It wasn’t so long ago that the Black Lives Matter movement emerged to challenge racial inequity during the second term of the nation’s first black president. More recently, his successor has mounted public attacks against black athletes for taking a knee during the national anthem.

These are complicated times, so we asked local luminaries from different walks of the black experience to share their thoughts on Black History Month as a living, evolving cultural statement.

Reconcile with Truth

“Black History Month is every month. It exists in accepting history and understanding the systematic destruction and distortion of African-American history that made Black History Month necessary. Wonder what a white history month would be like in America? Just pick up any history book prior to 1970. Malcolm X was quoted as defining history as ‘his story’ — whoever is telling his story should write his own history. Afro-American history is rich in invention, the arts, the sciences, the military and touches every area of human existence. Afro-American, Irish-American, First Nations, Latinos and so many more should be woven into the fabric of America, not left behind or dismissed or marginalized. This is not just the nation of richness in money, but richness in diversity. We should applaud all and ignore none.”

— Santa Monica-based photographer and filmmaker D Stevens, who shot key art for “Boyz N The Hood,” “The Tuskegee Airmen” and the Jackie Robinson biopic “42”


Lead the Charge

“Whether it be a call to action against racial inequality in our justice system, police brutality, the NFL protests, participation in the #MeToo movement, or any number of human rights and social inequality battles in 2017 and 2018, it was the black community who was leading the charge. Black folks know how to organize. We know how to stand unified. We know how to get things done. We influence entertainment and culture more than ever. We speak out as courageous activists. We lead the next generation as teachers, coaches, pastors and elected officials. We are business leaders and athletes. We are physicians and lawyers and among the greatest of United States presidents and first ladies. Yes, race is still a barrier in many places across this country, but it won’t get any better unless we keep reminding people of what we’ve done and showing them all that we can do to make this country better than it’s ever been.”

— California Assemblywoman Autumn Burke (D- Marina del Rey)


Raise a Fist

“What stands out to me is an historic event that took place last month: 1968 Olympic gold medalist Tommie Smith came back to Santa Monica College and honored us by being the keynote speaker for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The room erupted in applause when his name was called. 2017 was a powerful year of protests coming out of the hearts of people, and I was amazed at the reception for a man who raised a black fist for equity and justice on the Olympic podium 50 years ago, when it wasn’t a very popular thing to do.”

— Nat Trives, a civic activist who was Santa Monica’s first African-American mayor

Be the Change

“This year’s Black History Month has special poignancy. After a full year of photo ops for hate-filled rage, from
white supremacists
on the march in Charlottesville to angry Twitter rants against nonviolent protesters ‘taking a knee’ and actual threats of lynching, torching or robbing
of students on campuses across the nation, black artists can use the arsenal of weapons in their quivers — beauty,
love, inclusivity, caring, diversity and compassion — to paint, sculpt, sing,
dance and perform our way to the systemic change that will ensure true equality and real democracy now, once and for all. This is what black artists do and have always done.”

— Lenore French, organizer of the Mar Vista Art Walk

Dig up the Past

“Now more than ever it’s important to delve into the trials and tribulations of the past and discuss how they relate to the future. The United States doesn’t get a chance to be more American than during the 28 days
of Black History Month. Issues like equity and voting rights have come to the forefront in 2017 and 2018, a moment of uprising. I’m very pleased about Black History Month this
year and that people are able to celebrate the contributions of people
of African descent.”

— Stefan Bradley, associate professor of African-American studies at Loyola Marymount University


Say it Proud

“There are 28 days in February. Each one of those days should be speaking to something positive about the black American experience. … I think with a white supremacist president we have to speak more about the prestige, the opportunities and the contributions that African Americans have given to make this a wonderful and great country. And those things need to be spoken about from day 1 of February to day 28 of February. We need more of that.”

— Art Sims, founder of 11:24 Design in Playa del Rey and creator of the film posters for “Black Panther,” “Do the Right Thing,” “Malcom X” and “The Color Purple”