By Darlene L. Williams, Contributing Writer

BAKERSFIELD, CA.—The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Committee held a community celebration breakfast to honor the life and legacy of slain civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and to commemorate eight Kern County honorees for their leadership and community service. The 4-hour event marked its twentieth year of celebrations, and was held Monday, January 17, 2022 at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center.  

Four hundred-eighty people from different walks of life and ethnicities attended the patriotic- themed event titled, IT STARTS WITH ME: Shifting Priorities to Create the Beloved Community. The breakfast was catered by Hodel’s Country Dining.

 “This year, our drive was to educate, to advocate, and to activate, Crawford said. “That’s our foundation this year.” 

Mayor Karen Goh praised local community leaders who “are dedicated to nurturing and sustaining Dr. King’s dream.” She presented a proclamation to mark Jan 17 as the official Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and “called on all citizens to recommit to the pursuit of peace, unity, and equality in our community.”  

Keynote Speaker, and award recipient, Michael T. Bowers speech, From Black History to Black Future, was well-received as he shared memories of his early years and love for the southeast community he was raised in. “I love MLK Park,” Bowers said, “I went to head start here, but when I look here and the nearest pharmacy is 3 miles away, that ought not be.”

Several times during Bowers speech, as he spoke of the changes that need to happen in the black community and  those things that “ought not be”, he received applause, “amen’s” and “that’s right, brother.” 

 “Three decades of no economic development, we have to change that,” he said. 

In closing, Bowers stated, “And we see organizations that are getting millions of dollars.  “When I look at the black senior center, run under the tutelage of Lili Parker, there is no reason why that facility should not be the premiere facility in our community moving things forward.” 

Bowers received a standing ovation.

Other highlights of the celebration included award recipients: 

-Michael Trihey, News Director of KGET/Telemundo Valle Central. Trihey’s was given the MLK award for his “in-depth special reporting on wrongly convicted defendants and the conditions that face young African-American men in southeast Bakersfield.” 

-Jesse Bead, Principal/Coordinator at Rafer Johnson Community Day School

-Lili J Parker, Executive Director, Bakersfield Senior Center, Inc. 

-Dr. Arleana Waller, Humanitarian, Advocate, Mentor, ShePower Leadership Founder, Visionary

-Deacon Isaiah Crompton, CADAAC I and II Drug and Alcohol Counselor for Kern County Mental Health, Founder and Executive Director of Isaiah’s Sober Living Home

-Mukul Arnand, SCLC High School Student of the Year, awarded for his research on multiple facets of   racial and economic injustice  including: mass incarceration of minorities in the United States, the cost of reincarceration, lack of support systems for prisoners, and the potential of rehabilitation programs lowering the recidivism rate.  

-David Valado, U.S. Congressman 

-Natesha Johnson, C.E.O. & Founder at Upside Production, Founder at Upside Academy   

-Michael T. Bowers, Director of Public Relation and Business Development, newly appointed to the Planning Commission for the city of Bakersfield

As a part of each recipient’s award, they will each be flown to the MLK headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia.

Committee Chair, Reverend Wesley Crawford Sr., concluded,” I’m glad that the community comes together on this day every year to honor Dr. King, but we must remember that we have to do it all together.”