The Soul of SF State committee held a virtual community event that featured remarks from prominent local leaders on Saturday, as a follow up to a Black Lives Matter forum held last fall.
According to its organizers, who funded the event independently from the university, the event was hosted in response to students expressing the need for more spaces dedicated to healing and dialogue related to social justice, as well as part of the annual observance of Black History Month. Saturday’s event focused on offering attendees “a historical contextualization of Black thought, leadership and visionary ideation,” a contrast to the fall event’s forum format.
“What we really wanted to do with this specific event is look at where we were then versus where we’re at now. It’s basically a reflection,” said Soul of SF State founding member, Shanice Robinson. “We wanted it to be informative and interactive. We wanted to learn from the campus community.”
The theme of Saturday’s program — Black Minds Matter: Where We Are Now, and Why We Can’t Wait! — was encapsulated by remarks made by Mayor London Breed, who attended the event via prerecorded video.
“It is critical that we harness the energy of the Black Lives Matter movement and work relentlessly to ensure our advocacy is transformed into real change for our community,” Breed said. “We have an incredible opportunity to build on the work our ancestors did to get us to this point.”
In addition to remarks from Mayor Breed, the one-and-a-half hour program included a keynote address by De’Anthony Jones, who serves as a neighborhood services liaison in the office of the mayor. Jones expounded on the theme of resilience, which he sees as the source of recent important victories that have elevated Black people to visible and meaningful positions of power.
“It’s the resilience of the Black community that has allowed us to have the first Black woman serve as mayor in San Francisco. It’s the resilience of our community that also has allowed us into the board of supervisors president’s seat with Supervisor Shamann Walton, now President Shamann Walton,” Jones said.
It’s very rare if I do see someone that looks like me. I get super excited.”
— Shanice Robinson
Jones was referring to the historic election of Shamann Walton to the post of president of the board of supervisors. Walton represents District 10, also known as Bayview/Hunters Point, which is home to the three cosponsoring organizations for the event: Both Sides of the Conversation, 100% College Prep Institute and Step to College.
Soul of SF State founding member Tachelle Herron, who represents all three organizations, said that Saturday’s program was intended to serve as a learning experience.
“Teaching Black history in this presentation is really for the students, and to amplify our story,” Herron said.
Attendees also had an opportunity to share their personal stories during the open forum portion. Common themes found in participant anecdotes included income inequality, stereotypes in athletics, lack of resources for Black students on campus and lack of diversity in SF State’s administration.
Nia Hall, who is a graduate student at SF State, said that her educational experience has been prone to lack of diversity and suggested exploring solutions that give Black people more than just a seat at the table.
“Most of the time our administration doesn’t look like us,” Hall said. “I think the university besides SF State — the entire California State University system — likes to have a face of something, but they don’t do anything and they don’t say anything. They just perpetuate the system of oppression.”
Hall’s lived experience runs counter to the perception that California is home to “top colleges in the West for diversity.” According to the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education College Rankings, SF State tied nationally for fifth place.
Soul of SF State founding member and department chair for Equity, Leadership Studies, and Instructional Technologies, Doris Flowers, said that racial groups merged together in rankings created the illusion of Black diversity on campus.
“The illusion of Black diversity is encapsulated within diversity, which means we have a lot of different students here. Asian, LatinX and others,” Flowers said. “It’s [WSJ/THE] not talking about Black diversity at the campus. I am the only Black professor in my college.”
Robinson offered her lived experience on campus to rebut the WSJ/THE ranking as well. She said that the ranking does not mirror Black life on campus.
“That’s not reflective of the entire Black demographic on campus, you know, it’s very rare to find a Black professor,” Robinson said. “It’s very rare if I do see someone that looks like me. I get super excited.”
According to Soul of SF State founding member Tiffany Knuckles, the origin of the Black Minds Matter event can be traced back to the “really great reception” by attendees of their first event last fall.
The entire program was significant in my estimation. All of the speakers were on point in their analysis of the issues facing Black people,” Pitre said. “As an observer I was impressed by the Black genius in the room.”
— Abul Pitre
Attendees of the part-two event signaled another warm reception. Abul Pitre, department chair of Africana studies, gave the event a glowing review.
“The entire program was significant in my estimation. All of the speakers were on point in their analysis of the issues facing Black people,” Pitre said. “As an observer I was impressed by the Black genius in the room.”
Robinson, Herron, Flowers and Knuckles — the quadrumvirate of organizers — said that they are just getting started and are excited to bring more programming “throughout the rest of the spring” as a grassroots organization operating outside of the official purview of SF State.
The Black Excellence Awards, a third installment observing Black History Month produced by the Soul of SF State group, is scheduled for Feb. 27.