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February 6, 2018 > Flame Keepers host Black History Celebration Breakfast

Flame Keepers host Black History Celebration Breakfast

By Rhoda J. Shapiro

For the past 40 years, the community of Milpitas has celebrated Black History Month by hosting a celebration breakfast. Demetress Morris, founder of the organization Flame Keepers, inherited the event about a decade ago and has been organizing it ever since.

When the breakfast first started, it was typically held on Sunday mornings, but over the years, it has shifted to Saturday mornings. Initially organized by leaders in the African-American community in Milpitas, Morris credits people like community leader Herbert Holloway and former Milpitas Mayor Ben Gross, who served as one of the first black mayors in California, for their contributions in starting the beloved annual breakfast. Although both men have since passed away, Morris keeps the tradition alive.

ÒJust about every year, we have a different theme. This yearÕs theme is Birth of a Nation,Ó said Morris. "We're focusing on women and the part theyÕve played. Not only black women, but women of color and all women. Even those like Susan B. Anthony who helped make our nation into what it is today.Ó

No stranger to community-oriented work, Morris started Flame Keepers in 2004. At that time, she noticed that her oldest son was struggling in high school. Determined to find a solution and to make the Òachievement gapÓ a thing of the past, Morris marched onto the grounds of Milpitas High School to talk to a professional who was knowledgeable about what students like her son were experiencing. She was surprised to find that nobody was focusing on these matters. ThatÕs when Morris took it upon herself to create Flame Keepers, an advocacy organization that would help to close the Òachievement gapÓ in schools.

In the beginning it was slow going. Nobody wanted to listen to Morris, much less address her concerns. However, all that changed when she reached out to Marsha Grilli (MilpitasÕ current Vice Mayor), who was serving as President of the Milpitas Unified School DistrictÕs Board of Education at the time.

ÒI couldnÕt get a meeting with the superintendent, and Marsha said she would make it happen. She got me on the calendar right away. She set up that meeting with the superintendent. I want to give credit to our women. ThatÕs really what this yearÕs breakfast is about,Ó said Morris. "ItÕs women like Marsha who really move the needle and make the difference. After Marsha got involved, things started to change and move. Awareness started getting out there. There was respect. People wanted to find out about what we were doing.Ó

Before long, Morris, making use of her bachelorÕs degree in management and her masterÕs in leadership, found herself on the school campus just about every day. She was running monthly meetings and talking to teachers, staff, and counselors. She sat down with principals and with parents. She became a bridge, a kind of liaison, bringing all parties together in pursuit of a brighter future for children. Within a couple of months, test scores started going up. The attitude on campus drastically shifted. Everyone started working together, in a deep flow of collaboration.

At present, Flame Keepers has evolved into an organization that promotes diversity and collaboration, working with schools and the community to represent the needs and concerns of students and families of color. ÒWhat we do is engage with the community, and we fill its needs. People tell us what their concerns are, and we help them push issues,Ó said Morris. ÒParents are calling me all the time, asking for support on challenges in school. We look at the things that arenÕt working, and we talk to people to find out whatÕs happening; we remind them of the framework.Ó

When asked about the meaning behind the name Flame Keepers, Morris said, ÒPeople seemed like they didnÕt know where to go. I thought, we need a flame, a light, a beacon. WeÕve got to keep this torch lit, so people know where to go and they can find their way. And now, for Flame Keepers, this upcoming breakfast...this is a reflective time for us. So we can look at where weÕve been and where we still need to go.Ó

Activist and coach Chandra Brooks is slated to take the podium as the breakfastÕs Keynote Speaker. Brooks is a powerhouse in the community and has been immersed in a life of service for many years. For the past four years, she has served on the Commission on the Status of Women in Santa Clara County.

After the 2016 presidential election, Brooks felt what sheÕd seen was a call to action to communities of color; she knew it was time for them to start understanding politics at a local level. Meanwhile, she wanted to inform and empower people to create change in their own communities. This is what led her to write her first book, ÒBlack, Brown & Political.Ó

At the breakfast, sheÕll be speaking about women and their profound impact on community and leadership. ÒIÕm really excited,Ó said Brooks. "Every time I speak, I try to bring a message of empowerment and inspiration.Ó

The ÒBlack History Celebration BreakfastÓ will take place on Saturday, February 10, at Sunnyhills United Methodist Church in Milpitas. Breakfast and admission are free of charge. An awards presentation to honor the achievements and contributions of members of the community will be included as well. For more information, contact Demetress Morris at

Black History Celebration Breakfast
Saturday, Feb 10
9 a.m.
Sunnyhills United Methodist Church
355 Dixon Rd, Milpitas

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