Rhyan Nile, Feature Writer

The youth are the future of tomorrow, but will they be able to see it with all the targets on their backs? Why is the rate for crime, alcohol, and drugs so high in the community? Tobacco and marijuana companies are targeting communities of color, so it’s not just personal choice anymore. Our youth and their families don’t have a positive outlet. Southeast, Bakersfield is in desperate need of help and resources to teach and engage with the youth and community. These significant issues need to be approached in a cultural and nurturing way to ensure the future of tomorrow is safe and secure.

TYM4C, ShePOWER, and MLK Community Initiative were collectively granted money to fund a project run by the youth that will take up to approximately three years. The Key Project will empower a diverse team of youth to become agents of change in Southeast Bakersfield, through increased awareness about equity, inclusion and social justice, advocating at the city and county level. The project revolves around 20-24 youth who range between the ages of 16-24, filming a documentary that includes conducting surveys, advocating for positive change, developing leadership skills, participating in service projects, and building employment skills. The 1 million dollar grant covers stipends to the youth for volunteer work, funding for the work, equipment, staff, and location. People are normally reluctant to change, but with seeing the results of change the community will become invested in wanting to make change. In order to make the transition, the youth need the facts in front of them and secure outlets. The goal is to fund as many youth as possible and start rebuilding.

Crystal Parks (Youth Coordinator), Alex Fan (18, Senior at Cenntenial High School), Jack Weirather (16, Junior at Stockdale High School), Isabelle Zamora (Project Manager), Penellope Dills (17, Junior at Stockdale High School) , Dixi L. King , Ph.D. (Executive Director) (Photo: Rhyan Nile)

Dixie L. King, Ph.D. is the executive director of TYM4C who dedicates her work to decreasing the stigma of getting help. After doing work with the schools in Kings County, she wanted to bring the program to Kern County. Over 2 ½ years, King saw the youth transform before her eyes. The kids went from being depressed, down, not functioning well, not believing in themselves, into confident, passionate, public speakers, influential in their communities. “Watching that transformation was heavy for me. An alcoholic couldn’t have gotten higher than I did watching those kids”, said King. With King being from Kern County, after she left for 17 years and decided to come back, she was in culture shock given the amount of poverty and difficulties the young people face. “We can’t force our young people into going down the paths we think they should go, but we can create opportunities and to me that’s what’s important. Creating opportunity, and what they decide to do with them is their business”, said King.

TYM4C, ShePOWER, and MLK Community Initiative are all wanting to achieve the same goal, while moving the communities in different ways. Arleana Waller, visionary and founder of ShePOWER plays a significant role in breaking barriers in regards to diversity. ShePOWER is a girl leadership program that is open to all girls, but primarily consists of black girls. This is a demographic that is excluded in so many spaces. The Key Project is intended to bring more girls into legislation and more into advocating programs through this project. “The calling called me. I’m an advocate for building girl leaders. We’ve done work to put girls in positions of power in our community. Historically we want to influence the first black woman in the planning position, the first black woman in parks n recs, and so much more”, said Waller. With the ShePOWER program, the girls learn to be unapologetic about their power, unapologetic about using their voice in spaces that want to minimize them. Unapologetic about understanding who they are and how they’re going to get there. The purpose is to inspire and encourage our young women to have a fair chance at life despite their cultural barriers and environment.

It’s vital to create a safe space for the youth so that they can be nurtured and grow organically. 17 year old Penelope Dills and 16 year old Jack Weirather are both Juniors attending Stockdale High School. 18 year old, Senior Alex Fan attends Centennial High School. All three youth are a part of the TYM4C program and are eager to use their developed leadership skills to help make the community better.

“I started at the program over a year ago and words can’t describe how my life has changed. The program has helped me grow my leadership skills and within a month of being there, I had a community of hope. I have a place to confidently report and work out an issue to create that trust. I was able to apply my passion to my job and help the community as well. I fell in love with TYM4C”, said Dills.

“I wanted to go into film and then moved into community work. They trust the youth to be in charge. Hands on doing the work. Helps the youth feel independent. The first meeting I attended at TYM4C was family oriented. We have check-ins where we ask questions and everybody goes around and answers it. It’s very personal”, said Weirather.

“TYM4C provides opportunities for the youth that are passionate and desire to learn different skills. A lot of schools lack the ability to do this. Trust them to lead and make things happen. It’s not a lot of youth to get to have. It’s not a day care, I feel valued. I feel a strong connection. Trusting me. I’m not just a little kid. They want you to feel valued and develop your talents to make an impact on your own to become sustainable leaders in the community”, said Fan.

There is opportunity for more youth to get involved. Bring in more diversity and inclusion. The change will benefit everybody in the long run. Anyone is welcomed to donate and help give the youth a fighting chance. Building a foundation for a safe place is what will give the youth substance instead of a bottle or cigarette. ‘YOUR VOICE MATTERS’.