House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn and Rep. TJ Cox were some of the individuals who kicked off Bakersfield College's weeklong #LightACandle: A Juneteenth Conversation Monday night by discussing racism and social injustice in the country.
BC's #LightACandle: A Juneteenth Conversation will feature local, state and national speakers throughout the week discussing racism, violence and ways to overcome these issues. It all leads up to June 19, also known as Juneteenth, which is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.
In prerecorded videos, the three Congressmen highlighted the recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and the importance of Juneteenth.
Bakersfield Rep. McCarthy said Juneteenth started the United States "on a path to live up to the words of our founders that 'all men are created equal.'" However, the scars and wounds of slavery, he said, are still felt, and the country shouldn't stop fighting for "a more perfect union."
"George Floyd should still be alive today, as should Pat Underwood, David Dorn and countless others," McCarthy said, noting the recent deaths of law enforcement officers. "It’s incumbent upon us now to ensure that they are delivered the change they so rightly deserve."
He commended BC and the Bakersfield Police Department for working to adapt local police academy classes to include topics like racial conflict. It's a positive step, McCarthy said, but there's more work to be done.
In Rep. Cox's video message, he recounted his experiences with racism as an Asian-American, saying those memories still bring tears to his eyes today.
"I don’t want any child to ever have to live with that feeling," Cox said. "I know my story doesn’t compare to the tragedies of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and countless others, but I know racism has long lasting effects on those who experience it."
He encouraged individuals to use their position to address racial inequalities, like Central Valley residents have in the past. During the 1968 Olympics, gold medalist Tommie Smith, from Lemoore, raised his black-gloved fist to protest racism and injustice during the playing of the national anthem at his medal ceremony. NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who lived in Turlock growing up, is known for taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem prior to games.
With Juneteenth getting a spotlight this year, Clyburn said its history can teach everyone about the importance of communication.
The Emancipation Proclamation, effective Jan. 1, 1863, freed millions of enslaved African Americans in Confederate states. However, it wasn't until June 19, 1865, when the people of Galveston, Texas, knew that all previously enslaved people in Texas were free.
"We should communicate with each other as much as possible, as often as possible, because that’s the way that we’re going to preserve the integrity of the effort that we have taken to help this country become a more perfect union," Clyburn said. "We all have different roles to play, and if we all play our roles successfully, the effort itself will be successful."
BC faculty and community members also shared their personal stories of racial injustice and ways to move forward in video messages.
For more information on BC's #LightACandle: A Juneteenth Conversation, visit https://www.bakersfieldcollege.edu/aai/lightacandle-a-juneteenth-conversation