The City of Santa Monica is ready to celebrate Black History Month this February with a number of events that will be held in a COVID-conscious manner.

In 2020, city and community leaders partnered to host the inaugural “Celebrating Black Excellence Community Mixer” on the Third Street Promenade, which provided residents and tourists an opportunity to talk with others while they enjoyed treats from various vendors and a traditional West African Dance and Drum performance.

Because of COVID and the need to stay home, this year’s roster of events will be held virtually but the activities will still highlight the history, diversity and achievements of Santa Monica’s Black community, said Delana Gbenekama, Equity and Communications Coordinator for the City of Santa Monica, as she detailed the many upcoming opportunities to learn about Black history as well as the Black community’s contributions to Santa Monica.

“Last year was the first opening ceremony and that will be held on Rosa Parks Day again this year. We also had the Black Excellence Awards last year for the first time to honor the people who have made an impact in the community so this year we’ll of course return with the second annual opening ceremony and Celebrating Black Excellence Awards, but we’ve also added a lot of other events and unique programming for this year as well,” Gbenekama said, “including Zumba and the Afro-Joy Dance Party with Tatiana Zamir; which I’m really excited for because it’s something that’s fun, but there’s also going to be a healing component.”

And those are only some of next month’s events, Gbenekama added. “We have a book reading and conversation with Catherine Adel West on her book, “Saving Ruby King,” and we have a talk about Historic Belmar Park because everybody should know the significance of that project.”

A full list detailing the City’s Black History Month celebrations is available on the website santamonica.gov/blog/blackhistorymonth2021, but Gbenekama said the fun will kick off at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 4, during The Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity Opening Ceremony, which will feature special dance performances, segments highlighting the cooking traditions of Black families, and much, much more.

“I truly think the opening ceremony will be an opportunity for people to learn firsthand about the Black family experience because they will hear directly from community members and some families during the opening ceremony,” Gbenekama said. “And I’m really excited about this event because the black community is not a monolith. We’re a diverse community, so we really wanted to display that during the Opening Ceremony and throughout the different events this year. And given we’re in a pandemic, I think these virtual events will be a nice reprieve for community members, which is something that I’ve always thought was important — but it is even more so now.”

Brennon@smdp.com