More than 250 people turned out to celebrate Black History Month at Preisker Park on Feb. 21. The event featured speeches, dances, poetry and free barbecue chicken lunches. It was sponsored by four organizations that are part of the North County Coalition.

Lawanda Lyons-Pruitt, president of the Santa Maria/Lompoc NAACP, said she was glad that the progressive organizations have come together because they have a common interest, and she was heartened by the diversity of the crowd that attended.

“Even though it says that it’s Black History Month, it’s American history, and people recognize the historical contributions that black African Americans have made, and they want to share in it and celebrate,” Lawanda said. “No matter what color you are, everyone has contributed something to our society, and we value their contribution.”

“The nicest part about this event is that it shows what a collaborative community we have,” said Hazel Putney-Davalos as to why Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) was involved with the event. “I definitely wanted to show solidarity with the NAACP and all the other groups here and get out general information about our organization and the people we work with.”

Vibiana Saavedra is the president of the Democratic Club of the Santa Maria Valley: “We believe the message that civil rights is absolutely critical to the health of this nation -- economic rights, you name it, whatever right there is that we need to be moving forward on -- this is where we really come together to express that.”

Yesenia DeCasaus, Central California Regional Coordinator for the United Domestic Workers (UDW/AFSCME 3930), said it was important to realize how multicultural the community is in Santa Maria. “We wanted to bring different cultures together and recognize February as Black History Month, not only to learn about black history, but you noticed we had also Hispanic dancers. (There were) two, three multicultural things going on.”

Two speakers talked about the recent movie “Selma” and the story it told about the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches.

Dr. Denise Isom, professor of ethnic studies at Cal Poly, said it took a lot of courage to do what the people did: “I look at them and I’m mesmerized by their courage. It seems superhuman … but they were just folks. They were us, which made me think if they were we and we are they then I have within me the capacity for that kind of courage … In my pondering of it, I keep coming back to three things: They knew themselves. They loved us beyond the telling of it. And community, community, community.”

Congresswoman Lois Capps said she supported legislation in Congress to update the voting rights act and reestablish protections the Supreme Court has taken away.

“Our work is not complete. We haven’t finished," she said. "We have to keep reminding ourselves that to truly complete this vision of equality and justice for all we cannot take for granted that we now need equality and justice every day. We have to remember that each day is an opportunity to be part of that change.”

Kevin Walthers, superintendent/president of Hancock College, thanked the NAACP for the help they gave when they had a problem at the college recently, and he said the college can help: “We’re changing the odds for our community. We’re glad to be a part of it.”

Six girls from El Padrecito Dance Studio of Guadalupe performed some folkloric dances.

“This is a big thing for them to be up there,” said Father Masseo Gonzales who founded the studio. “I don’t know if people always get that kind of attention in the spotlight … Research shows if they are exposed to the arts when they are young they do better socially. It means a lot of them. Time to shine!”

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Jeanne Sparks is a writer, photographer and graphic artist. Send story ideas to jeanne@jeannesparks.com.