The conversations I have had with friends, colleagues and community leaders around George Floyd’s death and countless others aren’t new — they have taken place each time we hear the news of another victim at the hands of law enforcement.

I have been deeply involved with the Bakersfield College planning efforts around the Juneteenth conversations regarding race and racism issues and how they negatively impact our community. BC is a beacon for individual empowerment while insisting that we live in healthy communities, respecting and valuing each and every one.

Racial injustices happen on a daily basis to all people of color — some overt, some blatant. It isn’t a new dialogue; it has just been amplified across the world as we have collectively said enough is enough. While we used to have these conversations in private or within the comfort of our closest circles, we have now been given permission to share the experiences with a wider audience. It is acceptable to discuss the care we must take as professionals, as parents, as community leaders when we walk out the door wanting to embrace our culture, yet understanding that it will make others uncomfortable to do so.

People of color live in a society where we hear so many don’ts: “Those colors are too bold, tone down your language, stop talking with your hands, modify your excitement, do not stand out, watch your facial expressions, don’t look angry, don’t speak up, watch yourself.” Learn to blend in to be successful and accepted because others will be uncomfortable if you don’t follow those rules. Who are those others and why have we followed those rules?

I am a proud Latina and to tone down my culture is to erase who I am. As the former president of Latina Leaders of Kern County, as a professional serving as part of the President’s Cabinet at the largest community college in the state, I want to create the space for others to embrace their individuality. The reality is all of our communities are hurting. The dialogue around racism, colorism and how we have conversations around it as a community and in our homes is urgent.

I am proud to work at an institution that not only values our diversity but also is focused on concrete actions, projects and initiatives that lift the most vulnerable of our population. I am involved with BC’s Rural Health Equity and Learning Collaborative with a focus on bringing communities from poverty to prosperity. This work started more than two years ago and continues to grow its influence. This is just one of the many examples of the work at BC.

Today, I commit to uplifting the young Latinas in our community — to have difficult conversations with them about race and social injustices and how we can all do better to create spaces where our society can thrive, and through these conversations help these young women realize their full potential as Latina leaders. I ask you to join me, join BC, as we continue to provide opportunities for engagement and dialogue. We all have a responsibility to do our part. We must be the change.

Norma Rojas is the director of communication and community relations at Bakersfield College.

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