Madera celebrates Black History Month
Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune
Madera Mayor Santos Garcia and Mayor Pro Tem Anita Evans present 104-year-old Alma Riggins with a proclamation during Sunday’s Black History Month Celebration.
For the second straight year, Madera City Councilwoman Anita Evans spearheaded her second Black History Month Celebration at McNally Park.
On a picture-perfect day and under a giant American Flag from the Madera County Fire Department, Evans welcomed about 100 people Sunday.
“This is such an amazing event,” Evans said. “This is an intimate setting. I like interaction. It was beautiful. Everyone that was supposed to be here was here. It was absolutely amazing. This was awesome.”
Many different Madera officials were in attendance for the annual event, including Madera Mayor Santos Garcia, Madera County Sheriff Tyson Pogue and Madera City Manager Arnoldo Rodriguez.
“This is not just a black event. This is an everybody event,” Evans said.
“It is inspiring to see the different facets of our community come together,” Garcia said.
Evans’ group, Black Saints United, helped organize the festivities, which included the celebration of 104-year-old Alma Riggins and the 100th anniversary of Second Missionary Baptist Church.
“Our organization is called Black Saints United and that’s what I want for our city,” Evans said. “I want us to be the City of Madera. We all need to come together as one. Together, we stand, divided we fall. If we have love of Madera, we can conquer all.”
Since Evans took office in 2020 as the first female African-American city councilman, she also became the city’s first female African-American Mayor Pro Tem.
“I may be the first, but promise I don’t want to be the last,” she said. “I took office in November of 2020. I was scared to death. But, it was in God’s hands. God told me to help my people.”
Since then, Evans has been doing what she can to help her constituents and that includes getting voted in as the Mayor Pro Tem.
“In December of 2021, it was an honor for me to be elected by my colleagues as a Mayor Pro Tem,’ she said. “For three weeks, I got to sit and see what our mayor has to do. He has a tough job. You don’t understand the city government and what the mayor has to deal with each and every day. I love our city. I thank everyone for being here.”
However, Evans points out that they were gathered to celebrate Black history and says the city is in good hands.
“We were born Black History,” Evans said. “For so many of us, there’s been struggle that a lot of us don’t know anything about. The thing about the City of Madera that I am so proud about is we have a city government of minority descent.”
California State Senator Anna Caballero’s representative Joyce Dale presented Evans a certificate from Caballero.
“Along with the Black Saints United and the City of Madera, I am honored to congratulate Anita for being the first African-American female Mayor Pro Tem for the City of Madera,” the certificate read. “As a powerful leader, you leave a legacy for others to follow. Thank you for being an example for others to follow.”
Dale also read a poem she wrote for the occasion.
“Black history is American history we must not forget,” Dale said at the end of her poem. “Freedom is not free, yet.”
Dr. Marie Byrd-Harris was introduced as a guest speaker by Evans.
“I was called to come out to Madera Community College,” Evans said. “When I got there. I was shocked. The young lady looked just like me — Dr. Marie Harris. She’s smart.”
Harris, the vice-president of learning and student success at Madera Community College spoke of her humble beginnings.
“Our mission at the college is to empower students to succeed in an every-changing world. I provide leadership and oversight to the faculty and staff to make sure we are providing services to our students in an equitable manner,” she said.
“I hope you can relate to my journey. I grew up in a single-family household with my mom and five kids in a two bedroom apartment. We had our challenges. We were poor. We were all squeezed in one bedroom. My mom made it a point to be active in our life as much as possible.”
She also spoke of being the one of the few African-American students at Reedley College.
“I was one of the only black students to participate in student government because I wanted to get involved on campus,” she said. “I was the only student of color advocating for other students of color on our campus. Often, I was the only African-American in my class. Being at the community college brought a sense of community. “
Harris spoke of being the first. Although it may be a little tough to be the first, the rewards can be immense.
“As I continued in my career, I was the first,” she said. “I was the first black female dean of instruction. I found out later, I was the first female student government president. I am the first female black vice president at the community college. We are put in positions where we are often the first.
“Being the first is super scary, super intimidating and really uncomfortable. But it’s absolutely rewarding. By being the first, you have the opportunity to leave a legacy. You have the opportunity to pave the way for others in that specific area. You create possibilities for others so they can be the first at what they can do. I want to encourage all my first timers to be courageous and be a trail blazer.”
Harris also gave tips on how to help celebrate and honor Black History Month.
“As we recognize Black History Month, here some ways to celebrate it,” she said. “Visit an African American History museum. Visit the one in Fresno. It’s a great place to learn. Learn about noteworthy black figures and their contributions. Support black-owned businesses and restaurants. Donate to charities that support anti-racism, equity and equality. Attend a local or online Black History Month event. Purchase or read books from black authors. Support and learn about Black women. Read the 1619 Project by the New York Times.”
Garcia presented Riggins a proclamation following Harris’ speech.
“Longevity of life is a blessing,” he said. “The community benefits from the knowledge, creativity and experiences this individual brings to all. The City of Madera recognizes the contributions of senior citizens to our community.”
Riggins also received proclamations from Dale, representing Senator Caballero, and Madera County Supervisor Leticia Gonzalez.
Garcia also presented former City Councilman Donald Holley, a member of Second Missionary Baptist Church, with a proclamation.
“From the City of Madera, this Mayor certificate is presented to Second Missionary Baptist Church of Madera. Congratulations on your 100th anniversary of continuing God’s work in Madera,” the certificate read.
Evans closed the event with certificates handed out to many of the dignitaries in attendance.
“The theme of our event is I Am Proud to be Black History. It doesn’t matter if you came from this side of the water or you came from across the water,” she said.