Thousands on Saturday flocked to the Sacramento Convention Center for Black Expo, an annual event that celebrates Black History Month and aims to increase opportunities for the city’s African American community.
Discussion panels and community leaders took to the event’s main stage to highlight issues facing Sacramento’s black community. Small-business vendors, informational booths and cultural exhibits filled an exhibit hall.
An education summit provided information for college hopefuls. Featured speakers included Robert Nelsen, president of California State University, Sacramento, and Brian King, Los Rios Community College District chancellor.
This year’s event focused on promoting higher education and voter turnout for area African Americans, said Velma Sykes, event organizer.
“There are huge barriers to higher education for African Americans,” Sykes said. “We recognize that and want to do whatever we can to help our students overcome whatever barriers they are faced with. This event is all about educational opportunities and influence.”
Monica Roberts, a representative from the Sacramento County Office of Education, offered assistance and information about the college application process, special programs and financial aid opportunities for prospective college students – “many of whom lack such resources in their everyday environments,” she said.
“We are here trying to eliminate the education gap for African American students,” Roberts said. “What we are looking to do is to target a population that, based on data, doesn’t fare as well in public education and could do quite well with the proper schooling and resources to access it. Even if we help just one kid today, that’s one more kid who has a shot at college.”
Sacramento’s branch of the NAACP also hosted a mock election, in which attendees were invited to participate in a debate and cast votes for ballot items in the upcoming local election. The mock vote was held to inform, engage and empower local African American voters, Sykes said.
“It’s so important that people choose to exercise their right to have a say in this democracy,” said former state Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, an event speaker. “It’s important for every election, but it seems like it’s more important than ever before as the future of the country, the state, the city are being determined. There’s a lot at stake.”
“We fought for that right (to vote) and we need to make sure that our kids know what we went through to gain that opportunity,” Sykes said.
Rick Warren, a Sacramento resident who founded Black Expo 28 years ago, said the event was successful.
“We started Black Expo to open up doors of opportunity so that African Americans can showcase their culture and attain greater success,” Warren said. “Every year, thousands of people have gotten homes, thousands have gotten business opportunities, thousands have gotten into colleges because of Black Expo. We’re building relationships and tearing down bridges that have prevented equal access for so long.
“During Black History Month, it’s important to reflect, but we must also project for the future.”