Healing Justice strives to elevate black voices
Two strong voices for social justice in Santa Barbara have combined forces to create Healing Justice: Black Lives Matter Santa Barbara.
These two voices belong to Krystle Sieghart and Simone Ruskamp, both black mothers aiming to elevate voices within the black community. They want to create a space where people can be comfortable and talk about their experiences.
Healing Justice is a black-centered and -led organization created to “(ensure) that black lives are centered and uplifted in Santa Barbara,” according to Healing Justice’s Facebook page. Leadership consists of not only members of national BLM networks, but others who support the cause.
The two women said they can’t exactly remember when, but they most likely met at a protest four to five years ago. The grassroots organizers, who worked together at Santa Barbara City College, shared the same mission.
Healing Justice was born from the George Floyd protests.
“We’ve been dreaming and imagining this for a while,” Mrs. Sieghart said. “With the protests and all the energy that came out of that and all the support the black community needs here, it kind of just evolved into, ‘OK, the time is now.’”
While Healing Justice is black-centered, Mrs. Ruskamp said it’s also “centered around black women as people who are often forgotten or erased in narratives of police brutality and violence.”
All six of the core organizers in the collective have children.
“Everything we do is by and for black people,” Mrs. Sieghart said. “When you think about it, we don’t really have any kind of organization or agency or just a space to convene here.”
The two women held a protest on May 31 at the County Courthouse that drew a crowd of 2,000 to 3,000. They said that creating this space wasn’t necessarily on their radar, but after the momentum the protest created, they saw the community need.
“We were so angry,” Mrs. Sieghart said. “So we got together like, ‘Where do we place that anger in a way that is productive?’ ”
She said of the protest, “I think what was beautiful about it was that it had so much love in it and so much truth and it also had pain. I think the community was able to connect with that. That’s how Healing Justice formed.”
Mrs. Ruskamp added that they had held a healing circle a week before the protest, and found that while taking to the streets to elevate their voices was effective, the black community also needed nourishing and healing in a space where they can grieve and explain the pain they’re feeling.
“We don’t want people to just show up one day and get really loud and then go back to how things were, because how things were wasn’t serving the black community,” she said.
The group strives to maintain accessibility throughout its advocacy, providing community members with very actionable things to commit to from home.
Healing Justice sends people links to send messages to city councils and police departments, as well as the city budget, graphics and talking points. The organization encourages them to do their own research into where they can invest in their community.
“So often we say we don’t want this to happen again, and then we have to ask ourselves, ‘Well what are we doing to prevent that?’ The protests don’t do that,” Mrs. Ruskamp said.
She is originally from Oakland, but moved to Santa Barbara to attend UCSB and has remained here ever since.
She balanced her job as a caseworker for those with disabilities or mental health issues with advocating for black people in community work. She later realized she wanted to align her job with her values.
She then started working at SBCC where she advocated for and supported black students to transfer to four-year institutions. Now she is finishing classes and preparing for graduate school as she raises her daughter who just turned two years old.
Mrs. Sieghart is currently taking classes at Los Angeles Pacific University and was recently married. She has a 7-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son.
Born in Santa Barbara, Mrs. Sieghart said that advocacy was always in her, even through junior high and high school. She said moving around a lot when she was younger taught her to adapt and connect with lots of different black people with different experiences.
Both women agreed that a big part of Healing Justice is creating a community that creates space for each unique perspective.
“Something that was really important to us was to be able to use our platform to elevate people to speak in whatever voice they have, and to name that as powerful too,” Mrs. Ruskamp said. “I think what’s really special about our collective is all of us speak to our experiences because we all identify as women of color very differently. There is room for that. There is room for all those different expressions.”
Healing Justice lists its demands on its Facebook page, which include defunding the police as well as investing in a black community space and programs designed by and for black residents.
“When we think about defunding the police, it really just means investing into healthy, restorative, transformative practices that can heal people and thus create a better, happier kind of world,” Mrs. Sieghart said, referencing community spaces, child care, affordable housing, food security, etc.
In addition, their call for anti-racist reforms include institutional and financial support for an annual Juneteenth Celebration every year, updating the police department’s use of force policy to center on de-escalation, ending isolation/quarantine for inmates attending court or contacting their lawyers, and implementing diversion programs and pursuing alternatives to incarceration.
Both women conceded that it is too soon yet to see if any of the changes the Santa Barbara Police Department made in light of the George Floyd protests have made an impact.
Mrs. Sieghart encourages those who want to get involved to start in their everyday lives.
“Everybody wants to get involved in a big large way,” she said. “The first step is really unpacking white supremacy, unpacking all the stuff these harmful systems have taught us over years about black folks, about indigenous folks, about other people of color.”
She added that in order to be anti-racist, people need to insist on raising the bar and evolving toward a more loving, caring world.
The organization now holds free healing circles with a local, black mental health practitioner on Wednesdays and Thursdays and virtual black community meetings announced on Facebook. They also collected video interviews of stories from black residents in Santa Barbara, discussing what the black generation looks like and what they still need today, and they will show these this Friday in honor of Juneteenth.
The women concluded with one demand for the city.
“Santa Barbara, step it up. It’s time.”