Caribbean Benefit Lends Taste of Black Culture

Jan Hofmann is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

Where else but Orange County would you find a Caribbean-themed benefit set in a Spanish-style courtyard celebrating the richness of Afro-American history?

With the sultry rhythms of reggae wafting through the warm air (along with the spicy aromas of authentic island fare), Tom Coley said the mix was hardly accidental.

“Orange County is blessed with a diversity of groups,” said Coley, president of the newly formed Black Cultural Council of the Historical and Cultural Foundation of Orange County. “What we (in Orange County are) saying is don’t isolate yourself, but don’t give up your heritage, either.”

And so the Black Cultural Council, one of seven ethnic cultural councils under the umbrella of the foundation, was chartered in 1987 to help make the contributions of black Americans more visible to both blacks and whites in the county.


Saturday night’s “A Taste of the Caribbean” at the San Juan Capistrano Library was the second such fund-and-consciousness-raiser for the group, the first since it was officially chartered.

Elizabeth Tierney, founding president of the Historical and Cultural Foundation of Orange County, said forming a Black Cultural Council “has been a dream of ours for a long time.”

She and other organizers had been searching for volunteers to lead a black council since the foundation began in 1985, she said.

With blacks constituting just 2% of the county’s population, according to Cal State Fullerton President Jewel Plummer Cobb, establishing visibility can require effort.


“There are no normal processes whereby children, black and white, can learn about the cultural contributions of black Americans,” said Cobb, a member of the group’s honorary committee.

“In an environment like this, it’s easy to lose touch with your culture,” Coley said.

About $8,000 in proceeds from the $30-per-person event, which attracted about 200 supporters, will be used to support and expand the council’s first project, a traveling exhibit of artifacts called “A Treasure Chest of Black American History and Culture.”

The exhibit will be taken to elementary schools throughout the county.

The group chose a Caribbean theme because “it’s something a lot of people can relate to, even non-blacks,” Coley said. “And it’s kind of a compromise between the black American and black African cultures.”

Beverly Strother and Janice King were chairwomen for the event.

The International Reggae All Stars and the Basil Grant limbo dancers provided the entertainment.