Healing Justice: BLM SB has new leaders.
Jordan Killebrew and Leticia Resch are the two lead organizers, taking over for Krystle Sieghart and Simone Ruskamp, who started the local movement but are leaving Santa Barbara soon.
“The community is ready to step up and take on their parts in their own ways,” Resch told Noozhawk.
Healing Justice: BLM SB, formerly known as Black Lives Matter SB, was formed to ensure that “Black lives are centered and uplifted in Santa Barbara,” according to its website. On May 31, just days after the death of George Floyd, a black Minneapolis man who died in police custody while a white officer kneeled on his neck, the group led a rally and protest march from the Santa Barbara County Courthouse to the Santa Barbara police station.
The group also presented a list of demands to the Santa Barbara City Council that included the creation of an independent civilian review board of police use of force; the protection and preservation of black landmarks such as St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, Friendship Baptist Church and the Franklin Center, rather than monuments to white supremacy; funding for an annual Juneteenth celebration; a reallocation of police resources; prioritization of the creation of a black community center; and a council declaration that racism is a public health emergency.
The City Council swiftly agreed to most of the demands, and is reviewing its civilian review board policies.
“We have been overwhelmed with folks from City Council, from county supervisors, from different elements of philanthropy and community groups reaching out saying, ‘how can I learn,’ or trying to figure out what they can do,” said Killebrew, whose full-time job is director of communications at the Santa Barbara Foundation.
He said there’s much work that still needs to be done.
“We have to step back and say ‘hold on, we can have all these meetings, but this is the start, of the conversation,’” Killebrew explained. “This is the rebuilding of a relationship.”
He said the group has many goals.
“Our ultimate goal is to continue to engage the black community, to bring everybody together, and make sure that we listen to them and make sure we find solutions to their needs,” he said.
One idea is to create a cultural resource center for black people “that not only shows our history, where we can archive that, but also a place where we can have meetings and come together and have programs,” Killebrew said.
“It’s super important that we have a physical space somewhere downtown, that’s visible, showing where our community is, that maybe has murals by black artists, that can be this home and a safe place.”
Killebrew said he wants to continue pursuing the preservation of historical landmarks and to gain recognition for Sojourner Kincaid Rolle, a poet, playwright, historian and former Santa Barbara poet laureate.
He said he wants to see more black people in leadership positions in community organizations, including on boards of directors.
“It’s time,” Killebrew said.
Resch said she wants to see a museum established so locals and visitors can have a place to go to appreciate black culture.
“The museum would be amazing for people, not just our community, but people outside of our community to come in and learn, as well,” she said. “I don’t think they come to Santa Barbara and expect there to be a black community, which is sad to say.
“I am excited about things that are going to bring our community together.”
Resch said she wants to see a black film festival and gala, and more black teachers.
“I would like my son to learn about ethnic studies properly,” she said. “Obviously we have to do our own teaching at our home, but I think it is important for those black children in the class not to feel isolated and ashamed because they are connected to this idea of slavery and what that meant for them.”
Noting that the education establishment changed the way students are taught through the Common Core curriculum, Resch said it can do the same with ethnic studies.
“I have really big dreams, so I’ll take a minute and prioritize with the community what they want first, and I think that community center is the first step,” she said.
Ruskamp and Sieghart, the group’s founders, are leaving Santa Barbara. Ruskamp and her family are moving to Washington, D.C., where she will be pursuing a master’s degree in social work, while Sieghart and her family are moving to Germany, where she also plans to pursue a master’s degree.
Although she is leaving, Ruskamp said she’ll still have strong ties to Santa Barbara.
“I am committed to supporting black people here, wherever I am, in whatever way they need me to,” she said. “I mean, having full faith again that there are so many people here with gifts and talents, I know I am gonna be back here because I want to come back and celebrate.
“When the black cultural center opens, I am going to be there.”
Sieghart said she is proud of the accomplishments that Healing Justice: BLM SB has made.
“It has been a hard but beautiful battle,” she said. “Hard because we have had to literally put our bodies, health and heart on the line to get this community to wake up, especially elected officials, but beautiful because we’ve been able to build a stronger black community because of it.”
Sieghart is looking forward to her time in Germany.
“I plan on spending my time loving on my children, continuing my education and finding ways to nourish myself,” she said. “So much of my life has been a fight, and it’s always been rooted in advocating for myself and others …
“I’m from Santa Barbara, and I am a fifth-generation Santa Barbara resident. This place will always hold a special place in my heart, and I’m honored to carry that experience with me wherever I go.”