Santa Monica residents celebrated the beginning of Black History Month this week, but locals who missed the fun will have plenty of other opportunities to get involved when the festivities continue later this month.

Because of COVID and the need to stay home, this year’s Black History Month events will all be held virtually, Delana Gbenekama, Equity and Communications Coordinator for the City of Santa Monica, said. However, this month’s activities still look to highlight the history, diversity and achievements of Santa Monica’s Black community.

Gbenekama and locals kicked off this year’s Black History Month Celebration Thursday evening during The Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity Opening Ceremony, which featured music, special dance performances, and segments that highlighted the cooking traditions of Black families.

“It’s important to understand that the Black community is a group of diverse people from all around the world,” Gbenekama said during the event. “We’re born with various skin colors, hair textures and physical features. We even speak different languages, including indigenous languages of Africa and the Americas, and other regions… Although we come from different cultures, we have many shared experiences because of the color of our skin. We also share a spiritual connection that is intrinsically ingrained in our souls; that connection is so profound that when we cross paths with one another, no matter the city or the state or country or continent, we somehow feel at home.”

Prior to the start of this month’s festivities, Gbenekama said she’s excited for all that’s planned because the Black community is not a monolith. This is why she organized dances, poetry readings and other virtual meet-ups that will allow residents many chances to see the diversity of Santa Monica’s community, Gbenekama added during the event, where she asked residents to take a moment to hear directly from Black community members who shared their family history and contributions to Santa Monica.

“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,” Gbenekama said, instructing residents to visit for a complete list of this month’s Black History activities.