Across Sonoma County are plans to celebrate Black History Month, an annual tradition that dates back almost 100 years. American historian Carter G. Woodson first established Black History Week in February 1926, choosing February to honor the birth month of abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
This year’s events will continue to expand awareness of Black History and celebrate the contributions of the Black community.
There are ample opportunities to participate throughout Sonoma County, with highlighted events presented by such local institutions as the Petaluma Historic Museum, the Sonoma County Libraries, Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC) and Sonoma State University (SSU), which will feature a lecture by Ericka Huggins—human rights activist, poet, educator, Black Panther leader and former political prisoner.
At SSU, the month kicks off with an opening ceremony and Gospel Extravaganza with Emmy-winning Terrance Kelly and the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, along with the Lighthouse Singers of Marin, directed by Rev. Ulis Redic Jr.
A special highlight of the month’s activities at SSU is the chance to learn from Huggins, who will speak about her extraordinary life. Among her many accomplishments, Huggins is the longest-running female leader in the Black Panther party and has a long career of bringing meditation and spiritual practice into activism. “A Conversation with Ericka Huggins: Social Justice Activism and Civic Engagement” is presented by the SSU Office of the President, the Black Student Union, the Center for Community Engagement, Student Involvement and the Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights.
At SRJC, Jamaican-American writer, geographer and poet Teju Adisa-Farrar will give an inspirational lecture titled “Black Futures.” Her focus includes urban culture, environmental justice and climate justice through a diasporic lens of art and activism.
Opening night of the Black History Month program at the Petaluma Historical Library & Museum features the Eighth Annual Jazz Concert, with the doRiaN Mode. The vintage jazz concert is a main fundraiser for the program’s month of events, keeping the rest of the functions free to the public. Other special events include a lecture on Black suffragists by Dr. Kim D. Hester Williams, a presentation about African-Americans and the vote, choir performances and a Gospel hour at local churches.
The organizer of the program at the Petaluma Historic Library & Museum and president of Petaluma Blacks for Community Development (PBCD), Faith Ross, says, “It is important to let everyone know that we have a rich past that has brought a lot of positive influences into America, we want others to know the truth and see how proud we are of our achievements.”
Ross, who co-founded the Petaluma nonprofit over 40 years ago and serves as vice-chair on the Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights, does most of the research for the annual museum exhibit and program, bringing little-known elements of Black history to light.
“If all you see or hear about are negative things you see on television, then you don’t have a complete story,” she explains.
Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights Chair D’Mitra Smith agrees.
“Black History is important because it’s American history,” Smith writes. “Black people continue to exemplify excellence in every sector of American life, so our history is every day for me. The chapter that’s missing here is honest discussion about the historical racism of Sonoma County, its alignment with the confederacy and Black Resistance to all of it.”
Schools have been part of Black History Month since its inception. From the beginning in 1926, Woodson reached out to schools with programs encouraging the study of African-American history. Smith also strongly supports schools expanding their curriculums.
“We are in great need of proactive, accurate curriculum in schools, Black teachers and above all, more black women in positions of leadership,” Smith says. “As the great Shirley Chisholm said, ‘If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.'”
Ross adds, “Many times books tell a story the way an author wants you to know it, but unless you read, do research, look at old records, you may not get the complete picture.”
Sonoma County Libraries also have a rich program of musical and theatrical presentations. Onye Onyemaechi explores the beauty and soul of the drum in African village life. Legacy Showcases presents
The Spirit of Us, a blend of West African and European music that remembers the legacy of the involuntarily enslaved. Legacy will also offer a theatrical piece called Meet Miz. Lucretia Borgia, Ma’am, where the character talks to the audience about her life as a slave.
All the events planned will be informative and entertaining. For an interactive experience, join the Team for Inclusivity, Diversity and Equity (TIDE) for a workshop led by Tarah Fleming called Dismantling Whiteness Within. TIDE and its workshops work to make schools more inclusive and equitable for the diversity of community members. TIDE workshops use story and empathy.
The TIDE workshop page says, “Participants will focus on building language and understanding around power and privilege, internalized oppression, allied behavior and learn to practice strong dialog principles to better serve our beloved communities in highly respectful and empathetic ways.” The workshop is free for teachers, with a sliding scale beginning at $10 for tickets.
Ross emphasizes, “Just as we as black people need to understand and know the people around us, our community needs to know us. Black history, like any other history of people that live in our community, is important to know. We get a better understanding of the culture and traditions of the people around us.”
Ericka Huggins joined the Black Panther party in 1968, at the age of 18. In 1969, she and her husband John Huggins had a baby daughter, but three weeks after the birth of their child, her husband was shot and killed. Four months after that authorities arrested her, along with Bobby Seale, on conspiracy charges that they dropped two years later.
While in prison for two years, she taught herself to meditate in order to survive the devastating separation from her daughter so soon after her husband’s death. Her spiritual practice not only helped her, but is something she brought back to share with the activist community and others.
She became editor of The Black Panther Intercommunal News Service in 1971 and in 1974 released a book of poetry called Insights and Poems, coauthored with Huey Newton.
Huggins was the director of the Oakland Community School, founded by the Black Panther Party, for over 10 years and was the first woman and the first black person appointed to the Alameda County Board of Education. In 1981 she returned to California’s prisons, this time to teach yoga and meditation to incarcerated youth and adults.
She is currently a facilitator of World Trust, an organization that uses films to document the impact of systems of racial inequity. She says on her website, “These films are tools to foster conversation about race, and all structural inequities. These conversations are powerful to personal and global transformation.”
Her life experiences give her a unique perspective to mentor other activists and community members to do the work and continue to promote social change using spiritual practices to sustain them.
Thursday, Jan. 30: Kick off to Black History Month & Lobo Fest
Under the direction of the Emmy-winning Terrance Kelly, the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir brings together over 55 singers who embody a community of diverse races, cultures and faiths. 8pm. Weill Hall, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park.
Friday, Jan. 31: Jazz Concert Celebrating Black History MonthThe concert features local vintage jazz & blues group the doRiaN Mode. Last year’s concert sold out, so reserve tickets early. 6:30pm. Petaluma Historical Library & Museum, Petaluma.
Saturday, Feb. 1: Black History Month: The Spirit of Us
Legacy Showcases performs slave songs sung by local women from various churches and displays a pop-up exhibit on The Underground Railroad. 11am. Sonoma Valley Regional Library, Sonoma.
Monday, Feb. 3: Black History Month Opening Ceremony at SSUBlack-identified organizations launch the month with motivational speakers, impactful performances and other offerings. 6pm.
Student Center Ballroom A, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park.
Wednesday, Feb. 5:
Black Futures: On Mermaids, Resilient Interventions & Environmental Catharsis
Adisa-Farrar leads a workshop. Noon. Our House Intercultural Center, Santa Rosa Junior College Petaluma.
Thursday, Feb. 6: African Village Celebration with Onye OnyemaechiThe master drummer leads a program of music to explore the beauty and soul of the drum in African village life. For ages 3 and up. 10:30am.
Guerneville Regional Library, Guerneville.
Sunday, Feb. 9: Black Suffragists D. Hester Williams reveals the often underwritten history of African-American women’s involvement in the suffrage movement 100 years ago. 1pm. Petaluma Historical Library & Museum, Petaluma.
Tuesday, Feb. 11: When They See Us
Film screening event presents Ava DuVernay’s miniseries drama on the Exonerated Five (formerly Central Park Five). 5:30pm. Student Center Ballroom D, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park.
Tuesday, Feb. 25: A Conversation with Ericka Huggins: Social Justice Activism & Civic Engagement See Sidebar, this page. 6pm.
Student Center Ballroom A, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park.
For more events, go to: