Black students from transitional kindergarten through city college celebrated their achievements on Saturday, May 6, in a joyous graduation ceremony held by Santa Barbara City College in partnership with the Santa Barbara Unified School District.

The region’s graduating Black scholars of all ages were honored by family members and school administrators on the city college’s campus. A group playing djembe and dunun drums gave the gathering rhythm, and the black, green, and red colors representing the Pan-African flag gave it style.

Saturday’s ceremony and reception marked the first “Santa Barbara Black Grad” event, hosted by the SBCC Umoja Community, which is set to become an annual celebration. 

“S.B. Black Grad is a celebration of Black futures, Black joy, and a space to honor Sankofa, our living history,” said SBCC Umoja Student Program Advisor Lelia Richardson, one of the event’s organizers. 

Organizer and SBCC senior admissions and records technician Akil Hill said that, having grown up in Santa Barbara and being a product of the local school system, he’s seen how “the Black community’s numbers have dwindled” and how systemic inequities “repeat themselves unless you challenge them.” 

“These kids are talking about feeling isolated, or alienated, or one of only a few, by their experiences in the classroom,” Hill said. “Students need to be in community. So they come to Black Grad, they see other students graduating, and they can keep saying, ‘Oh, look, that’s me.’” 

Hill called Black Grad a “place of healing” for students. “Sometimes we have this tendency to only focus on the harm that has been perpetuated on Black students,” he said. “We also need to recognize and celebrate their joy as well.”

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