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Highlighting Sacramento's Black community in honor of Black History Month

10 people shared what it means to be Black, and why it's important to recognize Black history and culture.
Credit: ABC10/KXTV

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Is there a person or place we should highlight during Black History Month? Email ABC10's Race and Culture team, raceandculture@abc10.com. 

In honor of Black History Month, ABC10 is sharing stories and perspectives from the Black community about the importance of recognizing Black history and culture. 

This year's theme for Black History Month is Black Resistance. According to the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), the theme reflects the ways in which "African Americans have resisted historic and ongoing oppression, in all forms, especially the racial terrorism of lynching, racial pogroms and police killings since our arrival upon these shores. Black people have sought ways to nurture and protect Black lives, and for autonomy of their physical and intellectual bodies through armed resistance, voluntary emigration, nonviolence, education, literature, sports, media, and legislation/politics." 

Here's what 10 Black-identifying Sacramento residents said about what it means to them to be Black.

Melissa Muganzo Murphy

Melissa Muganzo Murphy (she/they/sis) is a Black, West Indian, Kenyan, queer woman and the CEO/founder of Muganzo Entertainment and CEO/founder of Mindy's Kitchen

Murphy describes Black history as American history and global history because of the widespread impacts of Black-led inventions. She loves to revamp Black History Month as Black Futures Month because Black people continue to be a part of the future, despite the way structural oppression and discrimination have tried to diminish Black existence. 

Murphy is currently on tour for her documentary, "The Big Hysto: A Black Womb Revolution," which addresses medical racism, sexism, homo/transphobia and xenophobia that Black womb holders and patients experience when seeking quality medical care. You can find the screening schedule HERE

Les Simmons

Les Simmons is the Senior Pastor of South Sacramento Christian Center (SSCC), which aims to serve all generations, regardless of language, culture, ethnicity and background. Faith runs deep for Simmons — he's a third-generation pastor on both sides of his family. 

His family also comes from a deep heritage within the civil rights movement, which has influenced the way he is involved in the community — whether it's through programs like SSCC's weekly food distributions or daily recreation and sports programs.

Simmons believes educating current and future generations about Black history and culture is at the core of building value in society. He points to the work of Ida B. Wells, a prominent Black investigative journalist and activist who led an anti-lynching crusade, as a model for how society can move forward. 

Michelle Martin Neal

Michelle Martin Neal was born and raised in Sacramento and is widely known as a community champion because in her words, "I love people, I love encouraging people, I like getting the word out." 

Neal is all about optimism — she believes waking up with an optimistic mindset will get you through any day. To her, being Black means persevering and overcoming any and all obstacles. She carries that same energy when she attends church, community workshops and luncheons, and during walks at the Pannell Meadowview Community Center

She credits all of her success to her parents and is a proud grandmother to four grandchildren and mother to one daughter. 

Lonnie Horne

Lonnie Horne is the owner of World Class Faders Barbershop in Oak Park and the co-owner of United Barbers Club. He was born in Chicago, Illinois, and started calling Sacramento his home at the age of 13. 

Horne says growing up, he didn't learn a lot about Black history in his household. During the pandemic, he had the opportunity to dive deeper on his own and learned more about the influence of prominent Black civil rights leaders and disparities in prison systems. He said researching helped him understand the important role Black communities have played in the past and continue to play in the present and the future. 

Horne says World Class Faders Barbershop is not just a place for a haircut — it's a place to get a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience with the best barbers in the industry. He also encourages everyone to check out other Black-owned businesses in Oak Park.

Marianna Sousa

Marianna Sousa is from Sacramento and is an edutainment specialist at Mariworks Productions. The word edutainment is a blend of education and entertainment — which she uses to make learning fun and allow people to be their full selves through personal, professional and institutional transformation. She provides keynotes, workshops and training to boost self-awareness with an emphasis on mental health. 

Sousa's family is of Moroccan and Cape Verdean bloodline, two different African cultures. She says it's important to recognize that African culture is not a monolith, and we should celebrate the wide variety of cultural expressions and backgrounds within Africa. 

Sousa says while February is Black History Month, she believes it's important to recognize and celebrate the contributions that Black people have made every day.

Jesse Williams (Lxttle Boy Blue)

Jesse Williams (they/them), better known as Lxttle Boy Blue, is a recording artist, entertainer, musician and a UC Davis student. They grew up in Oakland, California, and currently lives in Sacramento.

Williams first began making music when they were eight years old. They started singing in the church and got involved in talent shows. Through their passion for music, they were able to meet Raphael Saadiq and D'wayne Wiggins of Tony! Toni! Toné ! and even opened up for artists like Kehlani. 

As an entertainer, advocate, and educator, Williams goes into local communities and performs for free to spread the message of love, peace and hope. 

Karen Johnson

Karen Johnson holds the title of Mrs. California American 2022 and is a singer-songwriter of contemporary Christian music. She grew up with music — her father was a pastor and her mother was a piano player and choir director. Johnson started singing in her first church group at the age of two. Ever since she was young, Johnson knew she wanted to use her voice for the world to hear the influence of Black music and the Black church. 

Johnson competed for Mrs. California several times before she grabbed the title in 2022. For her, the win was about more than just a crown — it was also about breaking barriers in a space where communities of color are underrepresented. 

She describes Black history as American history and believes that knowing and learning your history makes for a better future. 

Adwoa Akyianu

Adwoa Akyianu is a Ghanaian American from Sacramento and the CEO of She Has Shea, a luxurious, holistic skincare and beauty brand created for those with sensitive and dry skin. Akyianu's company was inspired by her own skincare troubles, particularly around her sensitivity to scented products. 

When speaking about her culture, Akyianu fondly recalled attending parties hosted by the Ghanaian Association of Sacramento, where she took part in cultural performances. She said she loved being connected with others through shared food and language. 

For Akyianu, being Black is a divine and complex reality. It is an embodiment of spirit and resilience, which also comes from an understanding of the challenges and struggles Black communities have overcome. 

Stanton Beale

Gunnery Sergeant Stanton Beale is a retired flight engineer from the U.S. Marine Corps and the creator of Bealesauce, a veteran and Black-owned hot sauce company. Beale's love for hot peppers started in the Far East where peppers were more commonly used in East Asian cuisines. When he returned to California, he started carrying peppers and garlic in his pocket everywhere he went. His vision for a hot sauce company first originated in Oakland. Today, he credits his son Gerald Williams, the CEO, for many of the company's successes.

Beale also led a notable military career. He made history as the only Black Marine in the Marine Corps to receive an Antarctic Expeditionary Medal. He also ended his career with 23 combat medals, among many other awards. For his full military story, click HERE.  

For young entrepreneurs, Beale had this message: "Never lose sight of your dreams and never feel that you can't make it because of your skin tone. And do not be oppressive toward other folks because of their skin tone. Always be willing to give what you demand and always stand up and fight for what is rightfully due to you." 

Ezekiel "Zeke" Conteh 

Ezekiel "Zeke" Conteh was born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, and has been living in Sacramento for 17 years. He traces his African heritage back to Sierra Leone, West Africa, where his parents were born.

While Conteh is an employee with the state of California, he has plenty of other passions, too. He's been a barber for 12 years, a hobby that grew from when he used to get his hair cut by his father at home. He also loves cooking, which is a form of self-expression. Seafood and rice are his staple foods. 

For Conteh, Black History Month is all about recognizing ancestors and their sacrifices to allow current and future generations to have more freedom. To him, being Black means being resilient and waking up every day with confidence. 

Watch more: Sacramento African American Experience Project to highlight Black history

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