Sonoma County Black Forum’s main mission is to lead, uplift
After seeing the results of the frenzied 2016 presidential election, two Black educators in Santa Rosa were moved to mobilize.
“We felt like we had to come together to instill solidarity for what would be a difficult four years,” said Regina Brennan, a retired world history teacher.
In early 2017, Brennan, along with her Santa Rosa High School colleague Nzinga Woods, met with Black artists, activists, educators, business owners and organizations at a discussion session initiated by Letitia Hanke, president of the LIME Foundation. A few people began meeting regularly after that, and Brennan and Woods later formed the Sonoma County Black Forum, a volunteer-run nonprofit organization with the mission to lead, serve and thrive by shaping “intellectual discourse and dialog to consider the African American experience.”
“We started with the idea of Black voices coming together,” Brennan said. “And for such a small and young organization we’ve had a positive impact.”
The Sonoma County Black Forum grew momentum in its first couple of years as it partnered with the Black Students Union at Sonoma State University, where it held its annual youth summit for middle and high school students to learn about career and educational opportunities and financial literacy. It drew inspirational keynote speakers like George Hofstetter, a young Black tech entrepreneur and civil rights activist.
The youth summit, held for two consecutive Septembers, was canceled twice during the pandemic. They hope to be able to host it again in 2022.
“We like to pass on the torch to younger people, and help them get engaged,” Brennan said.
During the COVID-19 pandemic the nonprofit shifted its focus to its monthly food distribution events from September 2020 to March 2021, pausing to reassess community needs, according to Woods.
Food distribution, which consisted of 300 to 400 boxes of fresh donated food, took place at a parking lot at Santa Rosa High, where Woods worked as the co-director of the school’s ArtQuest program.
“We got eggs, milk, cheese, chickens and fresh vegetables from our community partners, who we’re so grateful for,” Woods said.
One of the groups the Black Forum partnered with for its food distribution was Farm to Pantry, a Healdsburg-based that gleans excess produce from local farms and distributes it to other organizations.
“2020 came around and between fires and the pandemic, the need for food skyrocketed,” said Brett Leduc, operations manager at Farm to Pantry. “It’s amazing to drop off fresh produce and see how excited people get.”
Another resource the Black Forum provided during the pandemic was an urban gardening workshop led by Claudia de la Pena, a farmer and the organization’s co-secretary who taught families how to grow their own food.
“We wanted to encourage them and provide access to information to grow their own food in their apartments, or in small spaces,” Woods said.
The Black Forum serves as a cohesive space for other Black organizations like Sonoma County NAACP to share updates and ideas.
An ongoing survey by the Black Forum asks local respondents what their greatest needs are as the community slowly emerges from the pandemic. Four needs were identified: rent money, food, jobs and mental health. Information for therapists of color are shared on every meeting agenda, Woods said.
Community members can contribute to the Sonoma County Black Forum by donating funds on their website sonomacountyblackforum.com/support-us.html.
Woods said there’s also a big need for volunteers at the next food distribution event in Santa Rosa on Jan. 22.
“We're really grateful and give gratitude to our community members for supporting us,” Woods said. “We could not do any of this without the volunteers and donations of the community.”