About 100 people crossed the Santa Barbara City College bridge on Saturday in a move designed to pay homage to the Alabama civil rights activists who crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965 and to draw attention to the new kinds of racism that exist today.
One of the event's speakers, Regina Moore Davis, said that racism was flagrant and overt in the 1960s. Signs designated separate black and white restrooms, water fountains, swimming pools and neighborhoods. Those signs no longer exist, but the racism still does, she said.
“Crossing the bridge here and now in 2020 means that we as a nation and a community have come a long way,” Moore Davis said. “Crossing the bridge reminds me that racism is constantly evolving, and what it looked like when Martin Luther King crossed the bridge is nothing like what it looks like today. The racism of today is systemic, much more complex, sophisticated, difficult to detect, so that means it is harder to combat and defeat something that is obscure.”
She was one of the people who marched from the East Campus to the West Campus and then to the Fé Bland Forum inside the Business/Communications Building. The event was put on by the Martin Luther King Jr. Committee of Santa Barbara.
Keynote speaker Wendy Sims-Moten, a member of the Santa Barbara Unified School District Board of Education, delivered an emotional speech that sparked a standing ovation.
“Folks, as we move into the next decade, it is a time when hatred, indifference, violence, and lack of humanity and utter disrespect is alive and running rampant,” Sims-Moten said. “When you start to speak the truth, you may lose some friends, you might have to change your friends, and you may take a political hit, but we know that's OK.”
Sims-Moten spoke of “uncommon courage,” a term that she said is what people need to have to overcome racism. She recalled the bravery of the civil rights activists who on March 7, 1965, were beaten by law enforcement officers when they tried to cross the Alabama River on the Pettus Bridge to reach the state capital in Birmingham. The marchers returned two weeks later and completed their mission to the capital.
“I could imagine what they were feeling as they went across that bridge,” Sims-Moten said. “It took uncommon courage to do that. You can't have everyday courage trying to go and make a change when you are going to be facing batons, billy clubs and tear gas. You must have uncommon courage.”
She said that walking across the City College bridge made her think of what people had overcome.
“My heart is still beating from when we were walking there today because I could only imagine what they were going through, the collective uncommon courage that they had to have,” Sims-Moten said. “Sometimes, as we go through things, you might have doubts, and your uncommon courage has to carry you through the doubt, through the fear, all of the things, it has to keep you going.”
Her colleague, Dr. Jacqueline Reid, also a member of the Santa Barbara school board, attended the event, as did Goleta City Councilman James Kyriaco. Kate Parker, a member of the Santa Barbara City College Board of Trustees, also attended the march and event.
The ceremony was punctuated by performances by the Santa Barbara Ringshout Project. Ringshout originated in West Africa and developed during U.S. slavery. The performers used call-and-response, sang a capella, clapped, stomped, and danced in a circle. One member, Joseph Columga, used a stick to create rhythms by beating on a wooden surface.
“In the beginning, when the enslaved Africans arrived in the United States, many things were taken away,” Ringshout leader Frances Moore said. “Freedom of movement, freedom to worship as they please. No drumming was allowed, and that was like taking bread out of their mouth.
“So the slaves did the best they could, and they continued to do ringshout, no matter what, because they knew, in order to survive the harsh treatment of slavery, they had to keep what they knew intact.”
The group performed songs such as “One of These Days,” “Oh, Lord Put Your Arms Around Me” and “My Soul Will Be at Rest.”
The Rev. Roderick Murray of New Friendship Baptist Church kicked off the event with a blessing.
Akivah Northern, the wife of the late Babatunde Folayemi, a Santa Barbara city councilman and longtime community activist, served as the emcee of the event. She said the songs and dancing brought people's ancestors into the room.
“They suffered, they died, they struggled and yet they danced, and they shouted, and they sang, and they transcended and they survived, and we will, too,” Northern said. “Our ancestors, they had uncommon courage. They couldn't fight, necessarily, although some of them did, but their spirits rose up to survive, and here we are, here we are.”
— Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.