Celebrating African-American changemakers

On an oddly warm afternoon in the heart of Andrews Park in downtown Vacaville Saturday, a crowd gathered to share pride in African American history and celebrate those making an impact in Solano County.

Such was “Celebrating African-American Changemakers; Be(coming) the Change in Vacaville, California,” hosted by the Tri-City National Association of the Advancement of Colored People.

“It makes me feel what we the community of Vacaville is doing is working,” Vacaville City Councilmember Greg Ritchie said. “Seeing them have the power, the courage to speak up and out at this age is absolutely amazing.”

The blueprint for the event took place back in December of 2021, when Fairfield resident Nikila Gibson took the role of the Economic Development Chair of the Tri-City NAACP, then Event Planning Chair for the second annual Black History Month celebration in Vacaville.

“I’m a serial entrepreneur, I am big on planning and everything,” Gibson said. “Everything was planned out, we had a whole script planned and everything.”

The aim was to focus on locale youth and honor the service of other members of the community.

“These changemakers represent individuals from the Baby Boomer to the Gen-Z generation, demonstrating that we’re never too old or too young to be of service to others,” Tri-City NAACP President Johnicon George said in a written statement.

Among the planners were high school students like Nevaeh Youngblood, a senior at Will C. Wood High School and an event honoree.

“I was called in immediately before the first meeting even started,” she said. “I was on my own campus getting our BSU (Black Student Union) together to have our booth right here. The student voice was what we wanted to see.”

Later, she would speak at the event.

“Being up there was terrifying,” Nevaeh said with a laugh. “Knowing that my words were to have impact, I was very much hoping what I was saying made sense.”

She was one of many who spoke about accomplishments and/or shared emotions on the transgressions that African Americans continue to experience.

Other high school students honored with the Be(Coming) The Change Award included Rayonna Reed, Greg Farr, Ruth Toe, Jayde Champion, Noah Mitchell and Ernest Turner.

Noah said he and Ernest were both surprised by the recognition.

“We took this to heart,” said Noah, the vice president of his Black Student Union. “We had a speech ready and we were ready to present our awards and talk about how the Black community can be affected in Vacaville.”

Beginning the club nearly two years ago with his older sister Alexis, Ernest, who is the president of the club, is proud of everything they were able to accomplish.

Ernest Turner and Noah Mitchell, both seniors at Buckingham Collegiate Charter Academy were among the recipients of the Be(Coming) the Change Awards for the work they’ve accomplished with their efforts in running their Black Student Union club on campus. (Photo by Corey Kirk, The Reporter)

“It was a service project, but we took it out to become a whole school-wide thing,” he said. “This year we’ve been just tutoring kids. COVID has hit a lot of people hard and its stunted their growth academically, and we’ve been helping elementary school, middle school and high school.”

Though youths were a big focus of the event, other community members were also recognized.

Emcee and award-winning author Alice Wilson-Fried was joined by Aisha Gutierrez, who helped create Vacaville’s first Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration in 2021, and coach Sean Blair for his work in sports over the past 25 years and his program, “Air Blair Athletics.”

“I believe this was the perfect event for the Black community and for others to realize how big the Black community is just not in Vacaville but in Solano County,” Blair said.

Nikila Gibson expressed pride in the number of young people attending the event.

“It touched me deeply to see their excitement and to see everything they’ve done and accomplished especially during a pandemic  — here they are, young adults, full of hope, so inspirational. I love it,” he shared.

Ernest Turner was inspired by the work of fellow youths and said he thought it would be fun to work together in the future.

“It’s a very touching and powerful moment that all these young people come together and express themselves like this,” he said.

Nevaeh Youngblood knows she wants to play a role in future NAACP-sponsored events, to push for a better community in Vacaville.

“I’m excited to build the community. I feel like I’ve always wanted to be a part of something like this and create something like this,” she said. “I’m excited to see what happens and see what I could do to help.”

Greg Ritchie is not only hopeful that similar events continue to take place for the African American community, but for community members of all ethnicities.

“I want to see our indigenous people represented,” Ritchie said. “I want to see an outward explosion of the Hispanic population through Day of the Dead, all celebration and cultures.

“I think everyone should have the right and the ability to celebrate where they come from and come together as America as general. We can all celebrate together.”

The Tri-City NAACP expressed gratitude for the work of their sponsors, and encourages those interested in future events to go to its Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/tricitynaacp1080.


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