Published Jan. 31, 2024
BY CASSIDY SCHEID
As he exited the Monterey Lanes bowling alley on July 6, 2018, Dirrick Williams was met by a white couple standing at the doorway, who had been drinking at the bar inside, to whom Williams said, “Excuse me,” trying to walk around them. The woman falsely accused Williams, who is Black, of grabbing her as he walked by, she called him the N-word, and after a few exchanges of words, what could have been a conversation turned violent when the woman jumped onto Williams’ back and the man punched Williams in the face, breaking his jaw in three places.
The woman served 60 days in county jail, and the man was sentenced to six years in prison, yet when neither was found guilty of a hate crime, Williams was inspired to take action in the community.
Following the death of George Floyd, a Black man murdered in Minneapolis by a white police officer, and the Black Lives Matter movement sweeping the nation in 2020, Williams founded The Black Leaders and Allies Collaborative, an anti-racist organization with the goal of making a difference in Monterey County through proactive events and dialogue.
The founder, a long-time, dedicated community member, born and raised in Pacific Grove, recognized the need for a more organized, structured effort towards the eradication of racism, aligning with the principles of the BLM movement and felt the call to found BLAAC after experiencing and seeing the very real issue of racism across the country while serving in the Air Force and locally in Monterey County.
“My goal was to create an organization that would have the urgency and reality of the Black experience through Black leadership, but also to incorporate the desire, the understanding and the want of those who are not Black,” Williams explains. “And to bring everybody together because, in reality, this problem is not going to go away.”
Williams aspires to make a difference in the community and describes the organization and its events as passive-aggressive ways to prompt members of the community to engage in dialogue, have the difficult conversations and be present when discussing the topic of racism in America.
“I want to make sure my great-granddaughter has a better world than the world I’ve lived in,” Williams reflects. “It’s just that simple.”
This month, in collaboration with the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, BLAAC is putting on the Black History Month Film Festival, an event that highlights a variety of diverse films and talented filmmakers. Following each screening, attendees are invited to participate in meaningful conversation on the issues discussed in the selected film. Films being shown this month include “Daddy Hunger,” “Boss: The Black Experience in Business,” “Black Boys” and “Making Black America.” Screenings are Wednesdays all February at 6:30 p.m. at the Irvine Auditorium.
“We do things in a way that gets people to open up, to have dialogue and to listen to real life experiences of other people outside of what is comfortable for us,” Williams adds.
Created by Williams after Ethnic Studies was mandated for graduation in California, the EuroCentric Cultural Reflectionism course is a program that focuses on having conversations about often evaded topics around racism in America, one’s own ethnicity, religion and economics and recognizing and changing one’s own biases and mindsets regarding these topics in a judgment-free environment. The course has a unique approach to traditional diversity training and centers on being present, having real conversations and learning from others’ experiences.
“Dirrick and his course seek to create a deeper understanding about one’s own ethnic racial background and how that also relates to the African American history in the United States,” says Brian Bajari, a founding board member on BLAAC says. “I really think it’s a course that helps to unify people, as opposed to tearing people apart.”
ECCR is a 14-week program, meeting two hours weekly over Zoom. Williams feels the direct impact that his course has on others, and alums of this course describe it as a life-changing and transformative experience.
“The effect that ECCR has had in the lives of people is one that would ignite them to go out to change the lives of other people.” Williams says. “You can’t ask for much more than that.”
Their Pop Up conversations are another way that BLAAC fosters dialogue and relationship building while addressing the issue of racism in the community, providing a place for participants to engage in worthwhile discussions over a cup of coffee. These Pop Up conversations delve into real life issues, usually beginning with a short video clip, followed by a few thought-provoking questions. Attendees then have the space to share their own thoughts and experiences and have conversation regarding the issue at hand. These Pop Up conversations are open doors, taking place at the East Village Cafe in Monterey on the third Wednesday of every month.
“It’s about getting people to expose their own feelings and thoughts so that we can learn through the eyes and through the experiences of other people and become a more compassionate society,” Williams explains.
The founder is passionate about the fact that BLAAC is built on the foundation of building relationships and understanding, and events like the Pop Up conversations and the Black History Month Film Festival help facilitate these values.
“In reality, it’s not an issue of racism,” Wiliams describes. “It is an issue of relationship, and we need to fix that relationship before we try to fix racism, so this organization is about relationship, and everything happens in these relationships.”
Since its beginning, BLAAC has grown while working alongside other like-minded organizations, and moving forward, Williams envisions continued growth, aspiring to extend the positive impact beyond the Monterey County.