From the pioneer days of the early 1800s to San Diego’s 21st-century identity as a thriving, world-class city, the region’s Black community has been a prominent and ever-vibrant part of the region’s culture, commerce and so much more.
As we celebrate Black History Month in February, here’s a look at some of the local events commemorating the rich heritage and crucial contributions of San Diego’s Black community. With all these happenings to choose from, it’s a great time to visit and soak in San Diego’s fascinating Black history, along with everything else America’s Brightest City has to offer.
San Diego History Center
The San Diego History Center, located in Balboa Park — San Diego’s cultural heart — has two exhibitions exploring Black history here, with both virtual and in-person components. “Nathan Harrison: Born Enslaved, Died a San Diego Legend” documents the amazing story of a freed slave and homesteader who staked out a life in a small cabin on rural Palomar Mountain from the 1850s to 1920, persevering in the face of major obstacles.
And “Celebrate San Diego: Black History and Heritage” offers a detailed timeline of the Black experience here, as well as spotlighting heroes of the local Black community. It also invites nominations for more heroes and pivotal events to be added. On top of all that, on Feb. 11 the History Center is hosting Black History Month Family Day, a pop-up encore of the previous exhibition “Part of the Patchwork: Reflection of African-American Life in the History Center Archives.” The event will include crafts and interactive activities for all ages.
Black Resistance: Black History Month 2023
The University of California San Diego has set “Black Resistance: Black History Month 2023” as the theme for its monthlong series of cultural and educational events. Among highlights are a performance by the Edison Award-winning vibraphonist-composer Joel Ross; an address by Shirley Weber, California’s first Black secretary of state (and a former Assembly Member representing San Diego), as part of the “Californian Black Trailblazers” speaker series; and “Celebrating the Joy and Resistance of the African Diaspora,” a day of celebration Feb. 15, with music, food, dancing and more.
“The Black Iris Project”
When: Feb. 8, 2023
The San Diego-raised dancer and choreographer Jeremy McQueen brings “The Black Iris Project” to Downtown San Diego’s Balboa Theatre. The show, presented by McQueen’s New York-based ballet collaborative, includes the West Coast premieres of two original dance works: “Wild” and “A Mother’s Rite.”
Ourstory: The Black History Musical Experience
When: Feb. 13, 2023
The Balboa Theatre is hosting a second February show honoring Black history, this time through song. “Ourstory: The Black History Musical Experience” is a journey through time set to a musical beat, from the bump of bass to the tremble of treble. The show, written by the hip-hop artist Griot B, promises entertainment, education and uplift.
Black Com!x Day 2023: Heroes Rise V
When: Feb. 11-12, 2023
Here’s a free happening that should pack some major wows. The WorldBeat Cultural Center in Balboa Park is hosting Black Com!x Day 2023: Heroes Rise V”. This will be a great chance to meet Black creators in comics, movies and television. Artists from such iconic companies as Marvel and DC will be on hand for the event, hosted by Keithan Jones of KID Comics as well as the WorldBeat Center’s own Makeda Dread.
Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego
When: Feb. 12, 2023
The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s beautifully renovated flagship location in La Jolla invites you to explore the work of artist Mildred Howard and other Black artists during the Prebys Play Day. Visitors can create a special blue-bottle flower vase inspired by Howard’s art; enjoy live painting as well as music provided by a DJ; and even “paint” flower-, bottle- and heart-shaped cookies made by the cookie artist Brooke Bartolon.
Janai Brugger with the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Choir of San Diego
When: Feb. 12, 2023
Also in La Jolla, the St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church is hosting a Feb. 12 performance by Janai Brugger with the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Choir of San Diego. The choir is collaborating with the celebrated American soprano for an evening of arias, spirituals and gospel hits.
San Diego Public Library
As it does each February, the San Diego Public Library is offering an extensive slate of Black History Month programming, both at the Central Library in Downtown San Diego and at branch libraries across the city. Among the highlights are a Black History Month contest for students in grades 4 to 12, with categories for essays, poems, raps and more (entries are due Feb. 10); storytime and crafts centering on Black history; and a film screening series focused on movies with Black themes and artists.
And celebrations of the Black community continue in San Diego long past Black History Month. A look ahead at two events coming soon:
- In March, the nationally renowned, Tony Award-winning Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park stages “The XIXth”. This world-premiere play explores the true story of the two Black American sprinters who sparked a furor at the Olympics in 1968 by raising their fists in protest on the medal stand.
- On April 17, the San Diego Padres host an African American Heritage Celebration as part of the team’s game against the Atlanta Braves. The event package, presented in community partnership with Young Black and In Business and other local organizations, includes a limited-edition themed Padres hat, a donation to a local community group and a game ticket.