In downtown Sacramento, change abounds.
Murals splash across walls and alleyways that were once bare. New eateries and galleries irradiate previously vacant spaces. Community gardens–vines dripping with varied produce–are taking root.
Our city is undergoing change, and as a Sacramento native and longtime educator, it is exciting to witness developments that highlight the vibrant identity long overlooked by outsiders.
One of these projects, the Sacramento Walk of Stars, will induct a new round of honorees on September 28. The Walk recognizes the significant accomplishments and contributions of notable Sacramento natives and residents.
Though an impressive list, I noticed glaring omissions.
As downtown continues to manifest its uniquely vibrant image through its celebrated murals, its expansion and its commitment to urban redevelopment, the Walk should pay homage to distinguished change-makers, people who dedicated their lives to cultivating this distinct ethnic mosaic.
Let’s get these people in:
Dr. Cornel WestWest’s position in the foreground of philosophical discourse on racial politics resonates now more than ever. Though listed as a potential honoree, his expertise and insight into our nation’s current struggles are pertinent enough to position him as a solid candidate for the next round of stars. As student body president at Kennedy High School in the late 1960s during the height of national racial tension, West led peaceful campus protests, demanding courses in black studies be added to the curriculum (he succeeded). West’s insight and theories continue in the wake of shifting political climates, incidents of police brutality, discussions on white supremacy, and housing crises across the nation.
Royal Chicano Air Force (RCAF)
This art collaborative was founded in Sacramento in 1969 by Sacramento State graduate student José Montoya and professor Esteban Villa. In addition to serving as security for labor leader and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez, RCAF organized educational, cultural and political activities. RCAF was responsible for public art installations and murals, including the Southside Park Amphitheater and the walls of the Downtown/Old Sacramento pedestrian underpass. RCAF included former Sacramento mayor Joe Serna Jr. and his wife Isabel Hernandez, who also deserve a nod as Walk honorees for their community work.
TJ David and Sylvia Villalobos
They are the co-creators of the Sacramento-based nonprofit International World Peace Rose Gardens, which was founded in 1988 with the purpose of enhancing world peace with gardens in diverse communities. The Rose Garden in Sacramento is one of nine around the globe and adds to the beauty and uniqueness of the Capitol grounds.
Johnson was a trailblazing activist who held multiple roles: Sacramento City Council member, regional director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and California Secretary of Health and Human Services (and the first African American to hold the position). Born in Del Paso Heights, Johnson graduated from Grant High School and Sacramento State. He served in the Clinton administration and then returned to Sacramento, where he worked tirelessly as a mentor and a public servant, with emphasis in Sacramento’s underserved communities.
With Sacramento quickly transforming into a powerhouse hub for the arts, it would be prudent to include Blackalicious, the homegrown duo of Kennedy High graduates Xavier “Chief Xcel” Mosley and Timothy “Gift of Gab” Parker. They are among the earliest and widely recognized innovators of socially conscious hip-hop music. Their contributions as internationally successful artists have brought added credibility to their cause.
Escalante was a nationally renowned teacher who inspired underperforming math students in East Los Angeles, later working at Johnson High School in the 1990s. Escalante’s legacy influenced the popular 1988 film “Stand and Deliver.” He was inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame in 1999.
Sacramento’s varied social tapestry should be represented in projects that seek to highlight those who have put this region on the map. As one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse cities in the country, we need to collectively be cognizant of the role that people of color have played in the development of the state capital.