‘Moments of celebration, connection’: Berkeley celebrates Black History Month

Photo of people holding a Black Lives Matter flag
Kyle Garcia Takata/Staff
The city of Berkeley's raising of the Black Lives Matter flag symbolizes its intent to address institutionalized racism, according to a resolution passed by the city.

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The city of Berkeley, UC Berkeley and the Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, planned several events in honor of Black History Month.

Campus events included a speaker series on equity and access in education and various discussions on topics including abolition and voter suppression. The city of Berkeley raised the Black Lives Matter flag at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park on Feb. 3, said city spokesperson Stefan Elgstrand.

“Black History Month is a celebration of Black joy, acknowledging the many contributions historically and currently from the Black community,” said Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, spokesperson Trish McDermott.

The flag ceremony is a symbolic extension affirming the city’s commitment to “address institutionalized racism, advance justice and foster equality and justice,” according to a resolution passed unanimously in 2021 authorizing the city to fly the Black Lives Matter Flag annually throughout the month of February.

During the first week of February, BUSD hosted a variety of activities to celebrate Black Lives Matter, such as musical performances and assemblies. BUSD school libraries each received around five to 10 new books from its Black history reading list, McDermott said.

“(It’s) important to remember that Black history is not limited to the month of February,” McDermott said.

She added that activities and lessons have been embedded into the curriculum to teach Black history through music and minilessons featuring Black musicians and their histories at each grade level throughout the school year.

BUSD will also host its fifth annual Black History Oratorical Fest on April 21 and 28. This year’s theme is “Get up! Speak up! Demonstrate Black Resilience, and Joy!” It is part of the school’s larger celebration of Black Lives Matter, as well as an opportunity for students to share not only their oratorical skills but also their “passion relative to what it means to be Black and a student today,” McDermott said.

McDermott added the competition was in-person prior to the COVID-19 pandemic but it has moved online due to crowd size limitations. While the pandemic has altered the ways in which events are carried out, McDermott said, it has neither changed the commitments of BUSD teachers nor the passion of students to learn about and celebrate Black history and Black community members.

Campus hosted a series of events to celebrate Black History Month to “highlight achievements, tribulations and everyday experiences across UC Berkeley’s increasingly diverse Black community,” said Dania Matos, campus’s vice chancellor for equity and inclusion, in an email.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, or Berkeley Lab, hosted a series of virtual speaker events with the theme of “Plan of Action,” highlighting Black lab employees discussing their career trajectory, experiences, or significant accomplishments.

“The theme is representative of the significant Black/African Americans such as Martin Luther King, Jr, Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman and many others that had plans to move Black/African Americans from a place of despair, oppression and hopelessness,” said Miles Green, an audio visual specialist at Berkeley Lab, in an email.

Green is also a member of the African American Employee Resource Group, or AAERG, an affinity group within the Berkeley Lab.

AAERG worked with the Berkeley Lab Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office to develop Zoom backgrounds for virtual events to help employees feel more connected to the occasion theme during virtual events, Green said in the email.

In addition, the Cal Black Alumni Association hosted a discussion with Brandon Nicholson, a founding executive director of the Hidden Genius Project, to explore equity and access in education Feb. 9.

Likewise, campus’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute hosted a virtual discussion on “Safety without policing, prisons and punishment” with Zach Norris of Ella Baker Center on Feb. 4. It also held a virtual talk with Abdi Soltani of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California on “Voter Suppression” Feb. 18.

“Whether members of the campus community attend a campus event, connect with a colleague or friend, or reflect privately on the Black experience, I hope everyone finds moments of celebration, connection, agency and critical inquiry,” Matos said.

Contact Winnie Lau at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @winniewy_lau.