February of 2021 is the first Black History Month since the beginning of widespread Black Lives Matter protests throughout the United States following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police last May.
One local community group that has been initiating change and spreading awareness since the onset of these protests is SCV For Change. SCV For Change is a grassroots community organization that was started by a group of young people whose goal was to bring Black Lives Matter and the causes of other similar organizations to Santa Clarita. The idea was soon taken over by local activists Lauryn Valley — who is also a current member of the Santa Clarita Human Relations Roundtable — and Megan Duncan. Soon after, Sebastian Cazares and Jess Conrad joined the group, planning protests, organizing donation drives and talking to the Santa Clarita City Council about making important changes in the community.
“We’ve done a lot of different donation drives, like various different ones. Also helping out with our friend Jordan’s LOV Movement, they do weekly drops of clothes and stuff for Skid Row so we’ve helped out with those a bunch. We’ve also done some school supply donation drives,” Conrad said. “What we’ve started doing recently is the community fridges. There’s a network of community fridges around LA, basically just fridges for people to get free food for people who need it. At least once a month, usually more like twice a month, Lauryn and I will go pick up some food and drive around to a couple different community fridges and fill them up.”
SCV For Change is also planning on opening a community fridge right here in Santa Clarita. They hope to have this project up and running soon, and are currently looking for volunteers and businesses or buildings that would be willing to have the community fridge on their premises.
“I personally loved the Juneteenth event… There was 100-plus people that came out and it was amazing to see the actual Black community in Santa Clarita because up until the protests [last] summer, we didn’t really have a voice in this community. That was really cool to be able to put on an event for that holiday that’s never actually celebrated,” Valley said. “I feel like everything that we’ve done so far, as we’re doing it we don’t notice how big it’s going to be, even when we’re at that event or in that meeting we still don’t notice until way after it’s happened.”
Aside from community events and donation drives, SCV For Change has made a point to plan weekly protests, standing on the corner of McBean Parkway and Valencia Boulevard every Sunday. Valley and Conrad explained that these protests are vital, especially as protests across the country are beginning to dwindle since their surge last summer.
“Black lives still matter… Staying out there on that street corner, it’s like a sign of hope. We get so many comments from people that are like, ‘I’m so glad that you guys are still out there!’ It’s so important to show your support in any small way because BLM was not about the Trump administration. It was simply Black lives matter, a response to police brutality,” Valley said. “Somehow, BLM has become the response to literally every single thing that Black people do, when it’s just a response to police brutality. As long as Black people are still being killed by the police, BLM still matters. You will still see us out there. As long as we’re able to be out there, we’ll be out there. It’s so important to us that we show up… We have that tool of that anger, which is why so many people were out there [last summer], but now that a name is not trending every day, people have kind of lost that rage. But there’s still that movement, we still know that they’re still being murdered… We’re out there because we’re angry with a purpose. And if you’re not angry with a purpose, if you’re not using that anger and that rage to actually fuel change, then you’re not really doing anything.”
SCV For Change’s weekly protests still continue every Sunday, however less people have been in attendance as of late, as attention towards the Black Lives Matter movement has decreased. Cazares, a local activist and the youngest elected official in Santa Clarita history serving on the College of the Canyons Board of Trustees, comes out to these weekly protests every Sunday that he can.
“It’s definitely died down. When we were first organizing, it was crazy. I used to be out in SCV almost every day, leading a march or something, and we would have like hundreds [of people], like daily,” Cazares said at this past Sunday’s protest. “The more things calmed down, it’s recently usually the same people. If we get lucky, if there’s some energy, there might be like 10 to 20 [people] max, but usually it’s consistently like in the five to 10 range. But we still come out, because the people still honk, the visibility still makes a difference. The movement never ended.”
SCV For Change has been organizing sit outs, protests and other events since last summer. For this year’s Black History Month, they are planning to continue with these weekly protests, organizing events — such as a city-wide scavenger hunt — and promoting local Black-owned businesses through their Instagram.
“The scavenger hunt is just something that we kind of have been talking about for a month or two. It’s just something family-friendly, we haven’t really done an event in awhile because [COVID-19] cases are so high, you know, people’s momentum kind of dropped off. But it’s basically just around Santa Clarita, people will register, they’ll get the start pack, so if you don’t register you won’t know where to go,” Valley said. “The prizes up for grabs are a mobile car wash $50 gift card, a facial worth $95 and then a gift card to Madison Rose Bakery, who is a gluten-free, vegan baker (not all of her stuff is gluten-free and vegan, but she does do those options). All three are Black-owned. We really want to support Black-owned businesses. It’s just a fun, free event where you just win things. It has nothing to do with politics, it’s just simple, easy, come out, have a good day.”
Valley continued, “As far as what else we’re doing for Black History Month, I feel like just promoting actual Black history. There has been some things that we definitely disapprove of with the [William S.] Hart District School Board, and their decisions to kind of scrap all reading material that has to do with racism, so we do have some things in the works with that, I don’t want to get too specific, but definitely working towards making a more inclusive curriculum is a really big thing, and that exceeds just Black History Month. That should be a thing no matter what month it is. The district is so behind on that.”
Valley and Conrad also expressed concerns when it came to the whitewashing of Black history, especially when reflecting upon past experiences in Santa Clarita.
“I was asked to be a part of that Martin Luther King Day video that the city put out, and when I had asked them, ‘Oh, are you guys going to talk about his activism or anything like that?’ I was told basically, ‘No,’” Valley said. “That it was just going to be a video about unity. That’s such whitewashing of Black history. You did not just say, ‘Let’s all just hold hands and forgive that your neighbor is racist, because we can just overcome it with love.’ The man was radical. By just ignoring that to be like, ‘Oh, we should fight racism,’ but not actually addressing it or putting in a plan to do so, that’s not really honoring his legacy.”
As Conrad put it, “The likelihood of the city saying something that we don’t approve of is high. So, we’re certainly prepared to correct anything like that. There’s a lot of whitewashing that goes on.”
The city’s video, titled “Martin Luther King Jr. Service Celebration 2021,” served as “a celebration of Dr. King and [featured] community members, local youth, members of the City of Santa Clarita Human Relations Roundtable, and City Council members sharing what Martin Luther King means to them,” as said by Jim Ventress, former professional officer of the Boys and Girls Club, in the video.
“We will be also be honoring Dr. King by remembering life through his words, photos, and videos and hopefully inspiring the next generation to learn about him and his teachings,” Ventress said in the video.
“We are being mindful of the conversations taking place in the community, especially after the many protests and calls for racial justice over the last year,” said Carrie Lujan, communications manager for the city of Santa Clarita. “With the new version of the Human Relations Roundtable now beginning to meet, the city is looking to expand opportunities for residents to learn about key figures, holidays, events and celebrations which represent the diverse community of Santa Clarita.”
Black History Month was created with the intent to pay tribute to generations of Black Americans, and to reflect upon Black history. However, from the whitewashing of Black history to the ways in which racism has remained undoubtedly prevalent, it’s clear that the goals behind Black History Month have fallen short.
As SCV For Change wrote in an Instagram post on February 1, “We’re descendants of slaves who were physically and mentally abused. They were property and denied access to education. Freeing of the slaves didn’t change that, they still didn’t have access to education and wouldn’t be hired in fields outside of manual labor. While white people were obtaining land, getting an education and building up generational wealth… we were left behind by rules & [sic] laws they created… And don’t start saying that it isn’t possible, reparations were paid to Native Americans and Japanese Americans, rightfully so. However, African Americans have never received more than Black History month which is, by the way, the shortest month of the year. The [Department of Defense] budget is an unfathomable 740B [sic] dollars and don’t get us started on police budgets. So it’s not that there ISN’T money, there just isn’t money for US. Black men and women literally built this country, built that ugly ass White House too. To this day many of us are still being left behind and abused in this country. We deserve better. We’ve earned it.”
Overall, SCV For Change hopes to foster positive and radical change in Santa Clarita, as well as to help build a growing community. “I think one of the coolest things for me has been, and this isn’t something that SCV For Change has done exclusively but we’ve been a part of it, is just seeing kind of the process of community being built where there wasn’t any before,” Conrad said. “Santa Clarita is a place where, in the past, there really hasn’t been any kind of community or organization, at least certainly not on a large scale… Over the past year, there’s been so much more of that… there’s certainly a network now of people and groups that want to try and build something long-lasting in Santa Clarita, which I think is relatively new.”
“I think that I want SCV For Change to be a part of building a foundation for future activism and community aid work in the Santa Clarita Valley,” Conrad concluded. “There’s so much that we want to try and work on and try and help.”
To stay up-to-date with events held by SCV For Change, go to their Instagram page @scvforchange or their website scvforchange.com. Their website lists ways to get involved with activities like donation drives and community fridges, as well as ways to contribute to the movement from home under their “Act in 60 Seconds or Less” page. SCV For Change also accepts donations through their PayPal or Cashapp, $scvforchange.