Unity, community building celebrated at SRJC
As the Santa Rosa Youth Pomo Dancers stepped in time to a lively beat on the front lawn at Santa Rosa Junior College Saturday afternoon, an accessory held by one of the women dancers broadcast a message, small and nearly moving quick enough to miss.
“No more stolen sisters,” the red scarf read, above the letters MMIW — both lines referring to the movement highlighting the hugely disproportionate rates at which Indigenous women in the United States are murdered or affected by other violence. Amid the energy and cultural pride displayed in the group’s performance, the somber content of the scarf was a visual reminder of ongoing struggle toward societal equity and the human cost of the status quo.
More than 100 community members from Santa Rosa Junior College and greater Sonoma County turned out for the Unity Walk event that featured the Pomo dancers and other local musicians and artists, as well as a number of speakers Saturday afternoon. The participants gathered on the school’s front lawn at 2 p.m. and, after nearly three hours of activity, marched downtown.
Delashay Carmona Benson, president of the Black Student Union and student body president at SRJC, led organization of the event, which combined both elements of celebration and continuing urgency. Speakers acknowledged students’ and staff members’ perseverance in completing a uniquely challenging school year and the progress made toward racial healing and equity. They also called out the work still needed to make the junior college campus and county a safe and healthy environment for all residents to thrive.
“It’s exciting to see folks within the community coming out to see how we can further come together ... and make a difference,” said Regina Mahiri, a student adviser and a member of the Black Leadership Association Collective on the SRJC campus. “It’s a beautiful thing to see people from all walks of life.”
Tables arranged in a loose circle in the shade of the oak trees were staffed by a broad range of campus and community groups: the Black Student Union, SRJC Student Health Center, Asian Pacific Islander Staff Association and the Latinx Faculty/Staff Association, to name a few.
Next to the red canopy under which the speakers stepped up to the microphone, workers with the Sonoma County Department of Health ran a miniature vaccine clinic; attendees were invited multiple times to get their COVID-19 shots if they had not had yet done so.
SRJC President Frank Chong briefly took the floor toward the start of the event. He expressed appreciation for the efforts of students to push for change on campus, promising more progress ahead.
“It’s been a wake-up call for all of us at Santa Rosa Junior College,” he said. “I’m committed to turning those difficult conversations into action, so that we see real change in our community at the college.”
Santa Rosa students at an event earlier in May voiced their frustration that some equity initiatives at the junior college remain in planning phases, with Black students and faculty fielding repeated invitations to attend listening sessions and meetings.
But Benson in her own comments Saturday challenged attendees to not only monitor the actions of elected leaders in advancing racial justice.
“We must all identify specific actions that can be taken in our own areas of responsibility to confront racism,” she said.
“What have you been doing?” she asked.
Other community leaders stepped up to make brief comments in between the varied creative performances, including Santa Rosa City Councilman Eddie Alvarez and Rohnert Park Vice Mayor Jackie Elward, who praised the spirit of the event.
“Unity is the only weapon that we have left. If we are not united, forget about everything that we have been doing since last summer,” Elward said, referring to local momentum to reconcile with racial injustice spurred in the wake of the murder of George Floyd last Memorial Day. She is the first Black woman to be elected to the City Council in Rohnert Park.
Speakers highlighted the need for equity in other areas, including sexual orientation and gender identity as well as disability. Benson spoke of the ways that people are rendered invisible and less than human when pushed to the side — the gateway, she warned, to enabling violence against such people.
“This is not only a challenging time,” Benson said. “But this is a time for opportunity, growth and hope. Through unity, we can battle this together.”
You can reach Staff Writer Kaylee Tornay at 707-521-5250 or email@example.com. On Twitter @ka_tornay.
Education, The Press Democrat
Learning is a transformative experience. Beyond that, it’s a right, under the law, for every child in this country. But we also look to local schools to do much more than teach children; they are tasked with feeding them, socializing them and offering skills in leadership and civics. My job is to help you make sense of K-12 education in Sonoma County and beyond.