Black is Beautiful: A Virtual Showcase Celebrating Black History
George Floyd’s murder on May 25 of 2020 spurred our world into a heightened call to dismantle systemic racism in the United States. Following the leadership of BIPOC activists and BIPOC-led organizations, many of us have taken to the streets, taken time to learn (and unlearn), and taken each other’s hands in the quest for racial justice. Nearly a year later, this movement is showing its power in action through the recent guilty verdict of Floyd’s murderer, Derek Chauvin.
While Chauvin’s conviction is not proof of a just system, but rather a significant moment of accountability in the defense of Black lives, we know we must continue the momentum of supporting actively anti-racist community organizing and uplifting Black voices to attain true justice. To this end, this article highlights a localized effort to elevate and celebrate Black contributions, Black history, and the Black experience within and around Santa Barbara, where LOACOM is based.
LOACOM is a movement marketing agency that works with organizations and changemakers to build a better world. Part of our own commitment as a ‘movement company’ is to advance our understanding and activation around issues of racial justice in our quest to become a more inclusive and anti-racist organization. In addition to committing to our own deep anti-racism work in this space, we believe this education starts by centering and elevating the voices, narratives, expertise and labor of BIPOC-led organizations already deeply invested in dismantling white supremacy.
Recently, we were lucky to have access to an incredible virtual event in our own community for Black History Month this year. The Black is Beautiful Showcase from Healing Justice Santa Barbara aired on February 26 to highlight the experiences and creativity of the Black community in an effort to represent and celebrate Black history and Black excellence. For too long, there has been a persistent and false narrative in Santa Barbara, a predominantly white city, that Black people do not reside here in significant numbers. The Black is Beautiful Showcase was a way to challenge this harmful erasure of Black culture and history, as well as to honor and acknowledge the incredible contributions of the Black community in spite of ongoing and pervasive racism.
STREAM THE FULL SHOWCASE:
Our team was honored to have tuned in together from all different corners of the world, and now, share the showcase with you. Below are some reflections from the LOACOM team on the pieces that stood out to us the most along with some additional commentary and observations.
We would be remiss if we did not acknowledge that Black and Brown peoples most deeply affected by inequality and systemic injustice are consistently at the forefront of efforts to uplift their own stories and communities. We want to specifically honor and thank Healing Justice Santa Barbara for their time and energy in producing this piece, and for their work in creating a more equitable Santa Barbara.
Lastly, we’d like to give a special shout-out to our own Maile Schoonover for the important role she played in supporting this production.
As one of the event organizers, this is especially difficult to answer! I had the opportunity to communicate with so many of the artists and get to know them personally. Each one was incredible to work with — just an amazingly talented, humble mix of people from all over the country who exemplify Black excellence and Black artistry, each through their own unique expression. It was a joy and an honor to be part of this project that uplifted their stories and their work.
If I had to pick a favorite or two, they would be:
1.) Essence Wynter’s spoken-word piece “I Can’t Breathe.”
Essence’s spoken word is incredibly emotive. This piece is especially powerful. Standing in front of a striking grayscale and deep-red mural depicting the Black Panther Party (To Protect and Serve (1995) Noni Olabisi), Essence delivered this poem — a reflection on the Black experience including police brutality, stereotyping/criminalization — with raw emotion and deep vulnerability. She commands attention with her rhythm, her cadence, and her writing (the group of friends whom I watched the showcase with went completely silent during her segment) and paints a vivid picture of the Black experience. I am moved by this strong, passionate, young Black Queen! staring down anti-Blackness and speaking her Truth to Power.
2.) Saturne and Hanna “Art Vs, Artist.”
So much to love about this piece. The gorgeous, intimate aesthetic. The beautiful group of humans — diverse in body type, their shades of melanin, and their gender representation. The incredible use of stop-motion imagery and spoken word poetry. The piece is a celebration of deeply-rooted and transcendent Black Love (as one artist called it “that raw, Black kind of love.”), honoring one’s Black heritage, and paying homage to Black beauty (“I observe every flower blooming from your kinky, curly hair, I stand in awe as the bees collect the pollen overflowing in your dimples…”). It also struck me as significant that these artists are depicted in a state of leisure/rest/ abundance in an outdoor setting — which in and of itself is a form of resistance and challenging systems of oppression for Black liberation.
Rashad Hedgepeth was my favorite for sure – his spoken word, biting commentary, amazing flow, and the production value was pretty solid too. I also loved Black Girl Magic by Michael Butler Jr. – it isn’t very often you see black people in the ballerina space and her dance was beautiful.
Learning about the gentleman who was the first black illustrator for Disney was really interesting. Of course, I would expect that many of his characters might have been drawn by white people as I just expected that Disney was a very ‘white’ company for so long – it made learning about this Disney ‘legend’ all the sweeter knowing he was from Santa Barbara.
Saturne and Hanna “Art Vs, Artist.” This gorgeous clip pairs stop-motion mixed media piece with beautiful spoken word prose, illuminating the beauty of Blackness and Black love, specifically. Narrated from both a women’s perspective and a man’s perspective, these two stories interweave to describe an unfolding, unconditional, transcendental bond. It’s an incredibly romantic verbal love letter that conveys the understanding of each other’s roots and culture, brought to visual life. It’s about finding someone who truly understands you — your current self, your past self, your ancestry and its hardships, your culture.
Storm’s “Shades of Black”: LOVE this one. Using a slightly haunting, anticipation-building, hair-standing-up-on-the-back-of-your-neck vibe mirroring the hypnotic spoon-circling-the-teacup-rim of the racial thriller Get Out, a Black woman — surrounded by other Black women, of varying shades — reads a poem on her love for fellow Black women. She describes this love as unwavering and unconditional, as their shared marginalization creates an unshakeable bond despite living in a white supremacist society that works by pitting Black women (and men) against one another. She conveys the painful juxtapositions of being a Black woman in America is always judged for being too much or not enough in beauty, dating, career, money & more — and how playing into the game is being “in the sunken place” (another nod to Get Out).
A few that moved me were Terra Cobian’s photography, Essence Wynter’s spoken word, Saturne & Hana’s “Art vs. Artist”, and Dyna Eerie’s closing song. In particular, throughout Saturne & Hana’s “Art vs. Artist”, I felt captivated by the powerful yet welcoming aesthetic of the still images paired with the raw energy that is spoken word poetry.
I never wanted Black Girl Magic by Michael Butler Jr. to end. The voiceover paired with the choreography and the message resonated so strongly with me. I also loved every minute that Vivian Storm was featured in the showcase. I’ve had the honor of seeing her perform live in Santa Barbara a handful of times and also the pleasure of meeting her and she is one of the most loving, authentic humans out there.
I was so close and emotionally invested in this piece of the production. Spending countless hours on research, scriptwriting, interviewing Black-community elders, combing through historical image records (Which reminded me how difficult it is to trace Black stories, and access Black history in this country due to its erasure by white supremacy). Some of what I found was familiar, but most of it was new to me. Every story we uncovered, every piece of the puzzle that came together felt integral in showcasing Santa Barbara’s lesser-known, but rich Black history. These stories and spaces feel sacred to me now.
I was thrilled that the BIB showcase featured the artistic, intellectual, and entrepreneurial endeavors of Santa Barbara’s Black community — then and now. There are similar stories to be told across the state and nation, and I look forward to future showcases that amplify these incredible contributions.
I live on the east side and I was struck by the deep black history in my neighborhood – especially the Franklin Center and Franklin Library. Having lived here for 20 years, most of the predominant ethnic groups have been Latinos. I did notice a church in my neighborhood that was often visited by black families but it seems to have transitioned to a Latino-run organization. It reminded me how demographics and culture change within neighborhoods but the history is so important to know. I walk by that tree with the MLK plaque often.
I found every historical transition piece between acts so eye-opening… like the history of the Great Migration and African American families moving west to Santa Barbara and the Central Coast, and the importance of the Franklin Neighborhood Center on the local Black community.
One space, in particular, is the Haley St corridor. With the LOACOM office located right in the middle of the corridor, I’ve spent a lot of time, unknowingly in the center of the former Black-community hub of SB. Once we return to the office, post-pandemic, I think I will walk differently in this space and will reflect on all the Black businesses that once thrived here, of the families that built homes here, and of the congregations that worshiped here. I will think about the community leaders and organizers that came before to defend and uplift Black lives — and how their work continues now for the love and liberation of Black people.
With our office located directly across the street from St. Paul African American Episcopal Church on Haley St. in Santa Barbara, it was impossible to watch Black is Beautiful and not reflect on the Black history and culture that helped shape the community we call home. More poignant for me was how these histories — be they of Black or Latino or Chinese migrants/immigrants, or the indigenous peoples who first called this place home — are almost always erased by the capitalist, white-dominant system that built this country on the backs of people of color for over 400 years.
I appreciate the church across the street (from the LOACOM office) has been designated a historical landmark. This whole historical context about Black influence on Haley and the east side helps put things into perspective for me. It makes me wonder how to properly organize my thoughts given the current Latino dominant culture, the history of Italians in the neighborhood as well, the changing face of the east side due to gentrification. I really appreciate the complexity and diversity of the east side.
I had no idea that Haley corridor was so filled with Black residents, history, and culture! It was a pleasure hearing from elders in the community about the clubs they used to frequent, the people they used to know, and the defining factors that shaped this neighborhood as theirs.
It was incredible to learn about Santa Barbara’s rich, thriving black culture, historical to the Eastside and specifically Haley Corridor, as well as the strong roots our local education system has to this land and community. As someone who currently works for LOACOM (with an office at the center of Haley corridor) and has a background in childcare and after school program teaching, the showcase has sparked my drive to learn more about the vibrant history of our local streets and schools.
Host: Jordan Killebrew
Interviewees: Sojourner Kincade Rolle, Greg Freeland, Rev. Dr. David Moore
Producer and Creative Director: Leticia Forney Resch
Co-Producer and Marketing Lead: Maile Diana Schoonover
Historical Researchers: Sojourner Kincade Rolle, Kelsey Maloney, Maile Diana Schoonover, Leticia Forney Resch, Rod Rolle
Script Writers: Sojourner Kincade Rolle, Kelsey Maloney, Maile Diana Schoonover, Leticia Forney Resch
Script Editor: Maile Diana Schoonover
Photography: Jon Dixon
Historic Photo Digitizer: Rod Rolle
Cinematographer: Sure Shot, Rex Bridgeforth
Grip and Lighting: Leberon Murray
Technical Support Lead: Clay by Jamie Dufek
Filming Locations: 26 East Gutierrez St.
Sponsors: Healing Justice Santa Barbara, Juneteenth SB
Santa Barbara Bowl, Santa Barbara County of Arts and Culture
Special thanks to UC Santa Barbara’s Black Student Union, for their collaboration on this project.
Mariah Marie Jones-Bisquera
Michael Butler Jr.
Yolanda “Quiet Storm” Gates