California State University, Monterey Bay’s (CSUMB) All Black Gala launches Black History Month celebrations with the theme: “Still I Rise: Reclaiming Our Past and Seizing Our Futures.” Doors will open for this formal event at the University Ballroom on Sunday, Feb. 16th at 5:30 p.m. and – in keeping with the theme – signifies CSUMB’s growing recognition of the past contributions of local Black leaders and the university’s responsibility to contribute to the revitalization of local Black communities as originally intended.
When word came down in the early ‘90s about the imminent closing of Fort Ord, local Black leaders were among the strongest advocates for the establishment of a California State University on the property that straddles Marina and Seaside. While certainly all local communities and municipalities were negatively impacted by the 1994 closure of the Fort Ord Army Base, no community was hit as hard as the local African American community primarily located in the City of Seaside.
Once viewed as the most important Black community between Los Angeles and Oakland and sporting a Black population near 30 percent, Seaside’s Black population has dwindled to a concerning 8 percent.
Fast forward 30 years and what we have left are a couple of dozen Black leaders throughout the Peninsula – all in their 70s and 80s – holding together half-a-dozen organizations through sheer force of will and indomitable spirit. Organizations such as the Village Project, Inc., the Retired Men’s Social Club, the Voter Education Center and local chapters of the NAACP, Pan-Hellenic Council and Links, Inc.
These stalwarts continue to serve as leaders, activists and mentors within the Black Community and as ambassadors to the community at large. Indeed, they are still our community’s most publicly familiar names and faces: Ann Jealous, Mel and Regina Mason, Josh Stewart, Ruthie Watts, Alice Jordan, Helen Rucker, Jackie Craghead, and Al Glover to name a few.
But given their age, each year brings new losses. The last 18 months has seen the final passing of Akin Miller, Mary Ellen Harris, Joe Watson, Rev H. H. Lusk, Bishop W. W. Hamilton and Dr. Marie Sweets among others. Sadly, more will likely pass in 2020. With some notable exceptions, there have been precious few 2nd and 3rd generation leaders to which to pass the baton.
Enter California State University, Monterey Bay.
The follow up to the All Black Gala is CSUMB’s prime recruitment event for African American students, Super Saturday, and will be held from 8:30 a.m. to noon on Feb. 22nd in the University Center Ballroom. The free event – registration required – includes a continental breakfast, motivational speaker, student panel and community forum.
Much has come out of the community forums over the last two years. Some of the projects that are underway include the development of joint campus community Black History, Black Speaker’s Bureau and Hall of Fame Committees; the Historically Black Church tour; bi-monthly Black Campus-Community Forums and a weekly Monterey Black Folks events calendar to capture relevant campus and community happenings.
Meanwhile, All Black Gala committee members are busily collecting photos and biographies of many of the aforementioned local African American leaders and organizations as part of a Black Art & History Digital Exhibition set up at the venue that will also serve as the foundation for a growing collection of local Black histories.
As a black tie formal event, the committee is organizing a Formal Wear Drive of community donations and operating a Pop-Up Shop for needy students (donations can be presented to the CSUMB Student Center). There will be a 7 p.m. screening for the film BlacKkKlansman on Feb. 13th at CSUMB’s Black Box Cabaret. Featured speaker, Kevin Willmott, will also be conducting a Master Class Screenwriting Workshop on Feb. 17th from noon to 2 p.m. at the University Center.