The Black Health Matters Initiative, a local effort to improve the quality of life for Santa Cruz County’s Black residents, was honored at the inaugural Anthem Awards on Feb. 28.
The goal of the Anthem Awards, according to its website, is to honor “the purpose and mission-driven work of people, companies, and organizations worldwide.” The competition received nearly 2,500 entries from 36 countries worldwide.
Black Health Matters, which grew from 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 prominent figures. It took home Silver in the category of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Best Community Engagement. Its fellow 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 director of the Youth Ambassador Program, “and to be able to accept the honor with our partners and community, who have worked so hard to make our initiative successful.”
Black Health Matters was born out of the response to the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in 2020. Founder Cat Willis, who was director of TWDCC at the time, said she was inspired when she saw the Black community in Santa Cruz convening to take action.
“We are about 1.4% of the population [of Santa Cruz County],” Willis says. “I’ve been here 21 years, I raised my kids here, but I haven’t seen a lot of safe spaces where Black folks gather. 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 create for us more agency, pathways and power.”
Black Health Matters partners with United Way of Santa Cruz County, the Santa Cruz County Coalition for Justice and Racial Equity, the Speak for Change Podcast, the Pajaro Valley Health Trust and more to increase the visibility of health inequalities impacting the Black community. It provides resources and funding for outdoor recreation, arts and culture events, youth potential programs and more.
Being honored with an Anthem Award for their work, Chambers says, felt validating.
“Black Health Matters is centered in our health, and in Black futures. But it’s also centered in our joy,” she says. “To have that validated as an important, worthy and honored cause is huge.”
Willis said she hopes the award and Black Health Matters’ increase visibility in Santa Cruz will keep interest growing.
“We want to be sure that we support young leaders, entrepreneurs,” Willis says, “people who want to hold social and cultural events that give Black folks a sense of community, a network.”
Black Health Matters recently supported Santa Cruz’s first-ever Cookout, held at Harvey West Park on Feb. 26. Organized by local activist Ayo Banjo, the event brought together the Black community and allies for an afternoon of recreation, food, entertainment and more.
“The Cookout was beautiful,” Chambers said. “There were kids running around playing games, sports, black artists, allies, a beautiful barbecue… It was absolutely healing. It was like a shift in what can be considered normal in Santa Cruz.”
Chambers said she was grateful for what Black Health Matters has given her personally, as well as the greater Black community.
“This has been a healing venture 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. Black residents often end up leaving, being victims of racism and violence … I just need people to know [Black Health Matters] has been a saving grace for so many. It’s much more than events and programming—it’s home.”
To learn more about Black Health Matters visit bit.ly/3MieqrL. For information about the Anthem Awards visit anthemawards.com.