BY KARA SHOEMAKER | March 5, 2021
At the Santa Barbara Foundation, our mission is to build and support empathetic, inclusive, and resilient communities, and we strive to uplift the diverse groups of people who call Santa Barbara County home. In this article, we hope to elevate the voices of the African American/Black community of Santa Barbara, celebrate Santa Barbara County Black history, and showcase the incredible work being done by local Black-led organizations.
As SBF works to share language and culture in Santa Barbara County, we want to note that in the African American/Black community some individuals identify as one, the other, or both. In this article we will use both to properly represent this community.
Healing Justice Santa Barbara
The movement to elevate Black voices and the call for equality for Black people in Santa Barbara are not new, but thanks to community organizers Healing Justice Santa Barbara, some new transformational shifts are beginning to occur. This Black-led and Black-centered organizing collective is working to change policy within the city and county and also exists to uplift and celebrate the Black community in Santa Barbara County.
While Healing Justice Santa Barbara officially formed in May of 2020, it grew out of Santa Barbara’s local Movement 4 Black Lives and in response to the larger national Black Lives Matter movement (learn more about Healing Justice’s history). Led by Black organizers Krystle Farmer Sieghart, Simone Akila Ruskamp, Jordan Killebrew, Leticia Forney Resch, Christopher Ragland, Mariah Jones-Bisquera, Courtney Walton, and non-Black allies, including Chelsea Lancaster, Ana Rosa Rizo, and Jessica Alvarez Parfey, this group is now pushing for a reimagining of local communities. Healing Justice Santa Barbara is currently fiscally sponsored by the Santa Barbara Foundation. The collective is working to become its own 501c3 nonprofit organization.
On June 2, 2020, in the wake of the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police, the murder of jogger Ahmaud Arbery by two armed men, and just a few days after Santa Barbara’s peaceful protest, one of those transformational shifts occurred. Healing Justice was successful in moving the Santa Barbara City Council to adopt their full list of demands, including for the city to adopt a resolution condemning police brutality and declare racism a public health emergency, provide institutional support for the local celebration of Juneteenth, and increase transparency and accountability from the Santa Barbara Police Department through the creation of a civilian review board.
Reimagining public safety and pushing for police accountability have been a large aspect of the movement for Black lives in Santa Barbara. Ruskamp, in learning from Black organizing groups like Campaign Zero, has pushed for a civilian independent review of police activity since 2016. Meanwhile, Killebrew has worked with the police as a member of the Chief’s Advisory Panel, which was established in April 2017 under the direction of Chief of Police Lori Luhnow. In this capacity, he helped with implicit bias training for the police force.
On February 2, 2021, City Council appointed a Community Formation Commission of fifteen diverse members of the Santa Barbara community, including Killebrew. This Commission will inform the City Council as to what model of civilian review the commission should adopt and work to implement this system.
Ruskamp and Sieghart were the leaders behind the May 31, 2020, peaceful protest on State Street and the following demonstration at the Santa Barbara Police Department. They were able to rally over 3,000 people and push for significant changes in both city and county policies and practices. In July 2020, after years of leading Black-centered efforts in Santa Barbara, Ruskamp and Sieghart transitioned on to new opportunities, yet still remain heavily involved in local and national organizing. Leticia Forney Resch, Mariah Jones-Bisquera, and Jordan Killebrew work closely with Ruskamp and Seighart uplifting the work of Healing Justice Santa Barbara.
Healing Justice works to educate and remind the community that injustices by local law enforcement happen on the South Coast. Healing Justice uplifts the lives of Meagan Hackaday and Bryan Carreno, both have been killed by law enforcement in our region.
In an effort to support the Black community, Healing Justice Santa Barbara hosts Black Community Meetings once a month. These meetings not only allow organizers to share their work and listen to the needs of attendees but also serve as an opportunity for the Black community to come together and support one another. One outcome of these meetings has been the recognition of the need for a Black/African American Resource Center. The center would serve as a safe place for the Black community, one where Black history and local achievements could be displayed, and a place to access wrap-around services that focus on the Black experience and needs. The need for such a center was included in Healing Justice’s accepted list of demands, and the collective is continuing to plan for the creation of the center with city officials.
Another success came from a need that arose out of the Black Community Meetings. Black community members identified and shared with Healing Justice leadership the need for local mental health practitioners that identify as Black and can be culturally competent towards needs. Killebrew shared this information with Carrie Towbes, President, and Kristen Sullivan, Executive Director of the Towbes Foundation, who recommended partnering with the UCSB Hosford Center. The Healing Center, with thanks to an initial grant from Carrie Towbes and John Lewis, launched as a specialty clinic that provides psychological services to Black-Identifying clients of all ages. In addition to general stressors and life issues, the Healing Center acknowledges the effects of racial trauma, marginalization, and injustice on social and health disparities among Black communities. The Healing Center is open and currently taking clients.
While the organizers and community builders of Healing Justice have done extraordinary work advocating for justice, equity, and the needs of the Black community in Santa Barbara, there is still much work to be done.
“We are still at square zero when it comes to equity and inclusion, and this is clear when we see innocent Black folks murdered by police. There are two Americas – it’s just such a heated and contentious topic that we can’t even talk about it,” said Killebrew. “I am hopeful that there is a moment where we can come together to be honest with our history, honest with ourselves, to be kinder, and to understand one another.”
“I think this moment in time is a very significant moment. I think Black Lives Matter has to be credited for changing the world. We have lobbied and marched and talked and sang and preached, and most of us have spent our whole lives on this issue. It’s an incredible moment in time and I am happy. You can’t help but be happy,” said Sojourner Kincaid Rolle, poet, peace advocate, and Black community elder.
“It’s serious matters we are talking about – we are talking about everything from infant mortality to death penalty, mass incarceration, to under-educated kids in schools, income inequality, everything across the board is being examined right now and I think we have to seize this moment and we have to make this world a better place. This is what we’ve all worked for – a better world, a better place in this world.”
The Santa Barbara Foundation’s work includes support for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities and celebrating these communities. The Foundation is proud to be the fiscal sponsor for Healing Justice and Juneteenth Santa Barbara.