Upon viewing the footage of George Floyd’s spirit leaving his body, I could not believe my eyes. It was unconceivable that I was actually viewing the callous expression of this man. A man who calmly bent his knee into George Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds while exemplifying a complete lack of concern over ending another man’s life.

I was in shock for a few days after viewing this total disregard for human life. It was then that I came to the realization that I had a unique opportunity in my role at Bakersfield College. I came to the awareness that it is time to repair some of the broken relationships in my community. Amid the unrest that followed George Floyd’s death, President Sonya Christian and I began communicating about how to have “the kind of conversations” that will lead to real change.

Join us from now until June 19 as we embark upon an ongoing dialogue in reference to racism and law enforcement during #LightACandle: A Juneteenth Conversation. We commenced collecting testimonials from community leaders sharing their thoughts alongside BC students, faculty, staff and administration. We are honoring our core value of diversity by offering a wide range of enlightening perspectives around these issues. It is our endeavor to create a safe space where everyone is encouraged to express themselves.

However, at BC, we don’t just talk about creating opportunities for the underserved populations in Kern County; we make it happen. Right now, we are initiating the phase of listening and having a dialogue. Nevertheless, we are aware the hard work will begin once all of the stakeholders in the conversation feel valued and understood. BC has a longstanding and clearly-enacted commitment to racial equity that can be seen in our daily operations. We’ve established a team of individuals committed to the success of each and every one of our African American students. It is our endeavor to support our students academically while creating opportunities for community engagement.

As a community college, we have a commitment to ensure that everyone in the Central Valley has access to an education. This is particularly true for minority groups and others who are disproportionately affected by poverty and discrimination. However, we are well aware that it is difficult to obtain an education if you’re hungry or don’t have a place to live. Therefore, it is our pledge to embark upon commitments that will address the ongoing question, how can we best address the needs to serve the well-being of a student? This is one of the many issues that we’re going to address throughout our Juneteenth campaign.

It is my esteemed pleasure to serve at a college that values diversity and equity. I value the opportunity to serve under the leadership of President Sonya Christian. Last but not least, it is my pleasure to serve along with our faculty and staff who are stepping up and evolving our entire community to help us move through this traumatic moment in time.

As we embark on a future of uncertainty, we will remain vigilant as we continue to explore opportunities to meet the needs of our students. It is our endeavor to partner with community organizations to meet the needs of our African American students outside the classroom. We hope you’ll join us as we explore the plethora of “outcomes” these partnerships may facilitate for years to come during #LightACandle: A Juneteenth Conversation.

Steven Watkin serves as the executive director of outreach and Early College at Bakersfield College.

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