The Isla Vista Recreation & Park District held its third annual “Forward Ever, Backward Never” event to commemorate Black History Month on Feb. 27. The event featured art, music, food and poetry, as well as a tribute to poet Sojourner Kincaid Rolle in collaboration with music group the Rahkas.

Anushka Ghosh Dastidar / Daily Nexus

Joined by UC Santa Barbara Black Student Union (BSU), UCSB African diasporic Cultural Resource Center, UCSB Associated Students Commission on Culture, Arts, and Joy Justice and the Rahkas, the Isla Vista Recreation & Park District (IVRPD) hosted the event at the Isla Vista Community Center as a way to unite the Black community and honor Black culture.

“More than ever, it is important to celebrate Black culture and community. Our district is proud to create safe and inclusive events within the community for meaningful and positive experiences,” IVRPD General Manager Kimberly Kiefer said.

The event began with fourth-year economics major Michelle Ohwobete reciting the Black National Anthem, followed by a children’s storytelling session by Betty Bynum and Joshua Drummond, authors known for “I’m a Brilliant Little Black Boy!” — a picture book empowering young Black children. Bynum stated her reason for participating in the children’s storytime included supporting the Black student community at UCSB. 

“I was invited by [Office of Black Student Development Director] Elroy Pinks, who is a longtime friend of mine and has known of my company and my books and has always supported me. I absolutely said ‘yes’ in order to support students and the Black students and the cultural movement that he is doing at UC Santa Barbara,” Bynum said.

Anushka Ghosh Dastidar / Daily Nexus

Pinks said in a press release that the event was held to celebrate Black history while welcoming the future greatness of Black people as a collective.

“We celebrate how far we’ve come, resonate on all we are doing today and acknowledge the promise of great things to come in the future. We recognize that Black history is American history; it is world history; and it will continue to be so in our collective future!” Pinks said.

Musician and performer Sade Champagne then led a spoken word poetry presentation. Champagne expressed her love for the community and the motivation behind her performance. 

“I love being in Isla Vista. I’m also so thankful for everything that all the students and administrators are doing in the community. Anytime I can come and be a part of what’s happening, I love to and then what better time than for Black History Month,” Champagne said.

Rahkas’ singer and one of the co-founders of the “Forward Ever, Backward Never” event Alla McKeon discussed their tribute to Santa Barbara-based “playwright, producer, poet, author, advocate, historian and teacher” Rolle.

“Honoring Sojourner Kincade Rolle through the Native land acknowledgment, the ceremonial drumming and dancing, the delicious soul food and musical entertainment is truly an enriching gift and important cultural event,” McKeon said.

Fourth-year dance and global studies double major and BSU President Racheal Conley described how the event has changed from previous years due to student need, and their incentive for continuing the event as an annual tradition.

“We have continued to take student responses on ways we can make the event better. Black students are a minority within the community of our school and Isla Vista. It is important that we continue to take up space and celebrate Black people loudly and proudly,” Conley said. 

“The turnout was amazing, we had so many different age groups, faculty, children and students. In the future, we want to continue to do outreach so all can enjoy the event in the community,” she continued. 

The event was concluded with a closing ceremony performance by Groupo Izkalot Tolteka, a local Chumash group.

Attendees were also able to participate in a raffle for educational books and a “Black Wall Street” board game, witness an Indigenous drum circle and hear a live DJ set. Food including mac and cheese, fried chicken and banana bread from Soul Bites — a downtown Santa Barbara Black family-owned Southern restaurant — was also given out for free.

“We are here celebrating Black lives, Black History, Black culture. Events like this are just so empowering to me as a student and I just love having this annual event that showcases Black lives and Black joy.” Third-year sociology major and BSU membership development coordinator Jaz’myne Gates said. 

A version of this article appeared on p. 4 of the Feb. 29, 2024, print edition of the Daily Nexus.


Anushka Ghosh Dastidar
Anushka Ghosh Dastidar (she/her) is the Community Outreach News Editor for the 2023-24 school year. Previously, Ghosh Dastidar was the Assistant News Editor for the 2022-2023 school year. She can be reached at or