African Americans account for about 6 percent of Kern County residents, but they're disproportionately represented in school expulsion and suspension rates, making access to employment difficult later in life. That was part of the message at an event Saturday hosted by the Bakersfield chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The group brought together a panel of local black community leaders to discuss issues facing the black community and potential solutions.
The local NAACP chapter billed the event as the first annual State of African Americans in Kern County. Chapter President Patrick Jackson said the goal was to bring resources to blacks in Kern County.
"I hope that (the attendees) leave with aspirations ... and a mindset of growth," Jackson said.
Six speakers talked about health and education issues, business and employment, politics and public safety.
School suspensions and expulsions of black students are disproportionate to their numbers in Kern County and Bakersfield schools, said Gwendolyn Johnson, who recently retired as principal of Casa Loma Elementary School.
"I know that black children can learn," Johnson said. Yet, nearly 60 years after the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, she said, "African American students are not meeting the targets set in math and reading."
Johnson stressed the importance of parents' involvement in their students' education, including following up on concerns with a principal or school district administrator if needed.
Charles West, of the Kern County Career Services Center, talked about employment but also stressed parents' influence. The center offers training for job seekers and helps connect them with local employers, yet less than 1 percent of the community around the southeast Bakersfield location uses the center's resources.
"Help us help you," he said. "We offer ... the opportunity to enhance your utilization of computers, building resumes, interview skills. ... You're going to get hands-on attention."
Parents can help by preparing their children, such as by encouraging reading.
"It must start at home," he said. "They cannot spend hours watching stuff that is not real" on TV.
Morgan Clayton, who founded Bakersfield-based Tel-Tec Security Systems, talked about how access to information about business, a good credit score, hard work and time management are important for anyone interested in starting a business.
"We need to express to young people and those who are interested (that) it's all about managing the time," Clayton said. "It takes hard work. ... Immediate gratification is not a model for success."
Capt. Hajir Nuriddin of the Bakersfield Police Department addressed racial profiling.
Bakersfield police do all they can to make sure everyone they come in contact with is treated respectfully, she said. But, she added, "If you're not treated fairly, we need to hear your complaints."
Moreover, she said, witnesses to crimes are afraid to step forward.
"We pretend we are concerned yet we don't want to have a voice for these victims," she said.
The other speakers on the panel were Michael Bowers, who has a background in political campaigns, and Kern County Public Health Officer Dr. Claudia Jonah.