The Isla Vista Recreation & Park District hosted its second annual “Forward Ever Backward Never” celebration on Feb. 28 in the Isla Vista Community Center to conclude Black History Month.
The event was in collaboration with the Associated Students (A.S.) Commission on Culture, Arts, and Joy Justice (CCAJJ), Black Student Union (BSU), I.V. Arts and the Office of Black Student Development (OBSD). The celebration was primarily sponsored by the I.V. Community Relations Committee, an A.S. committee that works to fund on-campus and off-campus groups that work toward improving I.V.
Graduate student in the UCSB education department and co-chair of CCAJJ Charlene Macharia spoke to the celebration calling for cross-cultural allyship. She said that many spaces calling for cross-cultural allyship base it on “mourning” or “anger,” and that it’s important to celebrate one another as well.
“When there’s a call for allyship, it’s around something that has happened … and it’s usually in times of mourning or anger,” she said. “But, I think this is unique that we’re actually calling for a celebration … and I think that’s when it breaks a lot of barriers.”
“We’re just seeing each other as humans who are worthy of joy, worthy of just existing and being [a] community,” Macharia continued in lieu of the event. “We’re just coming by, doing human things, eating together, listening to music and I think that’s powerful.”
The celebration, which was originally set in Little Acorn Park and changed due to weather conditions, began with a land acknowledgment, performance and speech by Chumash community member Aleqwel Mendoza, who performed the traditional “swordfish song,” which represents life, spoke about the history of the Chumash people and land and ended with a “welcome song.”
“It’s our story before history,” Mendoza said in an interview with the Nexus regarding the land acknowledgment. “It’s really exciting because it actually creates recognition that we exist.”
Third-year economics major Michelle Ohwobete then sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” written by James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamond Johnson — a song historically used as an anthem for Black pride and protest.
The event then moved into its first group performance of the evening with The Rahka’s, a reggae and soul band that was invited back after performing for “Forward Ever Backward Never” last year. The group performed a list of songs nostalgic to Black culture, including “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone and music by Bob Marley.
“We’re all about community, and if you look at the lineup of my band, we represent all four corners of the Earth,” The Rahka’s band member Alla Rahka McKeon said in an interview with the Nexus. “We chose a set list that speaks to a lot of people and that sparks a familiar chord with them.”
During The Rahka’s performance, planning members served soul food prepared by BSU members and individuals from other involved groups to the guests, including chicken wings and macaroni and cheese.
The event also featured spoken word poetry, a DJ set by BSU President and fourth-year chemistry major Ethan George and a discussion panel with Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies professor and Director of Repository for Archaeological and Ethnographic Collections Gerardo Aldana. The celebration concluded with a film screening of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.”
Second-year statistics and data science and Black studies double major and event attendee Zoe McCullough said she loved the nostalgia and community feeling of this year’s “Forward Ever Backward Never” event.
“It feels like a cookout, it feels like a block party,” she said. “There’s good music, there’s soul food — it feels like a welcoming environment.”
Second-year computer science major and event attendee Towela Phiri emphasized that events like this recognize the Black student population while celebrating the community’s existence.
“I think it’s important to recognize all the students we have on campus, especially Black students, who are minorities,” she said. “It’s just good to recognize our existence and come together to celebrate each other.”
McCullough echoed Phiri’s sentiment, saying that the Black narrative has been historically driven by trauma and hardship — so it’s imperative to have events that are focused on Black joy and progress.
“I feel like so much that is understood about the Black narrative in America is trauma-based. We don’t really celebrate how intelligent we are, how creative we are, what we can do when we come together as a community,” she said.
Last year, the Isla Vista Recreation & Park District (IVRPD) only collaborated with OBSD for last year’s “Forward Ever Backward Never” event, but IVRPD Recreation Coordinator Sophia Lake said it was important to the organizers to include a variety of organizations with this year’s celebration.
“This year, we really wanted to reach out to other Black organizations, as well to get more planning and more creative minds in the planning process,” Lake said.
Fourth-year sociology major and BSU Interim Development Coordinator Kylah Jordan said the expansion of this year’s celebration reflects the importance of having representatives from a variety of Black entities for an event honoring Black History Month.
“I think it really is significant for us to have representatives from those Black organizations there and helping with the planning, incorporating their ideas, whatever the case may be,” Jordan said. “I do think this year is going to be a lot more significant, a lot more memorable.”
Macharia said the expansion of this year’s celebration spans across cultures with the incorporation of the Indigenous peoples in the schedule for the event. She spoke of racial groups historically being isolated from one another in America and the importance of having gatherings that create allyships between the Black community and other minorities.
“Black history is world history, all of our histories are intertwined. It didn’t happen in a vacuum,” Macharia said. “We should be celebrating the contribution of Black people while also recognizing allyship.”
“It’s time for America to really break from those boxes and really work together in recognizing and honoring the contribution of Indigenous people, the different enslaved Africans who were brought here,” she continued.
Noting the extremely small population of Black students at UCSB, Jordan said this event is to also foster community between Black students and Black staff.
“The population of Black students at UCSB is only 4%, so we do have a very small population,” she said. “This event is also supposed to bring in Black staff … who can learn and recognize Isla Vista since a lot of them commute and don’t really come to Isla Vista and actually look around.”
Jordan said this event will hopefully spark stronger relationships between the entities involved to promote future collaborations.
“It’s just a time where all of us just come together at one big event … just really enjoying Black culture and expressing that with other people who enjoy it as well,” she said.
McCullough expressed hope that this event helped show the strength of the Black community and that Black History Month is not the only month of the year to celebrate Black accomplishments, joy, pride and progress.
“It’s really nice to be able to come together and see people who look like you and actually have a sense of community,” she said. “It’s really important to close out Black History Month because this is really the only calendar month of the year where we get treated a little bit better.”
“We’re not going anywhere, and we are just as essential to America too,” McCullough continued. “Every month is Black History Month.”
A version of this article appeared on p. 1 of the March 2, 2023, print edition of the Daily Nexus.