Black Lives Matter is painted on Center Street in front of Santa Cruz City Hall.
Center Street in front of Santa Cruz City Hall, with its Black Lives Matter mural, will be the site of Friday’s Black Grad event.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
K-12 Education

Long at just SCHS, Black Grad event grows to include all Santa Cruz County’s Black students

“These events allow our students to have moments where they really shine and to thank the people who’ve helped them come to that moment,” one educator said of the Black Grad event, set for Friday in front of Santa Cruz City Hall.

The vivid Black Lives Matter mural painted on the pavement of Center Street in front of Santa Cruz City Hall will soon be the site for a milestone in some local Black lives.

For the first time, Black graduating high school seniors from all over Santa Cruz County will gather together for the county’s Black Grad event on Friday. Center Street at City Hall will be closed to vehicular traffic to provide space to set up for the event, which will feature catered food, live music, remarks from the new grads, and even a fashion show.

A Black grad event separate from the larger class commencement ceremony has been taking place at Santa Cruz High School for about 20 years. This year’s event will be similar but open to all Black graduating seniors from high schools throughout the county.

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“Historically, if you look at the history of Santa Cruz High School,” said Celeste Gutierrez of the Santa Cruz County Office of Education, “the principal there for a long time was Black, and a majority of the Black students in the county went to Santa Cruz High, which was the only school, until this year, to have a Black student union. But we know there are Black students in every county high school.”

Gutierrez said that the new event aims to create a more comfortable environment for students from other schools. “Sometimes, there’s a rivalry,” she said. “If you go to Aptos High, why would you want to go to a graduation at Santa Cruz High?”

Black students and their families are being encouraged to register for the event; each grad will be allowed five guests. But because of pandemic restrictions and closures, getting the word out has been a challenge.

Rishi Lal, an assistant principal at Santa Cruz High, said his school has considered it a priority to give its Black students their own graduation forum. Santa Cruz High has also sponsored field trips for Black students to visit historically Black colleges and universities in Atlanta and in Montgomery, Alabama.

“Already, it’s a small community in Santa Cruz County, less than 2%,” said Lal. “So having this space means our African American-identified students can be recognized and it creates a way for younger students to see the accomplishments of our graduates every year, so that it might inspire these kids into similar accomplishments. These events allow our students to have moments where they really shine and to thank the people who’ve helped them come to that moment. Otherwise, they might get sort of lost in the crowd because they are such a small population.”

Gutierrez said that kindergarten through 12th grade, Santa Cruz County’s schools have a total population of Black students of 430.

Friday’s event will take place on Center Street and in the bricked area in front of City Hall, with the city’s blessing. Local African-born artist and clothing designer I.B. Bayo will be the center of attraction at a fashion show during the event. Live music and other student performances will also be on schedule. The event is free but open by invitation only to registered students and their guests and families. The event will take place from 6 to 9 p.m.

Here’s how to register for the Black Grad event.

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