Guest Commentary: A Reflection During Black History Month in Davis

Melissa Moreno (center) with Dr. Shirley Weber who sponsored AB 1460, the Ethnic Studies Law signed into law by Governor Newsom last August

by Melissa Moreno

It is now Black History Month in the nation and in Davis. As educators, we are called to teach and to continue learning about Black/African-American past and present struggles, contributions, civic engagement, and self-determination. I originally grew up in the segregated rural Westside of the San Joaquin Valley, where I did not have Black/African-American neighbors, peers, teachers, or leaders. With much struggle and support of many, I was the first of my family to move away and attend the University of California. There, as a Women’s Studies and Sociology student, I met Black/African-American scholars, who participated in the Civil Rights Movement and were former members of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). They encouraged my studies of various racial ethnic groups and required that I immerse myself in community-based projects off-campus and to conduct social action research. They inspired and supported my preparation for graduate studies where I further learned more about Black/African-American historians, philosophers, and feminists that I was never exposed to in my primary and secondary schooling.

When I moved to Davis, situated on Patwin-Wintun native homeland, thirteen years ago, I could not help noticing the significant educational and cultural work of Director Sandy Holman and Dr. Jann Murray-García. They teach about what racial and social justice means in the context of Black/African-Americans in Davis and beyond. They focus on the urgency of addressing racial inequality in schools and society. Their efforts are filled with purpose and commitment to a strong legacy of racial justice. They share their visions, hope, and understandings for a more just society across groups.

Director Holman of The Culture C.O.-O.P. teaches about Black History Month by acknowledging the role of elders and the rich history of African, including Egyptian, leaders that are often overlooked in Eurocentric school curriculum. At leadership conferences, workshops, and trainings she promotes understanding and respect for equity/diversity, cultural competency, literacy, and a quality education for all. In collaboration with others, including the Davis Phoenix Coalition (DPC), she has successfully organized many culturally relevant events like Juneteenth, Kwanzaa, and she produces children’s books about being African-American. More recently, in her 2020 video “Cost of Darkness” Director Holman identifies racial disparities in the United States, the impacts on communities and individual people of color, and emphasizes the solutions to end institutional racism. Many are grateful to Director Holman for teaching love, understanding, and sacredness of all people.

For Dr. Murray-García, addressing racial basis and the need for cultural humility in health and educational institutions has been at the heart of the matter. In her keynotes, trainings, and publications, she emphasizes the need for the social emotional health and well-being for children of color to grow with a sense of belonging and possibly contribute to social change. With youth filmmakers, in 2009 Dr. Murray-García produced the award-winning documentary “From the Community to the Classroom.” The film reveals how children and youth learn myths and realities about race in Davis—one of the nation’s highest performing school districts. The film was inspired after engaging in a long struggle for multicultural-social justice curriculum at DJUSD in response to racist incidents in schools and the community. With this history, early last year, Dr. Murray-García served as a central speaker at the Davis Ethnic Studies Teach-In hosted by the Davis Phoenix Coalition. Many are grateful to Dr. Murray-García for creating the foundation for today’s local Ethnic Studies movement for students to eventually learn about Black/African-American as well as about other racial ethnic group.

Together the teachings of Director Holman and Dr. Murray-García seem to have created a path for others to contribute to the ongoing racial justice work in Davis. This includes a path for NJ Mvondo, founder of Multicultural Rocks in Davis, who promotes Black History Month and racial justice education through the arts, children’s books, and blogging, as well as for Dzokerayi Mu, Director of the TESE Foundation, who supports Dr. King celebrations and promotes the education of children in Zimbabwe. In the summer of 2020, both Mvondo and Mu collaborated with Community Leader Dillan Horton, Former Elect Cindy Pickett, and others to raise awareness about Black Lives Matter—whose membership includes teachers, parents, and students. Collectively they used their leadership to create the “Solidarity Space” at Central Park and held significant Black Lives Matter rallies and marches in Davis. The Solidarity Space continues to include a meaningful art display representing the current moment and power for self-determination of the people. Given this moment in history perhaps it should permanently exist with an acknowledgement of the Native homeland as well. It seems like Mvondo, Mu, Horton, and Pickett’s efforts were possible in part because of the foundational work that others have locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally offered past and present.

Black/African-American educators and cultural workers, with the support of allies, have done their best to educate and reduce fears of racial ethnic differences in schools and society. Gratitude for all the past and present Black/African American political workers, including the Honorable Shirley Weber, and cultural workers, for inspiring racial ethnic leaders across groups to continue calling for civil rights, human rights, and dignity/peace even during the Pandemic. May they and their families be in good health and spirit beyond this year’s Black History Month.

Melissa Moreno is a professor and educational leader in Davis.

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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