Members of the Black Surfer Collective (BSC) and their compatriots were featured guest speakers and instructors in segments of the Claremont University Consortium (CUC)/Office of Black Student Affairs’ (OBSA) sponsored 2013 New Student Retreat taking place Friday, September 13 thru Sunday, September 15, 2013 in Claremont, Malibu and Santa Monica, California. The programming consisted of a series of activities to support the wellbeing of incoming students of African American descent in their pursuit to earn degrees at the Claremont Colleges.
OBSA administrators selected the retreat’s text for workshops of Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk To Freedom. A Southern California surf image featuring Los Angeles County Lifeguard and Aquatics Educator Marcus Chatman at El Portal in Manhattan Beach was selected as the visual imagery branding the retreat marketing and other materials. These two texts are obviously different, but both engage imagery of freedom, resilience, achievement, identity, strength and bravery in a global context. The weekend programming consisted of expert and peer speakers, historically and culturally relevant curriculum workshops, and activities to aid initiation of the new college students on a path of excellence, career development, personal success, and college connections. Surfing lessons and serious fun were also on the students’ schedule.
A screening of the documentary film, “White Wash” kicked off the weekend at CUC’s Pomona College’s Rose Theater sponsored by their Outdoor Education Center and OBSA on Friday, September 13. Before a spirited question and answer session following the film screening, BSC members Dedon Kamathi and Andrea Kabwasa joined Filmmaker Ted Woods, and Historian and Pomona College Alumnae Alison Rose Jefferson at dinner with students. At both the evening’s program segments, students and a few faculty members probed some ideas in the documentary around breaking racial and gender barriers to explore new human experiences and new identities, as well as the overlooked history highlighted in the film. At dinner, student questions also explored with the speakers their varied lives, educational backgrounds and career paths.
Moving on to Santa Monica’s Bay Street beach on Sunday, September 15, surf lessons were led by BSC’s William Lamar and Surf Bus Academy’s (SBA) Moshir Safavi. Los Angeles County Lifeguard Captain Remy Smith, Harden Carter and David Iniquez, all BSC members, joined other SBA team members to round out the instructor list. The majority of the 15 or so young people that took surfing lessons on September 15 were female with only two male partakers. William Lamar noted the female students “were the most fearless and athletic young girls he ever taught. The whole group was very brave. It was a big day for beginners.”
Remy Smith was amazed at what “incredibly fast learners” the students turned out to be. He, the other instructors and those of the group not in the water witnessed many of their fellow students standing up and surfing during their first exposure to the sport! Remy gushed, “I was ecstatic I had the opportunity to work with our young adults at the beach.”
The young people listened with great interest as Historian/Pomona College Alumnae Alison Rose Jefferson gave a talk about the Jim Crow era, historical African American beach site, its landmark at Bay Street and the timeline of black surf culture over the last 60 years. The students as well as passersby on the beach peered intently at the banner exhibit of text and historical photographs entitled “HIdden Beach Stories & the California Dream: African Americans, Beach Culture, Santa Monica & the American Narrative” set up by Jefferson under the BSC pop tent on the beach near Lifeguard Tower 20.
Some of the students were not aware there was a Jim Crow era beach site in Los Angeles County derogatorily named the “Inkwell” by nearby Anglo Americans in reference to the skin color of the beachgoers. Nor did they realize there had been quite a number of other beaches across the U.S. with this name as well, or that African Americans in Southern California, like their counterparts elsewhere, transformed the hateful moniker into a badge of pride. The students appreciated learning that in spite of the real estate development around this site, African Americans persisted in their use of this beach as a group social space until the end of the Jim Crow era in the 1960s.
Heal the Bay’s Director of Programs Meredith McCarthy and Volunteer Sam Hamilton explored the shoreline marine life with the students. Meredith’s pre-school age son acted as his “Mama’s helper.” He added tremendous enthusiasm and delight that was infectious to all, as everyone dug up and sifted sand to look at the life below the surf in the sand. Found, examined and discussed, below and above the shoreline terrain were worms, sand crabs and bean clams, along with various types of seaweed plants and other marine life.
While we were all on the sand, Jon Gary, an administrative leader of the CUC/OBSA retreat noted that the beach trip experiences provided by the guest experts at the Bay Street/Inkwell beach site were top highlights with the students for the whole, 2013 New Student Retreat weekend. BSC members got involved in the weekend programming as a result Martin Crawford, Director of Pomona College’s Outdoor Education Center asking Pomona College Alumnae and Historian Alison Rose Jefferson to coordinate a beach program around her work. With Acting Assistant Dean Kim Gadlin of the Claremont University Consortium/Office of Black Student Affairs, and Martin Crawford, Alison coordinated the “White Wash” film screening and Santa Monica beach program segments to expose incoming students to broader learning experiences around local history, surfing and ways to have enjoyable Southern California outdoor experiences, ocean stewardship, and possible career options.
Learning, fellowship, networking and fun were had by all who participated in the weekend retreat, whether as a student, expert instructor or administrator!