Rhyan Nile, Feature Writer
(Bakersfield, Ca.) – This was a dream that has been in the making since 1993, and the Grand Opening that was prayed for, is finally here! The Johnson & Taft Mortuary is officially open. Billy Taft had the idea to go into the Mortuary business when he was a young man living in Fort Worth, TX. Taft stayed next door to Mr. Ron Baker, who owned one of the largest Mortuary in Fort Worth, which just so happened to be black-owned. Taft used to admire Baker because he dressed so nicely. And from that moment, he knew he wanted to be an undertaker. Taft served in the United States Army and went to the Vietnam War. After seeing all the mangled bodies he showed compassion and was signed to the morgue to put things back together. “I didn’t enjoy it but I knew it was a need,” said Taft. In 1993, Taft became an aide to Bishop Benjamin Crouch, and he was there, holding his hand as he passed away, and before Crouch did he said something to Taft that changed his life from then on out; he said “Billy you’re living below my means. There’s more to you than this.” The next month, Taft enrolled in Mortuary school at the Dallas Institute, in Fort Worth, TX, and got an A degree in Mortuary Science. After ministering for ten years, Taft went to see what it takes to open up his own Mortuary.
Taft’s brother, Elder Theophiles “Arthur” Taft Jr. recently passed on September 25, 2021, due to COVID-19, and he was a huge part of making this dream come true. Taft’s brother was always there reassuring him that no matter how many “no’s” he received there would always be a yes waiting for him. Taft’s brother would pray for him and his dream every day, and give him the encouragement he needed to keep striving. “Go for it, you can do this,” said Arthur Taft Jr. Tonie Taft, the daughter of Billy Taft plays a big role in the Mortuary. Tonie has many roles, she is the social media/PR coordinator, and is in the process of going to school, to get her embalming and funeral director’s license. She has 15 more months left in school. Once she has her license she will be working beside her father. Tonie is a nurse for the L.A. county and worked a lot with the COVID-19 unit. “During COVID, people were treated so coldly. People’s families were not being buried on time, and I was there to be a prayer sector. I believe there is strength in God” said Tonie.
Taft is 73 years old and never let his burning desire to open his own business burn out. His goal is not about the money. He believes there’s no need to spend $10-15,000 on a funeral. “I don’t need to charge somebody $9,000 to make a living,” Taft voiced. This is the only industry where nobody can come in and tell you what to charge, therefore, Taft decided to keep his services between $4,000-4,200. Tonie sees her father’s vision. “My father has been there for everybody else and I just want him to have his flowers while he’s here” spoke Tonie. The Taft family specifically designed the mortuary around their vision of making every person who comes in feel the warmth and love they need during their time of grievance. They didn’t want the decor to be dark, they used pure colors. Blue symbolizes strength and power, white symbolizes peace, and gold symbolizes strong unity with their family. Some families don’t have that unity, a lot of families are quick to argue over finances and technicalities with no respect, and in this mortuary, they will ensure the respect that has been lost honorably. They don’t want the atmosphere to feel like death, they want it to feel like love, respect, and honesty; and to give the deceased their rights when they cross over.
Johnson & Taft wants to make sure that, as people of color, they have something decent to come to and that owning a black business is a prestigious honor. Taft has made it clear that his mortuary is open for public use. Community meetings are welcomed. “I’m not a selfish man if they need me, they can come for any reason,” Taft says joyfully.
115 18th St.
Bakersfield, CA 933016