Brandon Greene, 38 year old Black male
Benicia resident for 6 years
My earliest memories of anti-Blackness were from preschool. While I did not fully understand my feelings, it became much clearer when my former preschool teacher recently ran into my mother and told her how she had been afraid of me, the four-year-old Black boy in her class. That was the beginning. Throughout my academic career I was frequently removed from class and my mother called in for a parent teacher conference, in spite of the fact that I excelled academically. In middle school, I, like other kids my age who were consumed with hiphop, wanted a starter jacket. When my mother told me that she could not afford one, I – never one to accept limitations – decided to save my lunch money toward the purchase. That Christmas, my mother and grandmother combined their money with the money I had saved and purchased me a Charlotte Hornets jacket. Not two months later, I found myself in the principal’s office accused of stealing the jacket. This wouldn't be the last time I was falsely accused of wrongdoing. By the time I exited high school, I was convinced that I was cursed. As a teen and young adult, I experienced several close calls with the law not based on my wrongdoings, but the color of my skin. I thought that maybe college degrees would insulate me, so I became a lawyer. However, more education, money and social access still did not provide me the comfort of feeling safe.
My wife, who is also a lawyer, is White. She sees how the world reacts to me and our children. Her fear of the dangers of driving while Black has led her to take a proactive approach to my safety by not allowing me to drive on long trips. She is under the assumption that if we are pulled over, I may face less danger with her behind the wheel - or perhaps we would not be pulled over at all. Time will tell if this strategy works. She sees and feels anti-Blackness in a deep way in her day-to-day life by watching the way it circles around her husband and children.
This brings me to my journey to Benicia . My wife and I met in law school in Boston. During our first jobs out of law school, we found ourselves expecting the birth of our first child. As new parents, my wife’s and my first consideration of a place to live was safety and the second was schools. Berkeley, the Oakland Hills, and what seemed like the entirety of the East Bay area seemed too expensive. We cast our eyes on Benicia as an affordable option. It offered the added benefit of good schools.
From all of my experiences growing up and being singled out for being Black, not usually in a good way, I had deep concerns about moving to a small, suburban community, where being Black is an anomaly. Even now, six years in, I am hyper conscious of my existence in Benicia.
I was pleasantly surprised by the treatment I received here. The realtor worked fervently with us to find the right home in a good neighborhood. We quickly adapted to the rhythm here, enjoying the downtown, the proximity of the water, the hiking trails and the facility of travel to Napa, Oakland, Sacramento, and San Francisco. Despite my striking physical differences from the majority here, I feel welcomed in Raleys, the bank, and the library, where they greet us by name. I took advantage of the need for community involvement in local government, and became a member of the Open Government Commission, where I served for three years. But Benicia is sleepy and slow to progress. Postings on Nextdoor often show in stark ways the reality that exists just under the quaint, suburban politeness - someone who looks like me or my children can be deemed inherently suspicious. So do the stories of the disparities that exist within the school system and elsewhere.
I’m happy here, but it could be better. Benicia could become a model city for social equity and justice. All it takes is courage and the right leadership. It says something that the third capital of California has not yet crossed the threshold to elect a single Black elected official to local office.That the governance from 1853 to present has not included a single Black voice. In that way Benicia is both in lock step with and behind our national politics.