Libraries and schools throughout the Tri-Valley mainly remain closed, indoor activities are at a halt and in-person gatherings are still discouraged.
But even in the face of these pandemic restrictions, Black History Month celebrations carry on here, taking shape virtually through webinars on video conferencing platforms and social media campaigns to disburse educational material and pay tribute to the contributions of Black culture on society.
"I feel that people in the Tri-Valley and nationwide need to be aware and understand that Black Americans have and continue to contribute tremendously to society and this country," Dublin community organizer Regis Harvey said.
He added that he wants society to have a more holistic view of Black people and to not see them just as laborers, entertainers, athletes or threats.
"So many look at us as the bottom of the social class or ladder but not as equal human beings," said Harvey, who is a member of the Diablo Black Men's Group, Dublin's Diversity & Inclusion Alliance and Tri-Valley for Black Lives. "A lot of people love Black culture and music but don't love Black people. And the fundamental reason why is because so many people are taught this behavior and ideology."
While the month of February has been recognized as Black History Month throughout the United States since 1976, this year poses a unique set of challenges related to both the pandemic and the reinvigorated conversations about racism, diversity and inclusion following the racial justice uprisings that came to a head last summer after the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis on Memorial Day 2020.
Tri-Valley for Black Lives, a community group that was created in response to the events of the summer, is using its social media platform to highlight historical Black figures this month. The group is also collecting personal stories from Black Tri-Valley community members for a social media campaign in an effort to "amplify Black voices."
In addition to its digital content, the group is placing books written by Black authors and featuring Black characters in Little Free Libraries in Livermore and Pleasanton.
One of those books, "Black Brother, Black Brother" by Jewell Parker Rhodes is currently being read by the Pleasanton Unified School District African American Family Network book club.
Literature, dialogue and education have been at the core of many Black History Month events in the area. Local libraries have been leading the charge in offering ways for people to learn about Black culture and history from home.
"Usually we would have a display in our gallery at the Civic Center Library and we would have events in our community rooms. But of course the library's closed, so we had to do things virtually," said librarian Paul Sevilla who is the lead organizer for this year's Livermore Reads Together program, which features the "March" trilogy graphic novel series written by late civil rights activist and U.S. Rep. John Lewis with co-author Andrew Aydin and illustrator Nate Powell.
"We wanted to tie in this year's Livermore Reads Together program with Black History Month, and we wanted to choose a book that appeals to a lot of readers, especially teens," Sevilla said, adding that in the 15 years of the annual community reading program, this is the first time they've chosen a graphic novel and the first time that they've combined it with Black History Month.
As part of Livermore Reads Together, the library and the Livermore Shakespeare Festival presented a virtual readers theater of "March" with volunteer actors from the office of strategic diversity and inclusion programs at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Sevilla said that in addition to local community members, people tuned into the performance from the East Coast as well as Australia and the United Kingdom. He added that the ability for people to access their events from across the world has been a positive outcome of pivoting to this digital format.
Other library programs for Black History Month included a discussion about racism that featured a panel of Black educators and storytellers along with Livermore Vice Mayor Trish Munro.
A screening of the documentary "Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools" is set for next Wednesday (Feb. 24). According to the library's website, the film "takes a close look at the educational, judicial and societal disparities facing Black girls."
Throughout the entire month, the library is also offering a Black Lives Matter sign-making activity for youth and teens.
"We're definitely going to be doing more programs for racial justice and Black history throughout the year," Sevilla said. "Equity and diversity and inclusion is something that the library is committed to year-round, so that's something that's definitely on the horizon."
The Pleasanton Library is hosting programs as well in observance of Black History Month, including a Kanopy Film Club screening of the Academy Award-winning film "Moonlight" in which a young Black man battles with his identity while simultaneously grappling with the struggles of everyday life. The virtual screening is set for next Saturday (Feb. 27) at 3 p.m.
This Friday (Feb. 19), the library is dedicating one of its weekly virtual "Story Time" events to Black History Month by showcasing a selection of stories from Black authors and about Black history and culture.
Throughout the entire month of February, library users are encouraged to request "Black History Month Book Bundles," which includes a selection of titles handpicked by library staff. Readers can request anything from bestselling Black authors, to autobiographies of notable Black leaders, to novels about Black culture, or even a collection of Black romance novels, according to library staff.
In addition to its events, the Pleasanton Library provides access to online resources year-round, like the ProQuest research tool that is available to all library card holders and features a database of newspapers, ebooks, journals, webinars and other educational material. The video streaming service Kanopy is also available through the library, which offers a variety of films to choose from, including many that explore Black history and culture.
Youth-led organizations have taken their own innovative approaches to celebrating Black History Month this year.
Diversify Granada -- which is led by a group of Granada High School seniors -- held a "Diversity in Literature" conference earlier this month featuring Bay Area children's book authors from various ethnic backgrounds: Angela Dalton, Alex Giardino, Innosanto Nagara, Mae Respicio and Meera Sriram.
Although held in February, the conference was not directly tied to Black History Month as not all of the authors are Black, but organizers said the idea for the event was sparked by the Black Lives Matter protests of last summer. "We hoped to do something to contribute to the movement in our own community," organizers told the Weekly in an email.
Dublin High School's Black Student Union (BSU) is hosting weekly talks on Instagram Live throughout the month where members share insight about the overall Black experience, including within their own families.
They're also planning to host a public movie night at the end of the month and they are curating a digital playlist to share of Black music through the decades from the 1970s to the 2010s, according to the group's president Denel McMahan, who was recognized last month as a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Award recipient by the Pleasanton Community of Character Collaborative.
A special video bulletin that is distributed to the Dublin High community is set to air next Wednesday and includes members of the BSU showcasing different aspects of Black culture, including a tutorial on hair braiding by BSU vice president Alexis Williams and a cooking segment with McMahan making the traditional Louisiana Creole dish, "Dirty Rice," among other highlights.
The BSU groups at Foothill and Amador Valley high schools in Pleasanton have teamed up to start organizing a fundraiser that they hope to launch this month to raise money for future programs and to send their members to next year's Black College Expo, a traveling college fair geared toward Black youth and teens. While the event is still in the planning stages, Foothill BSU social media coordinator Aria Harris said they will promote finalized details through social media.
Las Positas College has held virtual events all month-long, including a talk on "How to Address Social Equity & Justice in the Workplace," a discussion on Black hair and a "Yoga for Black Excellence" class. Some of their upcoming events are a conversation about the Afro-Latinx experience set for Tuesday (Feb. 23) and a "Black Scholars Family Night" set for next Thursday (Feb. 25), honoring students who earned a GPA of 3.0 or above for the fall term.
Though Black History Month is a period used to uplift the achievements of Black people, it's also an opportunity to address issues facing the Black community such as systemic disparities.
The city of San Ramon proclaimed February as Black History Month and Feb. 14-20 as African American Mental Health Awareness Week during its regular City Council meeting last week. Mayor Dave Hudson said they were "two of the best proclamations I've ever had the honor of reading," after thanking staff members for writing the documents.
Earlier that same day, Feb. 9, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors adopted similar proclamations recognizing the week of Feb. 21-27 as "People of African Descent Mental
Health Awareness Week" and Feb. 21 as "Day of Black Consciousness!"
"According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population," Board President Keith Carson read from the proclamation.
From his own perspective, Carson, who is Black, added: "It's been rewarding to know that a number of counties across California and around the country have looked at the structures that Alameda County has had to address the issues related to mental health in this community and particularly focused on the African American community as we celebrate Black History Month."
Black History Month resources
For more information on events in the Tri-Valley this month and beyond, visit these organizations:
Diablo Black Men's Group: dbmg.org/index.html
Dublin Diversity Inclusion Alliance: facebook.com/DIAdublin
Dublin High School BSU: @dublinhsbsu on Instagram
Foothill High School BSU: @foothillblackstudentunion on Instagram
Las Positas College: laspositascollege.edu/blackhistory
Livermore Library: cityoflivermore.net/citygov/lib
Pleasanton Library: cityofpleasantonca.gov/gov/depts/lib
Tri-Valley for Black Lives: @tv4blacklives on Facebook and Instagram