Speaking in sometimes blunt language about uncomfortable but important subjects, prominent members of Bakersfield's black community addressed challenges ranging from student expulsions to negative stereotypes to business inequality.
The roughly 70 people who turned out for the second annual State of African Americans in Kern County heard straight talk that often took the local black community to task for its troubles rather than blaming outside influences.
At the meeting's start, the president of the Panama-Buena Vista Union School District, Keith Wolaridge, said he planned to say things that would likely upset people in the audience. "But that's why we're here to have the discussion," he said.
A six-person panel composed of successful local black men and one woman focused on ensuring opportunity for youth.
Wolaridge said high student expulsion rates may be a result of zero-tolerance policies that redefine what it means to "willfully defy authorities." He said the term has different meanings in different cultures, and that "we need to have that discussion of cultural differences."
Speaker Arleana Waller, a Bakersfield social media expert and CEO of Rich Girl Entertainment, emphasized the importance of building self-esteem among young black women.
"That is my message to women: Make no apologies for being fabulous," she said.
Anthony Bailey, reporter and weekend weather anchor at KBAK and KBFX Eyewitness News, defended local news coverage of black people, saying crime reports do not reflect an anti-black agenda.
"We don't decide what color the person is that pulls the trigger," he said.
Nick Hill, president and CEO of the Kern County Black Chamber of Commerce, called on aspiring business owners to reach out to his and other local organizations for the resources they will need to become successful.
Speaker Keith Cherry, pastor at Bakersfield's New Hope Restoration Center, said churches need to do more to stay relevant among young people.
"We need programs in the church that are going to interest them in the church," he said.
One of the speakers, an on-air personality at Hot 94.1, won applause for his advice that young people make changes in their lives if they want a job. His advice: "You gotta pull your pants up, kids. Lose the lid. Lose the N-word."
He implored the community to get guns off the street, perhaps by setting up a gun buy-back program.
"We can talk about the media -- the media's against us. It's up to us," he said. "We've gotta get the guns off the streets."
"Until we're ready to grab a mirror and look into it, nothing will change."
The event at Beale Memorial Library was hosted by the Bakersfield chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.