Santa Monica celebrated Black History Month with an event on the Promenade this week.

In an effort to celebrate the many successes and contributions of Santa Monica’s African American community, local dignitaries, community leaders and more than 100 local residents gathered on the Third Street Promenade Tuesday for the inaugural “Celebrating Black Excellence Community Mixer.”

In the weeks leading up to the first-of-its-kind event, event organizer Delana Gbenekama described the event as a dream come true.

“In Santa Monica’s history, you’ve had a lot of people of color who have been displaced from the community. Even in spite of that, we have a black population here and we want people to know they’re here and they’re contributing a lot,” Gbenekama previously said as she described the buzz the event had created in the city.

Many in attendance Tuesday shared similar sentiments while they enjoyed treats from various vendors, a traditional West African Dance and Drum performance and plenty of opportunities to mix and mingle with fellow Santa Monicans and the many others who were coincidentally in the area and chose to stop by for a peek at the fun.

The true purpose of Tuesday’s event was to honor the Black professionals who have demonstrated displays of outstanding leadership or service, according to Gbenekama, who mentioned the awardees were nominated by members of the community.

In total, there were 10 people selected to receive an award at the first-of-its-kind event and each was given a chance to take the stand for a quick speech. Some who took the podium Tuesday used their time to remind the audience about those who have shaped the region but have gone unrecognized throughout the decades, while others took the time to thank those who had a more direct impact on their lives.

Similar to the Oscars, music played when speeches ran long but not everybody adhered to the time frame.

Near the conclusion of the event, when attendees were taking a chance to fill their stomachs with barbecue, emcee Barry Snell said the event was better than he ever could’ve imagined and he hopes there will be more like it held in the future.

“Today’s event was amazing for many reasons but I think most of all because, for the first time, we’re honoring black excellence in this community,” Snell said.

“Santa Monica’s black history goes way back,” he added, “so I think it’s important that we recognize individuals for their excellence in service in the various fields of education, community service, (etc.) This is something that will go on for years and years, so I’m proud to be a part of it.”

Award winners:

Sabrina Fields is a Santa Monica native who was described Tuesday as a tireless advocate for youth and vulnerable communities. Fields currently serves as the housing director at St. Joseph Center, which is a non-profit organization that provides working, poor families and homeless men, women and children with support to help them become productive, stable and self-supporting members of the community.

Delana Gbenekama is a member of the City’s Government Alliance on Race and Equity who took the initiative to organize some of the city’s Black History Month events. Gbenekama has also been instrumental in sharing African American stories and traditions that have helped make Santa Monica and greater Los Angeles the culturally-rich region it is known as today, Snell said.

Karen Gunn was described as a leader who is dedicated to creating a diverse, inclusive, vibrant and equitable Santa Monica. Along with her job as an organizational and community psychologist, Gunn has also recently served as chair of the Santa Monica Bay Area Human Relations Council and the Santa Monica Social Services Commission, and is a retired Santa Monica College psychology professor.

Rashan Ivy has worked for the City of Santa Monica for over 20 years and has served as a custodial supervisor for nearly a decade. Those who know Ivy said he was a leader for many reasons, including how he treats staff with integrity and professionalism and always encourages them to advance in the workforce.

Derric Johnson is the founding director of Crossroads School’s Equity and Justice Institute, which oversees social justice advocacy and equity education on campus. Johnson also serves as vice president of the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission and is a board member for Brilliant Corners, a housing nonprofit for individuals with developmental disabilities and other special needs.

Robbie Jones was born and raised in Santa Monica and has been an active advocate for justice in the years since. Jones boldly confronts systemic racism head-on while supporting those affected by it — evident in her creation of African American parent groups throughout Santa Monica. Jones has also donated countless hours to support and mentor Black youth and parents when she is not providing education for the entire community through her “Black Santa Monica tours.”

Antonio Shelton is a familiar face on social media and in the lives of students at Samohi, where he is principal. Serving as a role model and mentor for all who interact with him, Shelton is devoted to providing students with the tools and education to ensure a bright future for the Santa Monica community and exudes school spirit as he works hard to be an ambassador for his school.

Reginald St. Claire is an educator, mentor, coach and director of youth programs for more than 23 years. St. Claire has worked and volunteered with children in all capacities thanks to his own Santa Monica-based soccer club called Westside Premier Soccer Club and his nonprofit organization, the Grass is Greener Foundation.

Muriel Walker Waugh is a chemistry professor at Santa Monica College whose students consider her an exemplary instructor and role model. The professor has a strong understanding of pedagogical techniques, which she employs to help her students engage with the subject matter on a deep level. Her popular catch phrases include: “Nothing to it but to do it,” and “Reading is fundamental.” The chemistry boot camp she helped establish has also helped empower students with the tools for success.

Doug Willis could not attend Tuesday’s celebration but the longtime Community Corporation of Santa Monica board member has been instrumental to many in the community throughout the last three decades. As a tireless advocate for housing, Willis has also served on the Housing Commission, Rent Control Board, Pico Neighborhood Association and Family Services of Santa Monica. He is also the Treasurer for the Santa Monica/Venice NAACP.

Brennon@smdp.com

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