Juneteenth an opportunity to assess the experience of blacks in Santa Cruz – Santa Cruz Sentinel

SANTA CRUZ – A full list of events across Santa Cruz is slated for June 17, the anniversary of the emancipation of all African-American slaves which became a federal national holiday this week.

However, the commemoration is not only meant to be a sign of how far society has come. Black residents who spoke to the Sentinel this week demonstrated that it is also a reminder of all that remains to be done.

Put others at ease

Zendrea “Zen” Marshall went through much of her childhood and early adulthood putting others, especially whites, at ease, she said.

“It’s so backward when you think about it,” she said. “We have to catch up. It’s that innate thing.

Marshall, born and raised in Santa Cruz, said she recalled laughing at micro-attacks or indirect discriminatory statements directed at her in middle and high school. At the time, she didn’t think about depriving herself of her own comfort, she said.

“It’s a pretty big surf town, a pretty wealthy community of beachside people who are mostly white. There were a very small number of black people that I went to high school with, ”said the Santa Cruz high school graduate. “It was hard trying to feel like I belong there. “

After high school, Marshall became more outspoken about the racial inequalities that exist in America. Marshall said she got louder when George Floyd was assassinated by Minneapolis police last year.

Zen Marshall, from Santa Cruz, shows off one of her paintings, featuring transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson. Marshall loved to paint in high school but returned to the medium after George Floyd’s death to honor black excellence. (Courtesy of Zen Marshall)

Marshall’s volume peaked through his art, an avenue she said was not only safer than becoming a public figure at local protests, but also easier to understand for those who couldn’t spend time reading anti-racist literature.

“I chose to protest through my art, which recognized what people forget – everything the black community has done for this planet and for society,” the artist said of his painted portraits of rulers. blacks featured in spots such as 3 Bros Santa Cruz Dispensary. “Sometimes art is a little easier to understand than a big, long essay. Here we go again, it’s easier.

Because she frequently travels to Santa Cruz from her current Sacramento home, Marshall said, she always has unfortunate run-ins with people who don’t choose to fight the stigma created by their upbringing.

“The hard part is that some people are too stuck in their ways,” she said. “I know there are skinheads in the mountains, that’s why we couldn’t go there growing up… I think I have really bad vibes when I drive in Scotts Valley. This energy is very different, there is a change. I don’t want to get out of my car or talk to anyone. I feel more comfortable walking downtown.

Marshall recounted a recent interaction in which she entered Felton Market to shop with a small backpack and was asked to take it off and leave it in the front. A white woman entered the market soon after with a similar bag and was not asked to do the same. A white man then approached her outside to tell her how bad the situation was.

“What would have helped even more was if he had said something (in the store) to support me,” she said. “When you support a person of color, it validates their feelings like, ‘Yeah, I’m being discriminated against. “

Support the company

Capitola Design co-owner Troy Chasey was also inspired to create when the Black Lives Matter movement gained traction last year. Now his community has grown thanks to his website and the social media he created with his wife, called Santa Cruz owned by blacks – a directory that lists all interested black business owners such as Marshall.

Generally, Chasey said he felt supported by the Santa Cruz community, especially compared to areas where he previously resided. He said he’s faced much less negative attention for his skin color here. The behavior of the inhabitants, testifying to the way in which people perceive it, is sometimes distressing.

“Like black business owners anywhere, I had the experience of stepping into a meeting and knowing that I was no longer in consideration the moment they saw my skin,” he said. -he declares. “It’s similar to knowing you’re being followed through a store by security… or the sheriff pulling you over while I’m walking and being asked where I live.” “

Within a year, Chasey has seen a change in the way people of color are treated locally thanks to the dialogue around race that has opened up, a dialogue that was previously unwelcome. Part of this discussion highlights what can be done to make things better for people of color.

“It’s similar to the question we asked ourselves when we launched the directory,” he said.

Consequences for management

Curtis Reliford has traveled Santa Cruz County for years, setting up his bus and sound system to play what he describes as “peaceful music” to attract attention and raise donations for different causes.

Reliford sits in front of his bus, which he uses to collect and transport donations to Indian reservations across the country. Its signs read “Promote love, peace, kindness, compassion and empathy”. (Courtesy of Curtis Reliford)

Despite his good intentions at first raise funds and collect items for the victims of Hurricane Katrina and then for those in need on Indian reservations like Standing Rock, Reliford is used to receiving negative comments from passers-by or loud quotes from cops. He said he thought much of it had to do with being a black man.

“I want to let the county know that there are consequences I’m taking to get donations,” he said. “People come out and tell me I have to get moving when I’m promoting the cause and the next thing I know they’ve closed the street and everyone is playing music louder than me. I watch the white person do it and there is no repercussion; when I do, (I get) the police called me.

Things escalated for Reliford when he was allegedly assaulted by a white man calling him insults near West Cliff in September. He said he was sitting outside his trailer with words such as “love” and “kindness” when someone pulled one of his posters from the ground by his stake and started hitting him with it.

Reliford called the police and said he had to go to the ward several times for a report. Once he finally got it, he felt that the assistant district attorney he spoke to did not take him seriously.

“I’m a bit in limbo because the lawyer I had said he was going to stay with me, but he pulled out,” he said. “Nobody cared and I backed off because if I raised a problem about it, it would make me feel like, ‘Here we go, there’s another person throwing colors again. “”

The biggest problem in Santa Cruz, as well as in other areas visited by Reliford, is the lack of discussion of the differences that create social inequalities, he said.

“We could have an event in the heart of downtown, an event of community interest,” he said. “It would help us understand each other’s cultures and how we were brought up … I wonder how I could do it, but I could do it better with a lot more people (helping).”

Until this event occurs, Reliford will continue to dance to its trailer and answer people’s questions about events such as Juneteenth and movements to raise awareness of the historically unfair treatment of black people in this country, such as Black Lives Matter, means to him.

“Black lives don’t matter. I was walking right across the street and this lady rolled around and looked at me really mean, with her eye contact and body language… I’m just sharing my experiences with (people)… I’m not trying to complain. I’m just trying to explain.

About Geraldine Higgins

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