Listening to Black San Bernardino

Highlights from our virtual sit-down with Demita Burgess, San Bernardino native, volunteer rooted in spiritual faith, and proud member of Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement.

“These COI discussions have been so important and informative. Even though we are spread out throughout San Bernardino, we share common challenges and a love for our communities.”

Demita Burgess, San Bernardino native.


Why does redistricting matter?

I have been living in San Bernardino my whole life so I have seen decades of change. In some areas, neighborhoods that were once exclusively African American have now been spread apart. It can be difficult to get together, which is why these COI discussions have been so important and informative because we share common histories and futures. Redistricting is ultimately about political power and representation. The decisions that are made will affect us for the next ten years, so we need our representatives to hear from and understand us.

What are the strengths and challenges that have shaped Black San Bernardino?

One of our biggest strengths is faith, which has always helped Black folks survive challenges. We have a substantial religious community. You might see dozens of churches in a small geographic area.  We celebrate Kwanzaa and Black history and culture every day. We’re also living in a very large and under-served geographical area which makes it challenging to share information and realize that our issues and futures are connected. 

What issues will define Black futures in San Bernardino?

Lack of respect and resources came up in many of my conversations. We have a high homeless population and not enough services to care for that population. We have terrible access to public services, which means we have to travel very far to find a decent grocery store. There are not enough childcare services or quality schools. I talked to a lot of people who feel under-represented and abandoned. 

This all comes down to representation and respect. I am living next to vacant lots filled with trash and debris that never get picked up. It sends a hurtful message, you know, and you begin to wonder: Do those in power think we’re garbage? We need to make sure that our voices are heard during the decision making processes that affect our community’s access to resources. Redistricting will affect how we get resources, political representation, and really, the respect we need and deserve.

What will it look like for Black folks to not only survive, but to thrive in San Bernardino?

For Black folks to not only survive, but thrive in San Bernardino, our elected representatives should engage with us not only at election time, but all the time. Places like Medical Center Drive all the way to Waterman Avenue will no longer be neglected and taken for granted, they will be vibrant and prioritized. We’ll live in clean, safe neighborhoods and we won’t have to travel so darn far to get our groceries or go shopping at the mall. We’ll feel seen and heard.

What values must guide the development of a map that protects and honors Black lives in San Bernardino?

At the end of the day, redistricting is all about making sure we have a voice in determining who can best represent the needs of our families and communities. This process needs to emphasize hearing from those most affected by some of the issues I discussed earlier. I want this process to show that our state heard and honored the concerns and hopes of the people in my community.

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