Much can be learned about the character of a community by the way it honors historic and heroic national figures.
Bakersfield has a street named for Martin Luther King Jr. It also has a city park and a community center named for the slain civil rights leader. And in 2020, more than a half-century after his assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School will open in the Bakersfield City School District.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is an American federal holiday, and this year it falls on Monday, a day filled with activities and events.
"This day is more than a holiday set aside to honor Dr. King," said the Rev. Wesley Crawford, chairman of the committee that organizes multiple events each year.
"It is a day to come together in love and harmony — and reflect on good times and bad," Crawford said.
According to the 2010 census, about 8 percent of Bakersfield residents are black or African American. But Crawford emphasized that the day is certainly not meant to be observed only by black Americans, but by Americans of all races.
The day begins with the annual Community Awards Breakfast, scheduled from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. at the MLK Center, 1000 S. Owens St. in east Bakersfield. A number of individuals selected by the committee will be honored, including Kern County Superior Court Judge Stephen Schuett; Bakersfield College President Sonya Christian; Wesley Davis III, vice president of the Wendale Davis Foundation; Ben Stinson, CEO of Stinson Stationers; and others.
Crawford praised each of the honorees, but he was particularly passionate about Stinson's history of giving without expecting any accolades or recognition.
"Ben Stinson is the most unselfish man I have ever met in my life," Crawford said.
To RSVP for the breakfast, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 412-8551.
Jan. 21 is also known as a "Day of Service," and area residents are asked to think about doing for others. A community clean-up runs from 10 a.m. to noon. Those interested in joining can meet at the MLK Center.
But Crawford said some may simply prefer to do something on their own. Visit a nursing home and read to an elderly resident, or stop and make contact with a homeless person, Crawford said.
It can be as simple as doing a chore for a neighbor or reaching out to a friend in need.
From noon to 2 p.m., also at the MLK Center, a free lunch and community warmth drive will offer meals to all comers, and jackets and warm clothing will be offered to individuals and families in need. The event is presented by the King Committee, United Community Outreach, and Building Healthy Communities AmeriCorps.
Late Monday afternoon at 5:30, marchers will gather at the Wilson Road branch of the Kern County Library. At 6 p.m. they will walk about a half-mile to Church of Christ Christian Ministries, 1416 Wilson Road.
They will be singing "We Shall Overcome."
At the church a multi-faceted program will begin featuring several speakers as well as music.
The theme: "Keeping the faith."