Black Health Matters Initiative Honored at Inaugural Anthem Awards

The Black Health Matters initiative, a grassroots effort to improve the quality of life for black residents of Santa Cruz County, was honored at the inaugural Anthem Awards on Feb. 28.

The purpose of the Anthem Awards, according to its website, is to honor “the purpose and mission-driven work of people, companies, and organizations around the world.” The competition received nearly 2,500 entries from 36 countries around the world.

Black Health Matters, which grew out of the Tannery World Dance & Cultural Center (TWDCC), was honored alongside The New York Times, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and star tennis player Naomi Osaka, as well as a number of other personalities. It won silver in the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Best Community Engagement category. Its other category winners included the National AIDS Memorial.

“It was amazing to be recognized at this level,” says Angela Chambers, Black Health Matters Project Manager and Youth Ambassador Program Director, “and to be able to accept this honor with our partners and our community, who have worked so hard to make our initiative a success.

Black Health Matters grew out of the response to the 2020 killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Founder Cat Willis, who was then director of TWDCC, said she was inspired when she saw the black community in Santa Cruz get together. to take action.

“We are about 1.4% of the population [of Santa Cruz County]said Willis. “I’ve been here 21 years, raised my kids here, but haven’t seen many safe spaces for black people to congregate. I saw a big gaping hole in the community. With [Black Health Matters]I wanted to bring together multi-generational, multi-faceted, black-led, or centered organizations that could help us create more agency, voice, and power.

Black Health Matters partners with United Way of Santa Cruz County, Santa Cruz County Coalition for Racial Justice and Equity, Speak for Change Podcast, Pajaro Valley Health Trust and others to increase the visibility of health inequalities that affect the black community. It provides resources and funding for outdoor recreation, arts and culture events, youth empowerment programs and more.

Being honored with an Anthem Award for their work, Chambers says, felt validated.

“Black Health Matters is centered on our health and the future of black people. But it’s also centered on our joy,” she says. “To have this validated as an important, worthy and honored cause is huge.”

Willis said she hopes the award and growing visibility of Black Health Matters in Santa Cruz will keep the interest growing.

“We want to be sure to support young leaders, entrepreneurs,” says Willis, “people who want to organize social and cultural events that give black people a sense of community, a network.”

Black Health Matters recently supported the first-ever Santa Cruz BBQ, held at Harvey West Park on February 26. Organized by local activist Ayo Banjo, the event brought together the black community and their allies for an afternoon of recreation, food, entertainment and more.

“The Cookout was magnificent,” Chambers said. “There were kids running around playing games, playing sports, black performers, allies, a nice BBQ… It was absolutely healing. It was like a change from what can be considered normal in Santa Cruz.

Chambers said she is grateful for what Black Health Matters has given her personally, and the greater black community.

“It’s been a healing journey for me, as a mixed black person in Santa Cruz,” she says. “I’ve been lucky in my experience to have found such a diverse home base…but that’s not the case for so many others. Black residents often end up leaving, victims of racism and violence… I just need people to know [Black Health Matters] has been a saving grace for so many. It’s more than events and programs, it’s my home.

To learn more about Black Health Matters, visit bit.ly/3MieqrL. For more information on the Anthem Awards, visit anthemawards.com.

James C. Tibbs