Opinion: Black History Month – The Long-Awaited Celebration

Daryle Lynn Cornelison, Juanita Dolby, Phyllis Wilson, Susan Seybold, Rebecca Washington-Lindsey, Diane Riegler, Loren Cohen, and Ken Cornelison (kneeling). Photo courtesy of Rebecca Washington-Lindsey

By Rebecca Washington-Lindsey

Think back to your last celebration was it a wedding, birthday party, baptism, parade, retirement? What did you come away with? Sometimes you will never know the true value of a celebration until you look back. Celebrations should be memorable such is the case with the first Laguna Beach Black History Month (also called African American Heritage Month) held last month. Typically, this celebration is filled with music, food, dance, plays, church services, remembering the past and optimistically looking towards the future. So, I owe much gratitude to the Lord for helping our organization, We All Matter, creatively plan a program that closely resembled a traditional Black History Celebration, keeping the banner held high through the closing celebration, and for the best organization members I could work with: Laguna Beach Unified School District board member Dee Perry, Councilmember Peter Blake, Jean Strake, Maggie Bingham, Dan Ardell, Natalie Sutton, Julie Lee Perlin, and Nadya Hickman. A heart-filled thank you. Thank you to elected officials, city staffers, and the Laguna Beach Police Department for supporting this celebration. St. Mary’s Episcopal Church guided by Rev. Lester MacKenzie, and Laguna Presbyterian Church, under Rev. Steve Sweet, and Associate Pastor Beth Pinney supported this celebration. The justice of our cause shone like the noonday sun.

The celebration encompassed three themes: education, art, and social gathering and was filled with numerous activities. First, a virtual story telling with Laguna Beach children lead by the Amigos Alliance Club from Laguna Beach High School. Natalie, a club member who was not readily available for final comments once stated, “We had fun making the activities and the children took an interest in the stories.” She once said, “attendance wasn’t too bad for a first-time event. Next year should be better.” That is a celebration. The educational venue was a priority because reaching our children is where the ethnic foundation for acquiring knowledge and becoming enlightening begins. Nadya Hickman, branch manager of the OC Public Library in Laguna Beach, made certain that storytelling around the world was included in the celebration. As a result of my request to have more ethnic materials on shelves. This request led to an opportunity to serve on a special book selection committee, called Zip Books. The Independent featured ethnic articles more African American articles in January and February. That too is a reason to celebrate.

The second theme was art. The room was turned into an African American gallery since there is none in Laguna Beach. Several art pieces framed the room changing the atmosphere. We All Matter is a cultural arts organization; the Laguna Art Museum played a significant role in the February celebration. When a resident once told me we don’t have African American art here because this is a white town, Perllin said, “not under my leadership.” She immediately reached out to local artist Gerard Stripling. Stripling designed a sculpture that now stands in front of city hall that sends out a powerful message. In addition, two quilting art pieces by artist Allyson Allen are hanging in the museum. That is a celebration.

The Black History finale came together on Feb. 24 at the Community and Susi Q Senior Center. A streaming power-point of African Americans from the past and those influential today continued streaming. The room was turned into a mini library filled with books about African American history, children’s stories, African American women’s studies, biographies and autobiographies, and finally research-based information. I managed to locate a TEDx talk, “Black History Matters” by Don John. A moving quiet time with three speakers followed. This led to a period of reflection. That was deep and celebratory. “I appreciate the three speakers talking about building unity and kindness,” one guest said. Another guest said, “I would have liked for this event to go from January to March.” Music by Henry the saxophonist set the mood for a celebration while our guests enjoyed ethnic desserts, and Ethiopian coffee. One visitor stated, “it was the music and conversation that was great.” Another guest said, “I wish you could have shown us how to do a dance.” What a celebration. What does next year look like? I do not know but one guest suggests we get Stephen Curry to speak. I suggested Denzel Washington (lol).

The following residents offered insightful testimonies. Phyllis writes, “I am a seventeen-year resident. For seventeen years I have been distracted when Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday came, and nobody honored him. I was even more sad when Black History Month came in February and for years nobody did anything. In 2019, I tried my hand at putting together a fashion show hoping this would bring us together, but it didn’t. Then came a vibrant Black woman, educated, filled with wisdom… and I said, ‘she’s the one.’ She has been so instrumental in making February 2022 a memorable long-awaited celebration.”

Dan Ardell commented, “Laguna is known as a liberal bastion, but there is extraordinarily little actual diversity. Our group reminded me to refocus on others, particularly people of color, who are often denied or simply ‘unseen.’ ” He also said, “The quilt display that was taken down by Wells Fargo is a classic example. I hope as Black History Month ends that we all learn a little more about our (unconscious or conscious) built-in-biases.”

As the celebration ended Gordon McGregor lead the room into reflective speaking words that were enlightening and encouraging “Let us all become aware, begin to discover and practice a different delivery.”

Rebecca is a Laguna Beach resident and former adjunct professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

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