Bakersfield College African-American Students Celebrate Black History Month with “Black Excellence”
By Darlene L. Williams, Contributing Writer
Enrolling into college and staying enrolled can be intimidating and challenging for many students. Bakersfield College Umoja A.S.T.E.P (African-American Success Through Excellence & Persistence) students are proving that they are up for the challenge. Friday, February 8, 2019 the student-led Umoja Club celebrated Black History Month with a “Black Excellence Conference” from 8:00 am-2:00pm.
150 students from ten high schools were represented, 200 people were in attendance including BC students, faculty, staff, administration and community members.
Dr. Jewel Jackson of African Soul International got the students moving to the rhythmic beat of African drums as she simultaneously taught them how the African people honor that earth, God, and self through various dance movements. According to africansoulinternational.org, ASI is an African Dance Company located in Los Angeles, Ca. that uses the traditional arts of Africa to empower and educate youth in the community and around the world.
Keynote speaker for the event, Reverend Dr. Charles Dorsey is a motivational speaker, preacher, and community empowerment specialist ( a few of his many accomplishments ) spoke to the energetic crowd about the importance of commitment and “no more missed opportunities.”
“I’ve got about 45-minutes to convince you that you’re more powerful than you realize,” Dorsey said. “You ought to value yourself enough to value your time and to make a difference. The only thing you never get back is your time. You’re too brilliant to not take advantage of a moment.”
Dorsey told the students to get an ink pen in their hands and waited until they had one raised in the air. “ You cannot allow other people to write our story. What story needs to be re-told?” he asked.
The six-hour event also included 6 break-out workshops: “Who You Lookin At?(Addressing Drama and Conflict), “The Complexities of Black Manhood”, “Thinking Outside the Box”(Careers Beyond Sports and Music),”Journey of Success”, “Student Leadership”,” What’s There to Protest? Times are Good: Activism Past and Present.”
Dorsey closed out his empowerment message with questions and answers from the audience. Opportunities are thrown our way every day, said Dorsey. “ No more missed opportunities; anytime someone gives you an opportunity to speak up…SPEAK UP!
The Bakersfield News Observer(BNO) spoke with several students about their take-away from the event or asked a question that Mr. Dorsey showed on his power-point presentation, “What would our nation be like if you were president?”
Urika Grey(West High) told the Bakersfield News Observer,” It( the conference) was empowering to learn and see the African-American culture, the music, and the dancing.”
Mya Smith( South High), “ I learned how powerful our culture is and the impact we have on the rest of the world.”
Shantalyse Piper(Bakersfield College), “ I liked how he(Dorsey) talked about your transcripts don’t define you, basically you make your own path. Yes, grades do play a factor, but you can always change those. And I liked how he talked about you can rewrite your story and you shouldn’t allow someone else to do it for you.”
Bryshanique Morgan(West High) said, “ If I was president, I would make history because I would be the first African-American female president. I would create jobs. I would especially help black people more who don’t have a voice; we don’t get the opportunities like other people.”
Umoja Community A.S.T.E.P. was started by Dr. Paula Parks in 2015. The program includes coursework( English, library and student development), study time with tutoring support, counseling support to stay on track and graduate, academic and cultural trips.
The Umoja program has expanded to include optional math courses depending on placement and in 2018, twice as many students were able to start the semester in Umoja courses. Success rates for African American students completing transfer level English have risen by 300% due to Umoja.
“I am so proud of the Umoja Community Club leadership in conceptualizing, planning, and executing this cultural celebration of Black Excellence. They learned so much through the process of putting on such a large event. As the Umoja coordinator and Club adviser, I am beyond gratified, “Parks said.