April 2, 2024
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Guest commentary: Why I helped form the California Central Coast Black Resiliency Fund

IN THIS ARTICLE

By Richard Beswick

Most people who know me know that I hate talking about myself, but today I’d like to make an exception.  

As a child growing up in the inner city of south Minneapolis, I never questioned my parents’ position in society or why we lived where we lived.

I came to expect no more for myself than what my parents already had.

My parents usually had just enough money to survive to the next paycheck most weeks but when they were short my parents pawned items to make ends meet. 

I can say today that what we lacked in money never mattered because we were rich in love. 

A FAMILY’S STRUGGLES

My parents immigrated to the United States from Jamaica in the early 1970s and worked hard to give me and my 3 siblings opportunities they never had. 

My mother cleaned offices at the phone company, and I remember her idealizing the one and only Black executive that she saw in the office.  

She spoke of his suits and the way he carried himself and how one day her children would have the opportunities afforded to him and not the opportunities afforded to them. 

My mother is the strongest woman I know but she never questioned the system, and she said yes to doing things that most of us would consider deplorable.  

She worked 365 days a year and never took a vacation. Not because she couldn’t but because she didn’t know she could. She always stayed after work to clean places that others wouldn’t and volunteered herself to clean people’s homes in her spare time.  

As she dumped trash cans and cleaned floors she collected old pens, writing pads and old office trinkets that most people discard as partially used office waste.  

For her, each one of these pens and writing pads was for her children to excel in school and make something of themselves.  

For me, these half-used pens and writing pads were treasures that I couldn’t afford to buy.  

I felt like the richest kid in elementary and middle school with my desk filled with used pens and pencils.   

My father had a 4th-grade education and worked for General Electric for 25 years as a machinist and worked from sunup to sundown.   

He was a stoic man and the disciplinarian of the family.  

He provided as much as he could but, like my mother, he knew his place and never questioned why he had to work harder and longer than the people around him. 

My father worked almost every day until he had a stroke at 53 at his workplace while painting the inside of a hydraulic generator. The stroke left him debilitated to the point that he ended up walking with a substantial limp and could never work again. 

For this, he was offered a severance package that paid him $200 for every year he worked with the company.  

Today this would be a slap in the face, but for him and us at that time, it was a blessing. 

To add injury to insult, he was later denied a full pension because he hadn’t worked for the company for more than 30 years.  

Today my parents live in Florida on my father’s small monthly benefit, social security and support from myself and other siblings.   

Like all parents, my parents wanted the best for their children and realized early that their children would have greater opportunities in the future if they had a strong educational background. 

Like most teens, I never realized or appreciated how hard my parents worked for me and my siblings until I became a young adult.  

My parents worked hard to shelter us because they knew that their own economic prospects were limited based on the color of their skin and their education.  

They also knew their educated children would have future opportunities they could never have.

AN ANONYMOUS DONOR     

At the age of 13, I had the opportunity to take a test for high-performing minority kids. The program was called A Better Chance (ABC).  

There were 3 scholarships available for minority kids to attend one of the nation’s top independent schools.  

Upon completing the exam, I was ranked fourth of maybe 400 kids and missed the cut to attend a better school outside of the inner city.  

I attended high school in south Minneapolis where I saw Black kids like me drop out due to the crack epidemic, inner-city violence and pregnancy. In my first year of high school, I saw my straight-A report card go to Cs.  

I lost interest in being at school because of my 10 closest neighborhood friends six died from drug violence, two were incarcerated for life and only two remained.  

In desperation to evade my reality, I decided to work at the local White Castle for half of the school day — against my parent’s wishes — to help with costs around the house and keep me out of the gangs.  

I was literally one step from giving up, until one evening in March of 1984, my parents received a letter to let them know that an anonymous donor wanted to take a chance on me and pay my tuition to attend private high school outside of my neighborhood.  

Of course, I immediately accepted and was able to start classes at a highly prestigious high school called Benilde St. Margaret. 

Benilde is more than 40 miles away from my home and in order to get to school I took the city bus 2.5 hours each way every day. Benilde is a college prep school and most of the kids came from wealthy families and drove cars to school and lived in homes that I could only dream about. 

Attending Benilde caused my outlook on life to change immediately and I excelled and was able to matriculate to schools like Morehouse College and The University of Michigan Medical School.  

A CENTRAL COAST LIFELINE

So why is all this important? My family’s story is a tiny part of the African American story, a story of Black resilience.  

Today, most Black families will not have the opportunities that I had. I came from a household with a strong mother and father figure working together to ensure their children’s success. 

My story is also the story of compassion from an unknown donor that changed my life.  

I was blessed to have someone invest in my potential and I avoided being just another casualty in the 80’s drug war. Someone took a chance on me and now I’m asking you to join me in taking a chance on our Black families in need of help across the California Central Coast by donating to the California Central Coast Black Resiliency Fund (C3BRF). 

Your donation could make a big difference in the life of a Black family on the Central Coast.

Resiliency is defined as the capacity to withstand or recover from difficulties.  

Black resilience for more than 500 years has meant the recovery and successful adaptation to difficult or debilitating life experiences such as mental or emotional trauma, community racism and systemic discrimination.  

Recent events in America are sobering reminders that there still needs to be work done to reconcile and repair our country’s long and troubled history of racial inequality and injustice.  

Disparities in housing, education, health and employment have created inequalities that affect many black families across the United States. 

The California Central Coast is not exempt from these disparities and in some cases, such as housing, may even be at greater risk.  

Many folks have asked me why would you want to focus on Black people alone, who make up less than 2% of the tri-county area.  

My response is “Exactly”. Your question is also your answer.  

NEW FORMS OF SEGREGATION

Black people and Black culture on the Central Coast are disappearing. 

The once-thriving black communities that resided on the California Central Coast is at an all-time low. 

Santa Barbara has gone from a Black population high in 1970 of 3.7% to less than 1.5% today.  

With increased inflation and rising housing costs, Black people on the central coast face newer, more subtle, forms of segregation. 

Post-Covid-19 recovery has led to an ongoing wave of evictions that accelerate homelessness and Black exodus from the Central Coast.              

The C3BRF is founded upon the belief that everyone in our community should have an equal opportunity to thrive. 

Our plan during this time of heightened awareness of disparities tied to race is to use C3BRF to support 501C3 organizations that develop and expand economic opportunities for Black communities across the central coast. 

Our initial commitment is to focus on initiatives that help to close the gap in equity and opportunity in 4 main areas:

• Housing

• Economic Development

• Healthcare

• Education

While we acknowledge that these initial commitments alone are not the solution to social justice, we recognize them as engines of socioeconomic mobility that can catalyze change in black families struggling across the Central Coast.

PERSONAL THANKS 

I will close by thanking all of you in advance for supporting this initiative and saying that even though I have achieved the life my parents wanted for me, I cannot rest for others are still plagued with the challenges brought about by systemic racism. 

Ongoing governmental policies of the 60’s and 70’s have not kept up with the financial and societal challenges of today. 

Discrimination and unfairness persist and we still have far to go for equality and inclusion. 

What my parents wanted for my siblings and for me, I want for the African American children and young adults of today. 

What my parents imagined for me, I want for all children and young adults in America: a better more diverse and inclusive tomorrow.

Dr. Richard Beswick is the Vice President & Chief Research Officer at Cottage Hospital.