About 200 people celebrated Black History Month on Saturday night at Santa Rosa's Finley Center by sharing African dance, collard greens, corn bread and stories of black historical figures.

The North Bay Black Chamber of Commerce sponsored the annual event, which this year highlighted soul food and the bonds it encourages between people.

"It starts the conversation," said Kristie Gray-Hopkins, business development manager for V&G Event Services and a member of the chamber board. "In the South, food is the core of a lot of things."

Nancy Rogers, owner of Red Rose cafe and caterer for the evening, spread love along with plates piled high with red beans and rice, jambalaya, fried chicken and red velvet cake.

"It just makes you feel good," she said, elongating the last word into something delicious sounding. "It's good for your soul."

Debbie Holmes danced in her seat with 5-year-old Kavon Minor, a former Sunday school student of hers, and brought a plate of food to a new friend.

"We just have fun doing this every year, and it's for such a good cause," she said. Her husband, Bobbie Holmes, performed with his band on stage while her granddaughter, Rebecca Stjern, 15, took it all in.

The Holmes family is multi-racial, which Debbie said sometimes still draws unwelcome comments.

"We never look at the color," she said, "but we've had people look at us funny."

Speaker Rhuenette Alums, a longtime manager with AT&T, related tales of growing up in New York, traveling with her family to the 1963 March on Washington to see and hear Martin Luther King Jr. speak, and of learning that Malcolm X had been killed.

"But what keeps me going is when I think about the heroes here right now," she said, "the ones alive today who can talk about their own personal histories."