50s to find employment and escape the violence and segregation of the Jim Crow South. Locally, this migration led to the development of the Franklin Neighborhood Center, Franklin Elementary, and the Eastside Library, all constructed following a push from the Black community living there at the time.
CORRECTION: Jordan Killebrew is the Santa Barbara Foundation’s communications director not its executive. Additionally, an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the short film Black Is Beautiful was made in collaboration with the Black Student Union at UC Santa Barbara.