Credit: Courtesy | R.A.C.E. Matters SLO

This spring, local grassroots organization R.A.C.E. Matters SLO is offering multiple virtual events for the community that explore social activism and local Black experiences. 

Despite current COVID-19 restrictions preventing the organization from gathering, R.A.C.E. Matters SLO has been working to make their upcoming events as accessible and impactful as possible this spring. This time last year, co-founder Courtney Haile said she recalls the excitement of gathering to view photography exhibits R.A.C.E. Matters SLO sponsored, having the opportunity to mingle with other community members. Haile said she wants the same sense of community for their events this year, even if it has to be virtual.

Beginning in early March, R.A.C.E. Matters SLO programmed several events that highlight people of color in the San Luis Obispo community and the importance of social activism. A majority of the events will be free for anyone to attend virtually. 

R.A.C.E. Matters SLO began in 2016 after seeing a need for local engagement around racial and social justice; now, they’re focused on providing virtual events to engage the community, even through the pandemic. The organization is collaborating on several projects, including a segment at the SLO Film Fest, a photography exhibit at the SLO Museum of Art and their own events showcasing specific community members. 

Audio by Daytona Clarke

March 5 to May 2: “We all bleed” photography exhibit SLOMA

Beginning Mar. 5, R.A.C.E. Matters SLO began a collaboration with the SLO Museum of Art, or SLOMA, to present work by local photographer Richard Fusillo. The virtual exhibition mainly features portraits of local activists and highlights the Black Lives Matter protests from last summer. Haile said she’s excited for people to see Fusillo’s work and engage with the multimedia aspects of the exhibition.

“The activist photos will have audio testimonies, so that when you view the virtual exhibit, folks can hear their voices and experiences,” Haile said. “This was really important since they’re the focus on this.”

On April 24, R.A.C.E. Matters SLO will host a companion screening of the film “SNCC” to go with the exhibition. Standing for Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the film focuses on the photography of Danny Lyons during his time with the committee starting in the early 1960s. Lyons will also appear via Zoom for a Q&A following the screening. Haile hopes that county regulations will allow some aspects of this exhibition to occur in person by the time of the film screening.

“We’re waiting with fingers crossed to see if we’ll be able to have an outside screening, but of course we have the virtual option, so we’re prepared to go all virtual if we have to,” Haile said. 

March 9 to 14: “Short Films, Big Stories: A Program of Diverse Voices” SLO Film Fest

In collaboration with the SLO Film Fest, Haile programmed “Short Films, Big Stories.” This will include five different short films focused around diversity and activism, as well as two panel discussions. All events under this program will be free to register for on the SLO Film Fest website.

On Mar. 11, the panel “From the bottom up: Building representation in film” will feature members of the entertainment industry to discuss improving racial equity and diversity in film.

Haile herself, along with other community members, will be featured on the panel “The power of media to promote social justice” on Mar. 14. Co-founder of Community Roots Project Alisa Heraldo will be part of the panel, and she said that while she’s nervous, she hopes people attending understand the importance of the work community organizations do.

“I hope that people will see the value and the art in photo and video,” Heraldo said. “That artform of photojournalism and documentary is important for social justice. It took technology being so advanced that people can finally say what they’ve been saying all along and we can see it with our own eyes.” 

Heraldo also said that she hopes the online format of the film fest will help attract a younger audience than in previous years. 

R.A.C.E. Matters SLO also collaborated on a film, “Restrictions Apply,” that is a part of the film festival under the short films category. The 18 minute film explores housing discrimination in San Luis Obispo. According to R.A.C.E. Matters SLO’s website, the film looks at the racial covenant – a clause in a property deed that restricts people of color from buying land. The film was inspired by the fact that property deeds on the Central Coast that date back to the 1940s include these clauses.

Art and design senior Jo Anna Edmison did the cinematography for the short film, and she said she was excited to work with R.A.C.E. Matters SLO after the work they’ve done in the past. 

“It was just a great learning experience overall,” Edmison, who is also an ethnic studies minor, said. “Being able to work with such a tight-knit local community is one of the best experiences you can get, especially as a young filmmaker, and I couldn’t be more excited for people to watch the film.”

Edmison said she hopes she can work with R.A.C.E. Matters SLO more in the future and continue to explore combining her filmmaking with her interest in ethnic studies and social topics. 

“I think [the film] is going to open up a lot of really, really great discussions that need to take place,” Edmison said, referring to the topics of discrimination discussed in the film.

April to May: “Belonging” — A multimedia presentation of local Black experiences

One of R.A.C.E. Matters SLO’s larger events for the spring is “Belonging,” which Haile describes as a multimedia, multilocation experience that centers around local Black voices and experiences in the community.

Due to their inability to have a central exhibit of the event, portraits by local photographer Eric Deshawn Lerma will be featured in windows downtown. The photos will feature Black residents of San Luis Obispo, as well as activists. 

Haile said that there will also be a musical element called “Rhythms in Black,” in which local DJs will create playlists that celebrate Black music. People will have access to the playlists through R.A.C.E. Matters SLO’s social media and website to enjoy in their own homes. 

Community Roots Project is collaborating on this event as well, mainly working behind the scenes and creating video pieces for “Belonging.” According to Heraldo and Haile, the video components will be accessible via QR codes online. Heraldo said she’s excited for people to see the two organizations’ collaboration and hopes it creates lasting change for the community.

“My hope is that by seeing this exhibit, people walking past it downtown will see the representation of Black people projected in SLO and it will start to help how they see Black community members,” Heraldo said. “By all of us collaborating, doing this work, we are changing SLO from the inside out.”

R.A.C.E. Matters SLO will post updated information about their upcoming events on their social media. Some events may be in-person later in the spring depending on the latest COVID-19 recommendations. Haile said regardless of the format of these collaborations, she wants these events and collaborations to make an impact in the community.

“We don’t want it to just be a moment of like ‘oh this year we’re getting a lot of attention,’” Haile said. “We hope that there’s lasting changes.”

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