Bakersfield College and Cal State Bakersfield this month will host film screenings, plays, book discussions, lectures and other events to celebrate Black History Month and bring awareness to issues in the black community.

On the first day, Wednesday, BC unveiled a new mentor program aimed at guiding local African-American students through higher education.

The African-American Male Mentoring Project, started by BC's Student Government Association, is designed to increase academic performance, retention, graduation and transfer rates, and to decrease dropout rates among black men attending BC.

Local professionals in government, businesses, education, law enforcement and faith-based groups will be trained to help the students focus on building skills needed to become responsible and productive citizens.

Latino and black students are at the center of the so-called "achievement gap" -- they traditionally perform lower academically than whites and Asians, for example. At BC last school year, 638 black students had a combined grade point average of 1.63, according to BC statistics. Seventeen completed their associate's degrees and 17 completed a certificate program. Many drop out.

"This project is essential in our effort to increase the success of African-American students," said Tawntannisha Thompson, president of SGA.

Community members interested in learning more about the project can call Joyce Coleman, BC dean of students, at 395-4051.

Throughout BC this month, the campus will also celebrate the achievements of black Americans and their central role in U.S. history. The events, open to the public, are organized by SGA, the Norman Levan Center for the Humanities and the Equal Opportunity and Diversity Advisory Committee.

Across town at CSUB, the campus kicked off the month's celebrations under the theme of "The 1940s: A Dedication to the Rise of Progress." Events paid tribute to the early civil rights legacy from that decade through educational programs, entertainment, a voter registration drive, a performance by Bakersfield Community Theatre and a keynote address from Dee Slade, director of the African-American Network of Kern County.

Later this month, California State University officials, including from CSUB, will take part in Super Sunday -- a CSU annual outreach effort aimed at helping black students prepare for college. They visit predominantly black churches around California to tout the benefits of a college degree and to offer practical advice on starting appropriate course work early.

Local stops are Church of Christ Ministries, Compassion Christian Center, Cross Christian Church, Greater Harvest Christian Center, People's Missionary Baptist Church, St. John Missionary Baptist Church and St. Peter Restoration Community Christian Ministries.

For a full schedule, go to

-- Jorge Barrientos, Californian staff